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Interactive Polling Gains Wide Acceptance

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As we Americans head into the depth of summer here in 2009, we find ourselves in a world many would not have imagined a generation ago. Change has come to virtually every part of our lives, from politics to the way we work to the way we entertain ourselves at home.

At the core of this change is technology. And if you're still reeling from the pace of this never-ending revolution, better tighten your seat belt, because things are only going to move faster in the future. My public opinion research in recent years shows that many people are keeping up, or at least getting used to, the technological re-making of the typical American life, and the majority tell us they are satisfied with these changes.

Acceptance of the Internet, and all that goes with it -- email, instant news alerts, video of things most of us never realized we would enjoy watching, shopping, online video conferencing with colleagues a continent or two away, and even live news reports from remote outposts around the world -- has gradually reached a critical mass. Eighty three percent of U.S. households have Internet access, 92 percent of likely voters -- while landline telephone penetration is where it was in 1963.

As a leader in online survey research, I have seen acceptance of my interactive online polls skyrocket. Our methodology has been extremely accurate. We have struggled in a few political polls in certain states but as pioneers we have shown the courage to put the results out there and learn from earlier mistakes. The record in national political elections and most states has been perfect. Demand for surveys conducted online has gone through the roof as reliability continues to improve and costs are kept in check.

In a recent Zogby survey -- yes, conducted entirely via the Internet -- more than half of the respondents (56 percent) said that if they had to choose just one type of media outlet from which to get their news, they would choose the Internet. And why not? Nowadays, the Internet brings you news video, traditional news stories you used to be able to get only from the newspaper on your front porch, plus extra "behind the scenes" insights from reporters in the form of blogs. And many times you also get the immediate feedback from those other readers who, like you, were interested in reading the same story.

But acceptance of the Internet is deeper than just news. In the same survey, fully 14 percent said that, as a national priority, universal access to the Internet is more important than universal access to healthcare. You could extrapolate from this data point that one out of every eight adults were saying that the Internet is more important than life itself. Well, maybe that's taking matters to the very edge, but it does get your attention.

Along those same lines, 45 percent said that, if they needed a life-saving surgical procedure that could only be performed by an expert surgeon overseas using a robot that he or she controlled via the Internet, they would go forward with the procedure.

Further, the survey found that 13 percent -- again, one in every eight respondents -- said that if it were possible, they would have the Internet wired directly into their brain.

Our online survey research, which has been under development for 11 years now, has found similar acceptance. Hundreds of thousands of adults nationwide have signed up to be a part of the Zogby Interactive polling panel, a pool of potential respondents who participate in our scientific polls when they receive an email invitation from us to do so. The average person gets maybe two such invitations a year, so large is our pool of respondents. There's nothing mysterious about who gets invited -- it is a random sampling process that assures we get a broad cross-section of respondents every time we do an interactive survey.

Of course, there are all kinds of security measures in place to guarantee the veracity of the survey data. For instance, the email invitation that is sent from Zogby expires after one use, so a person could not forward the poll to others to try to skew a survey. Once the respondents have finished answering the questions in the survey, the poll is processed in the same manner in which we have been working for a quarter of a century. Having established a reputation for accuracy and reliability in work I have conducted in more than 70 countries around the globe -- most recently in nailing the elections in Albania -- my confidence in the quality of our interactive survey methodology allows me to sleep soundly at night. I know online survey research is the future of the polling industry, and I have been willing to step out, take some chances and stake my reputation on a cutting-edge methodology, we are producing results you can believe in.

John Zogby is president and CEO of Zogby International and the author of The Way We'll Be: The Zogby Report on the Transformation of the American Dream.