Courtesy of Cornell University

Peter Enns, the director of the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research. The Roper Center recently received a $1.43 million grant to construct a health opinion database.

October 14, 2018

Roper Center Receives Millions to Compile World’s Largest Health Opinion Data Database

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The Roper Center for Public Opinion Research, a Cornell-based operation that collects and disseminates survey data on both the local and national level, was awarded a $1.43 million grant to create the world’s largest database on public health opinion.

The Roper Center, the “largest public opinion archive in the world,” was founded in 1947 and has collected survey data stretching back to the 1930’s and the “infancy” of survey science, according to its website.

The recent grant will be used to create an “easily searchable” health opinion database, letting researchers and the public quickly find information about public views on health throughout the decades.

The database will compile tens of thousands of questions and answers on surveys pertaining to health from 1935 to the present, according to a University press statement. While empirical questions such as insurance and cost will be included, the database will also include more subjective influences on public health.

These include retirement costs, changing views on health practices such as smoking and diet, and the government’s changing role in promoting health care, the press statement details.

“Public opinion polls reveal that from the late 20th through the early 21st century, the federal government’s role in providing health care services has been a highly salient and contentious issue,” a 2013 Roper Center study on government and health states. However, this study also says that divisions “starkly evident” during the current decade, largely related to the Affordable Care Act, have not always existed.

Researchers and others will be able to use the searchable database to examine similar changes in public opinion stretching all the way back to the pre-World War II era. According to University press statement, the database will also include “online analysis and data visualization” to help non-scientists, including the media, students, policymakers and the public, to interpret the results.

Though the Roper Center focuses on data-driven research, it is executive director is a history department faculty member, Prof. Peter K. Enns, illustrating its multidisciplinary approach.

“Our goal is to generate a valuable tool to better understand how attitudes and perceptions about health change over time and across different groups in society,” Enns said in the press statement.

The database will take three and a half years to develop, the statement says, but Roper Center users will start seeing “ongoing benefits” as the project advances, Enns said.

The awarding body, The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, is America’s largest solely health-focused philanthropy with an endowment of approximately $10.6 billion according to their website, and gives roughly $500 million a year in grant funding.

Cornell’s Office of Sponsored Programs website lists the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation as one of the University’s “top funders” for competitive funding announcements.