The American National Election Studies (ANES) has been recognized by the American Association for Public Opinion Research (AAPOR) with its Policy Impact Award– given annually to outstanding projects making a clear impact, improving policy decisions, practice and discourse. The ANES was selected for “making public opinion available to policymakers, informing public discourse, and allowing evaluation of the functioning of democracy.”

With this award, AAPOR recognized the ANES as the longest-running and most widely used and cited time series of public opinion and voting behavior data in the world.

“The entire ANES team is humbled by this award,” said ANES Primary Investigator Nicholas Valentino, Professor of Political Science and Research Professor in the Center for Political Studies (CPS) at the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research. “In our democracy, public opinion is meant to guide elected representatives’ policy decisions, so informed policy discourse and assessments of democracy require information about public opinion. The ANES collects high-quality data on opinion and behavior that inform policy discourse and allow evaluation of the functioning of democracy.”

AAPOR noted that the ANES has been the leading source of data on public opinion in electoral politics for decades, noting that “nearly all leading issues of national policy in the United States since the 1950s are addressed by the study, including, especially, racial inequality, economic inequality, social capital, campaign finance, voter ID laws, and attitudes and opinions about government institutions.”

The ANES is a national infrastructure project for research about the public’s relationship with government, Valentino said. For 75 years, it has provided public access to high-quality data built around two main outcome variables: turnout and candidate choices in elections for federal office. To explain these outcomes, ANES questionnaires cover policy preferences, identity, prejudice, values, behavior, knowledge, and demographics, with an emphasis on high quality sampling and measurement. “The resulting datasets inform policy discourse and take the vital signs of democracy.”

As illustrations of the durable and far-reaching impact of the ANES, AAPOR noted the breadth, number, and diversity of organizations that have cited or relied on the data in their policy advocacy or discourse– including the high branches of government, the lower federal courts, foreign and internationally-focused organizations, policy think tanks and advocacy organizations. In an increasingly polarized media environment, AAPOR recognized that ANES is frequently cited in the news media, and by all sides. The model established by the ANES has been the inspiration for national election studies in over 30 countries around the world. The impact on research about democratic society is illustrated by over 8,000 papers, books, and other publications that have used ANES data over the past 75 years. Finally, AAPOR cited the ANES as the most cited dataset in peer-reviewed articles about public opinion and political behavior in the leading political science journals — used by thousands of scholars, journalists, students, and citizens to understand American democracy.

“ANES policy impact is broad, but two important and timely foci are campaign finance and voter ID laws, where ANES is regularly cited in legal briefs, policy advocacy, and non-partisan reports,” said Valentino.

This year marks the 75th anniversary of the ANES: Since 1948, the definitive study of American political attitudes and behavior has run national surveys of citizens before and after every presidential election, providing a rigorous, non-partisan basis for understanding contemporary issues as well as change over time.

Valentino noted that the ANES has a legacy of AAPOR recognition as scholars using ANES data have been lauded over decades. The first winner of the AAPOR Award for career achievement, Angus Cambpell, won largely for the work he did to create the ANES, Valentino said. Numerous subsequent AAPOR Award winners – including Philip Converse (1986), Howard Schuman (1994), Norman Nie (2006), Michael Traugott (2010), Stanley Presser (2011), Jon Krosnick (2014), and Lawrence Bobo (2020) – each rely heavily on ANES data in their work (and Converse and Krosnick were ANES principal investigators).

“It is a great honor for ANES to continue in this intellectual tradition, and we would all like to thank the selection committee at AAPOR,” said Valentino. “[It is also important] to mention that the ANES staff is large and makes a huge contribution to the project’s success.”

The ANES is a collaboration of the University of Michigan and Stanford University, with Duke University and the University of Texas, and is funded by the National Science Foundation.

AAPOR has offered the Policy Impact Award annually since 2004. Last year’s winners were the National Health and Aging Trends Study (NHATS) and the National Study of Caregiving (NSOC); previous honorees include the U.S. Census Bureau, the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, the RAND Corporation, and the Urban Institute.

In addition to Valentino, Shanto Iyengar of Stanford University is a principal investigator of the project. The Associate PIs are D. Sunshine Hillygus of Duke University and Daron Shaw of the University of Texas at Austin. David Howell and Matthew DeBell are the Directors of Operations at Michigan and Stanford, respectively.

The Center for Political Studies has recently published a series on the 75th anniversary of the ANES: Including a Q&A about the project with Nicholas Valentino, a visual history of the project, and reflections from scholars who have been impacted by the ANES.

Two CPS students also received awards from AAPOR this year: Francy Luna Diaz and Zoe Walker, both Institute for Social Research Next Generation Scholars, won AAPOR Student-Faculty Diversity Pipeline Awards, which aim to recruit faculty-student “pairs” interested in becoming AAPOR colleagues to study public opinion and survey research methodology.

This post was developed by Tevah Platt.