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 Polling 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, Polling 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

A young woman with curly blond hair stands alone on a red and green athletic court.

Daniel A. Cox
April 11, 2022

Gen Z is the Loneliest Generation — and It’s Their Parents Fault

Generation Z is impressive by any measure. They have more years of formal education and lower high-school dropout rates than any previous generation. They are more likely to avoid drug use and have lower rates of teen pregnancy. They are savvy consumers of information and users of technology. They are less prone to traffic in misinformation and conspiracy theories. But despite all

An African American teenager male attending church.

Daniel A. Cox
April 10, 2022

Stop Blaming Young People for Leaving Religion

Over the last decade, there has been a steady stream of news stories about how young people are abandoning their formative faith commitments. These articles frequently argue that despite their parents’ best efforts, young people are bent on forgoing any association with organized religion, along with all the benefits that come with it. This story is compelling, and

Daniel A. Cox
April 5, 2022

For Gen Z, Religious Pluralism Will Require Bridging the Religious-Secular Divide

For Generation Z, American religious life has been defined by its diversity. And religious pluralism has been as much practice as principle. Young adults today have close friends and family members spanning a variety of religious identities and beliefs. In a survey conducted by the Survey Center on American Life, we found that nearly one in five

A black and white photo of a man and woman sitting back-to-back in a train car.

Daniel A. Cox
March 13, 2022

We Live in a Nation of Strangers. That Needs to Change

Diversity is not the source of our current problems; our troubling incuriosity about our neighbors is driving disconnection.