Preserving the news media’s survey research capacity
In 2010, the media landscape was rapidly changing. Traditional print and broadcast outlets were already struggling to respond to competition from new digital platforms. The Great Recession ratcheted up the pressure to cut costs. Survey research—once such a strength of major media organizations that they competed with academic institutions in their rigor and innovation—was on the chopping block, as was journalism about science.
Trevor Tompson, then Global Director of Polling at the Associated Press, and Dan Gaylin, then executive vice president of research at NORC, envisioned a way forward: a partnership between a major news organization and a leading social science research institution that would use foundation funding to support rigorous, journalism-ready survey research on major issues. The research partner would ensure quality and objectivity, the news organization would ensure reach and relevance. It was a coming together of two very different organizations that had remarkably similar core principles, and it soon became clear that there would be a strong fit. The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research was born.
In the 10 years since, The AP-NORC Center has provided citizens, policymakers, business leaders, and elected officials with the timely, independent, issue-based data and analysis people need to make sense of these challenging times.
Assessing the latest opinions on long-term challenges
The AP-NORC Center’s inaugural survey was “Civil Liberties and Security: 10 Years After 9/11,” which explored where people drew the line between civil liberties and security. The survey also looked back at the impact of the events of 9/11 and how they had affected the way Americans lived their lives afterwards. Other early projects included a major survey of public attitudes about energy issues, parents’ attitudes about education, and how lower-wage workers and those who employ them view lower-wage jobs.
In 2013, The AP-NORC Center partnered with MTV to explore the pervasiveness of digital abuse among teens and young adults. That same year, AP-NORC launched its journalism fellows program. The year-long fellowships helped mid-career journalists develop the economic and analytical research skills needed to produce research-based enterprise journalism. The fellows’ work fueled some of AP-NORC’s most impactful projects, including an extensive exploration into long-term care, funded by The SCAN Foundation; a deep dive into the economics of aging and work, funded by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation; and an examination of community resilience in the face of disasters, funded by the Rockefeller Foundation.
Adding capacity for rapid responses to emerging issues
For the first several years, The AP-NORC Center’s surveys relied on random digit dialing, a rigorous but increasingly costly methodology. With the launch of NORC’s AmeriSpeak Panel in 2015, AP-NORC could gather data rapidly at lower cost, allowing it to meet the need for survey research on more topical issues. The first was a survey of views on law enforcement, race, and violence.
This approach allowed The AP-NORC Center to expand its partnerships, including working with faculty at the University of Chicago to study a range of pressing issues. In 2016, The AP-NORC Center teamed up with the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago (EPIC) for several studies unpacking climate change attitudes and assessing Americans’ willingness to pay for energy. The Harris School of Public Policy and AP-NORC tackle issues from the gig economy to Americans’ priorities for the health care system in studies that both generate unique data for academic study and provide new perspectives on issues for data-driven journalism.
As it approaches its 10th anniversary, The AP-NORC Center’s most recent projects include surveys of vaccine trust and hesitancy, views on the priorities and leadership of the Democratic and Republican parties, the latest installment of the Center’s long-running Media Insight Project, which studies trust in and consumption of news media, and the COVID Impact Survey Project, conducted with the Data Foundation.
Innovating methods to understand the American electorate
Changes in voting behavior, including the growing adoption of early voting and voting by mail, and voters’ declining willingness to engage with pollsters, have made traditional exit polling less accurate. In response, The AP-NORC Center developed AP VoteCast, a comprehensive, probability-based voter survey. VoteCast uses a combination of online and telephone surveys that ask about a range of policy issues as well as voting intention. The surveys are conducted with more than 100,000 voters in every state in the week before an election. After years of testing, AP VoteCast debuted successfully in 2018 and has since become the new standard of election surveys. Constantly improving its methodology, AP VoteCast continues to deliver reliable information on what drives the choices of different segments of the electorate and has been adopted by Fox News, NPR, PBS NewsHour, Univision News, USA Today Network, and The Wall Street Journal.
Looking to the future
The AP-NORC Center enters its second decade committed to expanding its funder base and subject matter portfolio as it responds to emerging issues with rigorous, journalism-ready data and analysis. In the process, we hope our efforts help rebuild public trust in survey research and data-informed journalism.