News & Events

July 04, 2013

Michael Adams on "Polling for Democracy"

In the just-published book The Public Intellectual in Canada (edited by Nelson Wiseman, University of Toronto Press), Michael Adams writes about the contribution of public opinion research to the kinds of social and policy discussions being advanced by public intellectuals in Canada.

This book examines the place and impact of public intellectuals in our rapidly changing and diverse society. With an all-star cast of leading contributors – including Janice Stein, Hugh Segal, Doug Saunders, Stephen Clarkson and Sylvia Bashevkin - it probes the role of public discourse and intellectual persuasion in shaping Canada’s past, present, and future.


Read from the opening paragraphs of Michael's chapter:

When I was invited to contribute to this volume I hesitated, not seeing myself as a public intellectual. Public intellectuals do their own thinking. As a pollster, I tend to scavenge other people's thinking: asking questions, aggregating the responses, and reporting on what they have said. Nor did I have any great insight to offer about public intellectuals as a class . . .

These disclaimers notwithstanding, i think there might be some value in reflecting on how polling and related punditry have evolved over the course of my career, and what contributions they might make to the kinds of social and policy discussions that public intellectuals often try to spark or advance.

I have come to believe that the data we pollsters produce can catalyse discussion and action among the engaged public, and that in this sense, the data pollsters gather - especially if they gather it through a thoughtful and rigorous process - can fulfil some of the same functions as persuasive prose from an accessible academic or a respected journalist. In other words, I think public opinion data itself might be a kind of public intellectual presence in our society: not the singular voice of an expert individuals, but the collective voice of the society or some group within it.

Read the full chapter

Buy the book:

From the U of T Press

From Chapters Indigo


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