How the Study Was Conducted

To prepare this study, COPA conducted a nationwide poll, focus groups, and a comprehensive review of previous polls done by other organizations.

The Poll

The poll was conducted January 26-31, 1999 with a sample of 1,204 American adults. Communications Center, Inc. interviewed respondents by telephone on a CATI system, using a questionnaire designed by COPA. Respondents were chosen from all households in the continental United States by a random digit dialing sample generated by Scientific Telephone Samples. Interviewers observed gender quotas. The margin of error was +/-3-4%.

The order and placement of some questions were varied to reduce any biases that might derive from question order.

Data for this survey were collected using telephone interviews with Americans 18 years or older living in the continental United States. The sample frame was generated, using random digit dial methods, by Scientific Telephone Samples. The telephone exchanges for this sample were drawn from residential working block exchanges excluding blocks assigned exclusively for business use, mobile phones, military or governmental purposes, and known business numbers. Selection from these working blocks was weighted according to the estimated number of working residential telephones within each. The exact number of RDD numbers generated per working block was calculated proportional to the estimated working residential telephones for the particular working block against the total estimated working telephones for the entire sampling frame. Estimates of household telephone coverage were derived from census data on residential telephone incidence and updated with information from local telephone companies and other sources and cross-checked with Bellcore files. For the purpose of this study, a working bank was defined as those with more than three known working residential telephones out of the 100 possible numbers within that block.

The sample was released for interviewing in replicates. Using replicates to order the sequence of calls eliminates potential calling order bias based on region.

The Focus Groups

COPA conducted focus groups to help develop poll questions that would reflect how people think and talk about the issues of the public’s role in government decisionmaking. Focus groups provide citizens with an opportunity to talk about their views and feelings in their own words, and to explain the underlying assumptions behind their views.

COPA conducted three focus groups: the first in Baltimore, Maryland on September 1, 1998; the second in Albuquerque, New Mexico on December 26, 1998; and the third in Roanoke, Virginia on January 7, 1999. Each discussion lasted about two and half hours and included 11-13 participants. Maryland Market Source, Inc. recruited participants for the Baltimore focus group; Business Information Group, Inc., recruited for the Albuquerque group; and Martin Research, Inc. recruited for the Roanoke group. All three organizations made a strong effort to recruit groups that reflected the demographic makeup of their region.

Review of Other Polls

COPA performed a comprehensive review of publicly released polls on issues related to public attitudes toward the federal government. The primary sources were the Public Opinion Location Library database of the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research at the University of Connecticut, and the Inter-University Consortium for Political and Social Research. (Special mention should be made of a useful recent compendium: Everett Carll Ladd and Karlyn H. Bowman, What’s Wrong: A Survey of American Satisfaction and Complaint (Washington: AEI Press; Storrs, CT: The Roper Center for Public Opinion Research, University of Connecticut), 1998.) The full archive of National Election Studies data was studied via the NES website,