Muhlenberg’s Institute of Public Opinion releases new public health survey

The Institute of Public Opinion is housed on the first floor of Fahy Commons. Photo by Photo Editor Kira Bretsky '27.

On Monday, Apr. 8, Muhlenberg College’s Institute of Public Opinion, in conjunction with the Muhlenberg College Public Health Program, released their 2024 Pennsylvania Health Survey. The annual survey examined several public health issues, including opinions around healthcare, mental health, and marijuana legalization. 415 Pennsylvania residents were surveyed in February and March of this year. 

Christopher  Borick, Ph.D., professor of political science and director of the Institute of Public Opinion, shared insight about the process and findings for this poll. 

Interviewer: How are Muhlenberg students involved in the creation or analysis of this poll?

Borick: The Institute of Public Opinion is made up of several students who work tirelessly in analyzing data, assembling trends over time, and discussing key findings. I teach a course on Public Health Policy every spring. At the beginning of the semester, I asked about topics of interest that they would like to see data on, and tried to weave it through my design of the survey. Students this semester were especially interested in mental health, but also questions about aggressive driving and domestic abuse were included in part because of student interest. Now students in the class are using the data to test their hypotheses and form conclusions about public health in Pennsylvania. 

Interviewer: I saw that one of your key findings was that 41 percent of Pennsylvanians reported politics and current events as being a major source of stress, which was more than other typical causes like personal finances or relationships. Is this a regular question that is asked? What does it say about the impact that politics has on the mental health of residents here?

Borick: You’re right, that’s a new question that we asked this time around. This was the question that I was the most interested in when I saw the resources. I think anecdotally you hear a lot about folks being stressed about the election, but to see it in the data is notable.  

Interviewer: One of the key findings in this survey is that 54 percent of Keystone State residents consider opioid addiction to be a major or minor problem in their community. Were there any demographic trends with this question?

Borick: This actually was a question that was pretty universal regardless of demographic. With questions like gun regulation and abortion, things are pretty split down party lines, but I think because the opioid epidemic is so widespread that many kinds of folks see it affecting their communities in different ways, as opioids themselves affect all different kinds of people. 

Interviewer: There is a question in this poll asking people’s opinion on the statement that the chances of a child getting autism are increased if they are vaccinated. Has there been a change before, during, and after COVID-19, when vaccinations were a hot-button issue?

Borick: After that theory was disproved, there was a steady decrease in folks agreeing with this. However, during COVID there was a definite increase in people believing or at least being more uncertain about this theory. I think now we see people leaving the middle and choosing to strongly agree or strongly disagree, which can be observed with many other political issues. 

Interviewer: How does this poll affect Muhlenberg students, and what should students take away from the field of polling in general?

Borick: It’s essential for students to have a working knowledge of public attitudes. We’re in a democracy… it’s supposed to matter what people think. Public health policy is developed around conceptions and misconceptions of different health issues. The Institute’s goal is to be engaged in public discourse. We want people to be talking about our findings and using our data to support their conversations. 

Public health major Karly Buchanan ‘24 who is currently enrolled in Public Health Policy commented on the polling, “I find that examining how the public views these health issues is incredibly helpful information. It allows public health officials to understand people’s hesitancy or eagerness about certain topics.”

“I love looking at data, so seeing firsthand how Pa. residents feel on certain issues fascinates me. I think having the skills to be able to take public opinion and analyze it to create better policies in public health will be beneficial,” said Buchanan. 

The full survey can be found on the Institute of Public Opinion’s page on the Muhlenberg College website. 

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