In 1978 the American Enterprise Institute launched an important publication dedicated to exploring the attitudes, personal behaviors, and political predispositions of the American public: Public Opinion magazine. The monthly publication was dedicated to offering detailed descriptions of the state of national opinion, tracing trends, and providing insights that would be accessible to wide audience. The magazine was produced by leading scholars and writers in the field of journalism and public opinion. 

It was edited by the distinguished sociologist Seymour Martin Lipset and journalist and author Ben J. Wattenberg, with the help of political scientist Everett Carll Ladd and presidential adviser David Gergen producing the magazine. Early in 1979, Karlyn Bowman joined the team, serving as managing editor until 1990 when the magazine’s survey analysis and insights were folded into a new AEI publication. 

It did not take long for public opinion scholars, policymakers, and the public to recognize the value of Public Opinion magazine. It attracted some of the most prominent names in survey research, including pollster and Public Agenda founder Daniel Yankelovich; George Katona, one of the founders of the Survey Research Center at the University of Michigan; Andrew Kohut who headed the Pew Research Center for many years; pollster Burns W. Roper; and prominent journalist and poll watcher E. J. Dionne, now at the Brookings Institution. The pollsters, whose work until that time had mostly appeared in academic journals, such as the highly regarded Public Opinion Quarterly, were eager to write for the broad general audience the magazine provided. 

But the magazine did not just feature the latest public opinion polls and analysis. Most issues included an interview with key political figures of the day, the first of which featured Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan and Henry Kissinger. After each election, the editors brought together the pollsters from the opposing campaigns to compare notes. The first such post-mortem on the 1978 elections featured Democratic pollster Pat Caddell and Republican pollster Bob Teeter. 

Over the years, the magazine was supplemented by a series of monographs and AEI Public Opinion Studies on a variety of topics, such as public opinion on abortion, on terrorism, and the war in Iraq, the environment, health care, and the American Dream. Many of these were written by Ladd and Bowman. In 2005, Bowman launched Political Report, a monthly review of the published polls covering prominent topics in politics, economics, and public life. As the number of polling organizations has exploded over the last decade, Political Report has served an even more crucial role helping the public, journalists, and policy makers make sense of the complex and evolving public opinion landscape. 

Beginning in 2018 AEI began regularly conducting its own surveys. Under the leadership of Ryan Streeter, Director of Domestic Policy Studies, AEI conducted a landmark study on American community life with support from the Knight Foundation. One year later, AEI brought on Daniel Cox to lead its polling efforts. In 2019, Cox launched the American Perspectives Survey, a series of national public opinion polls aimed at highlighting both national issues and debates, as well as  local concerns and community life. Early surveys have examined the decline of religion in American family life, growing politicization in Americans’ dating lives, and the many ways the COVID-19 pandemic has upended American life. The following year, Cox founded the Survey Center on American Life to serve as source of objective, independent survey research work on the most important issues and topics of the day. 

Recent Commentary

Daniel A. Cox
November 19, 2020

The 2020 election was a perfect example of the weaknesses — and strengths — of political polls

For those of us interested in understanding the world, polling offers an incredibly useful and cost-effective tool. It’s critical that we get it right.

Daniel A. Cox, Brent Orrell
October 26, 2020

What’s going on with Republican women?

It is easy to discount QAnon—but the reality is it is quickly emerging from the shadows into a full-blown political movement that periodically receives the passive, and at times, active support of the president of the United States.

Daniel A. Cox
October 25, 2020

Biden’s ‘seize the center’ campaign strategy may just deliver him the White House

If Biden is able to capitalize on the current set of circumstances presented by an unpopular incumbent, he may show the efficacy of persuasion-based tactics simply by demonstrating that there are more persuadable voters than many of us think.

Daniel A. Cox, Amelia Thomson-DeVeaux
September 17, 2020

More and more Americans aren’t religious. Why are Democrats ignoring these voters?

Often lost in this, though, is the fact that Democrats are mostly ignoring a massive group of voters who are becoming an increasingly crucial part of their base: people who don’t have any religion at all.