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11.19 Dan Yankelovich Honored for Excellence in Public Opinion Research

Thursday, November 19th, 2015 | Will Friedman

On November 10th, our co-founder Dan Yankelovich received the Roper Center's Warren J. Mitofsky Award for Excellence in Public Opinion Research at a dinner in New York City. Will Friedman, who has known Dan for over two decades, introduced Dan, who joined the event via Skype . Below are Will's remarks, lightly edited.

There’s a story about Miles Davis at a White House dinner during the Reagan administration.

Supposedly, one of the guests naively asked him who he was and what he had done to warrant an invitation. Miles is said to have replied "I’ve changed the course of music five or six times. How about you?"

If Miles was a genius in music, Dan Yankelovich is a genius in our field.

Dan has changed the course of our thinking about public opinion, marketing and democracy five or six times. His many seminal insights have enlightened us on such questions as:

  • How public opinion changes
  • How public thinking differs from expert thinking without being inferior to it
  • How to help the public play its essential democratic role
  • How to integrate qualitative and quantitative methods into a unified research strategy
  • And what all of this means for market research, democracy, public policy, and true leadership

Central to his many contributions, Dan has given us a practical and meaningful way to think about the quality of public opinion and the stages that people go through to achieve what he calls public judgment. Public judgment is in contrast to raw, unstable, off-the-cuff reactions, like those we often see in polling.

As he’s shown, the concept of public judgment has gone a long way toward clarifying why some research results are better guides for policymaking than others -- because they are less, in his highly scientific term, "mushy."

Tonight, we honor this pioneering social scientist and esteemed figure in the worlds of polling, marketing, and democratic thought and practice. But note that his reputation was not always so: AAPOR once reviewed Dan's book, Coming to Public Judgment, by asking "Why is Yankelovich being so perverse?"

And, indeed, Dan's ideas have seemed perverse at times to various establishments, in the way the insights of innovative thinkers can.

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10.27 Restoring Opportunity: Perils and Promises for Education

Tuesday, October 27th, 2015 | Allison Rizzolo

From left to right: Public Agenda president Will Friedman, moderator Brian Lehrer, Wendy Puriefoy and Alison Kadlec. Tuesday, October 27, 2015.

Education has long been held as the best means for all people to get ahead and have a good life. As a nation, we haven't always enabled our education system to fulfill its promise as a great opportunity equalizer. Yet for all the challenges we face – challenges that will surely increase in an uncertain future – we have reason for cautious optimism.

In a discussion last week with WNYC's Brian Lehrer, education experts Wendy Puriefoy and Alison Kadlec spoke frankly about the historic challenges facing the public K-12 and higher education systems, including dwindling funding and an unpredictable future.

Still, education is an ideal woven into the fabric of our nation, Puriefoy noted. The American public broadly believes in public schools and agrees that our country must strive to educate everyone at high levels (though we of course disagree on how to do it).

When it comes to putting this ideal into practice, the nation is failing miserably on its promise to deliver a quality education to all students. Among the problems Puriefoy and Kadlec pointed out:

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10.15 Police-Community Relations Strained With Groups Where Police Needed Most

Thursday, October 15th, 2015 | Allison Rizzolo

Listen to the related story on WNYC's Brian Lehrer Show.

The New York metro area is no stranger to controversy on policing. New York City's stop-and-frisk policy was deemed unconstitutional by a federal appeals court. Its broken windows policy drew sharp criticism and protests following the death of Eric Garner.

Results from our recent survey with WNYC suggest that the communities that may need police the most are also most likely to say their relations with the police are problematic.

Residents who live in New York City are far more likely to say crime is a serious problem where they live, compared to residents living in the surrounding and farther out suburbs. Likewise, black and Hispanic residents throughout the entire New York metro area are more likely than white residents to say crime is a serious problem in their cities and towns.

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10.14 New Yorkers on Taxes: Contradictory or Common Sense?

Wednesday, October 14th, 2015 | Allison Rizzolo

Listen to the related story on WNYC's Brian Lehrer Show.

New York area residents are concerned with keeping up with the high cost of living in the region. That includes high taxes, which they view as a serious problem. But at the same time, 70 percent say they favor raising taxes on corporations and the wealthy to pay for efforts to help people get ahead.

What's more, even as residents favor higher taxes on corporations, they also favor tax breaks for new companies to bring jobs to the region and for developers to build more affordable housing.

These findings are not as contradictory as they may seem at first glance.

The results, from the Public Agenda/WNYC New York Metro Area Survey, provide a clear sense that people are looking for greater investments to improve opportunity for everyone. Remember, area residents also say the costs of living, housing, and college and are among the region's most serious problems. And they're willing to tax the wealthy in order to make these investments.

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10.13 NYC EVENT: Restoring Opportunity: The Role of Education

Tuesday, October 13th, 2015 | Public Agenda

6:30 - 8:00 pm
Macaulay Honors College
35 West 67th Street, New York, NY 10023

Click here to register, or email

If the U.S. is truly to be a land of opportunity for all, what role can and must education play? How will our education system -- K-12 and higher ed -- have to change in order to play that role? And what are the limits of education as a cure-all for the challenges of diminishing opportunity in the U.S.?

We are excited to announce the first in our Restoring Opportunity series. "Restoring Opportunity: The Role of Education" will take place at Macaulay Honors College on October 22, 2015 from 6:30-8pm.

Restoring Opportunity is Public Agenda's 10-year commitment to help communities and the nation address one of the great challenges of our day, stagnating prospects for too many Americans.

For the program, moderator Brian Lehrer of WNYC will interview a panel of two dynamic education experts: Public Agenda board member Wendy Puriefoy, the former president of the Public Education Network and a K-12 expert, and Public Agenda’s Alison Kadlec, an expert on higher education reform.

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10.13 In Solving Region's Problems, New York Area Residents See a Role for Government, and for Themselves

Tuesday, October 13th, 2015 | Allison Rizzolo

Listen to the related story on WNYC's Brian Lehrer Show.

Residents of the New York metro area say our region is facing some serious problems: the gap between the wealthy and everyone else is growing, costs are increasingly unaffordable, wages are stagnating and opportunity is diminishing. Moreover, they say the government is not doing a good job addressing their concerns.

But they don't view these problems as unsolvable. And they see a role for both the government and for themselves in solutions.

We asked local residents about a number of policy approaches for addressing the issues they view as serious problems. In general, residents favor policies that will make education and housing more affordable and that will bring good jobs to the area, even if those policies include tax increases.

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10.12 New Yorkers Don't Resent the Wealthy, But...

Monday, October 12th, 2015 | Allison Rizzolo

Listen to the related story on WNYC's Brian Lehrer Show.

We're all aware that income inequality is growing, particularly in urban areas. The New York metro area is no different: 65 percent of residents say the gap in income between the rich and everyone else is a serious problem in their community.

We were curious: in the New York region, do people have a problem with the basic premise of the rich getting richer? Or are they ok with it, as long as they have an opportunity to get ahead too? This is an issue our co-founder has opined on in the past, writing on his blog:

Americans are big fans of economic success. Unlike many Europeans, we are remarkably free of envy about some of us making zillions of dollars. But the legitimacy of their doing so comes with an all-important qualification: the insistence that all of us should be free to take advantage of our system of open-ended opportunity to improve our lot in life.

We wanted to test his hypothesis.

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10.11 What Do Residents of the Greater New York Metro Area Worry About Most?

Sunday, October 11th, 2015 | Allison Rizzolo

Listen to the related stroy on WNYC's Brian Lehrer Show.

Our primary purpose in surveying residents of the greater New York metro area was to understand what issues most concerned them. It turns out, regardless of where people live, affordability is something they worry about the most.

We asked people about 19 different public issues, from housing costs, to crime, to parks and recreation. We wanted to know whether people thought each issue was problem or not in their cities and towns. Everyone, whether they lived in New York City or the suburbs, regardless of age and income, identified these four issues as the most serious problems where they live:

  • High cost of living
  • High cost of housing
  • High taxes
  • High cost of college

Residents also worry about the lack of well-paying and secure jobs and the lack of affordable health care. Again, these concerns cut across demographics and geography, though lower income residents throughout the region and residents of New York City proper are most acutely worried about rising costs and economic instability:*

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09.23 Evaluation Matters: A New Toolkit for Assessing Participatory Budgeting

Wednesday, September 23rd, 2015 | Megan Rose Donovan

For those of us exploring ways to deepen and expand public participation in democracy, we know how essential evaluation is to our cause. Both government officials and the public have limited time, energy and resources. And furthermore, many may already be disillusioned by current and past efforts to include the public in decision making.

We need to be able to demonstrate to officials, the public, interested funders, community partners and others that their investment in new public engagement methods will be worth it. Will more people participate, particularly those who have been historically less civically engaged? Will the new form of engagement lead to better decisions and policies that residents support? Will the public feel like their voices have been heard, and will they come to understand the complexities and trade-offs inherent in many policy decisions? Will the method build trust among officials and the public and open pathways for collaboration among community-based organizations and the government?

At the same time, we as public engagement practitioners are very busy. Evaluation can be time consuming and complicated, especially when we’re attempting to measure something amorphous like deeper public participation. As such, evaluation too often gets lost among everything else we're doing.

For these and other reasons, we are particularly excited about one of our current projects: an initiative to help make it easier for practitioners to evaluate participatory budgeting efforts.

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09.08 NYC EVENT: From Application to Enrollment: Helping Students Make Better Decisions on Going to College

Tuesday, September 8th, 2015 | Public Agenda

Monday, September 21, 2015
06:30 PM – 08:15 PM
156 Fifth Avenue, Second Floor
New York, NY 10010

Prospective students often start their college searches with high expectations, and soon into their exploration, high anxiety. Both students fresh out of high school and older adults returning to school are making crucial choices about their educations without key information and resources and with misconceptions about everything from application requirements to financial aid and sound student loan options.

According to recent research from Public Agenda and New America's Education Policy Program, 41 percent of students say they did not find enough helpful information to make their college decisions, and less than 1 in 5 adult prospective students has used an interactive website like the College Scorecard when considering college choices. And when it comes to paying for college, for example, 48 percent of students from families making less than $50,000 were unfamiliar with the Pell Grant, the cornerstone of federal financial aid for low-income students.

What do these findings mean for the systems of higher education admissions and recruiting? As Congress begins looking towards the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, how can policymakers and education practitioners better address students' needs and help them become savvier about choosing the college that's right for them?

Click on the link below to listen to a presentation of respective surveys from Public Agenda and New America. This presentation is followed by a panel discussion with college admissions, recruiting and counseling professionals, who are charged with helping New York's prospective students make beneficial choices for their educations and their futures.

Join the discussion online using #CollegeDecisions and following @PublicAgenda and @NewAmericaEd.

Download the research presentation here.



Carolin Hagelskamp
Director of Research, Public Agenda
Author of Is College Worth it For Me?

Rachel Fishman
Senior Policy Analyst, Education Policy Program, New America
Author of the College Decisions Series

Panel Discussion

Paul Marthers, Ph.D.
Associate Vice Chancellor and Vice Provost for Strategic Enrollment Management and Student Success, State University of New York

Carmel Paleski, Ed.M.
Director of Academic Affairs, Manhattan Educational Opportunity Center

Laura A. Bruno, M.S.W.
Assistant Dean of Enrollment Management, Queensborough Community College, City University of New York

R. Ummi Modeste, M.S.Ed.
College Advisor, City-As-School High School

Moderator: Kim Clark
Senior Reporter, Money Magazine


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