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.