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American Association for Public Opinion Research

Transparency Initiative Spotlight: APM Research Lab

by Krista Jenkins, Transparency Initiative Coordinating Committee Co-Chair
The APM Research Lab is a one-of-a-kind, public media-based research center. Established in 2017 by American Public Media with the goal of “bringing facts into focus,” the Lab quickly saw the importance of AAPOR’s Transparency Initiative and became a member of the initiative in 2018. The following year the Lab’s Managing Partner, Craig Helmstetter, joined the Transparency Initiative Coordinating Committee.

“Part of the reason the Lab exists is to help build the public’s trust in credible information,” said Helmstetter, “and being transparent about our methodology is a big part of building that trust and credibility.”

The APM Research Lab has completed multiple surveys over the past three years, often collaborating with public media newsrooms on everything from initially identifying a topic to reporting the results. The Lab’s first major project, for example, was the largest survey ever conducted by Minnesota Public Radio News. In that case, the Lab worked with SSRS to execute data collection, and then worked closely with MPR to report the results, including making appearances on the station’s call-in shows and in-person forums that followed from the survey.

Since that time the APM Research Lab has conducted several national surveys on public policy-related topics, including labor unions, higher education, immigration and gun policy. The Lab has also conducted a survey gauging Minnesota journalists’ perceptions of race and racial narratives in local media coverage. Additionally, the Lab partnered with the Water Main on a major survey of the American public’s knowledge of, connection to and actions toward water.

Although the Lab has not directly conducted political polls at this point, they have sought to strengthen the public’s understanding of polling, most recently through a postmortem of the 2020 pre-election polls and an appearance on Minnesota Public Radio’s Politics Friday call-in show to discuss that same topic.

Because of the Lab’s commitment to transparency they have developed a “transparency disclosure and methods report” that accompanies each of its recent surveys. That format provides line-by-line answers not only to the disclosure criteria set by AAPOR’s Transparency Initiative, but also the additional disclosures required by CNN and the Roper Center. (Click here for an example.)

Beyond conducting surveys, the APM Research Lab performs demographic analyses, often conveyed in part through interactive data visualizations. One example is the Lab’s widely cited Color of Coronavirus project, which tracks COVID-19 mortality by race and ethnicity for every state as well as the nation as a whole. Staying true to the spirit of transparency, even in these non-survey projects, the Lab always provides detailed methodological notes and, where possible, makes its raw data available upon request.

The TICC is very thankful for the hard work of the APM Research Lab for their continued commitment to methodological disclosure.