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Full text of "Are Opinion Polls Useful?"

f./f} : 5 S ' ' j APR 15 mQ 

ARE OPINION 

POLLS USEFUL? 



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ROUNDTABLE 






Prepared for 

Tub United Statks Armed Forces 

by 

THE AMERICAN HISTORICAL ASSOCIATION 

This pamphlet is one or a scries msulc available l>y the War Depart- 
ment under the scries tiLle Gi Fitntndf.aMv. As the general title indi- 
cates, (J I liouiultablc pamphlets provide material which inforruation- 
cducation officers may use in conducting: group discussions or forums 
as petrt of an off-duty education program* and which operators of 
Armed Forces Radio Service outlets may use in preparing CI Radio 
Ueundtablc discussion broadcasts. 

The content of this pamphlet has been prepared by the Historical 
Service Hoard of the American Historical Association, Each pam- 
phlet is the series has only one purpose: to provide fsietual informa- 
lion and balanced arguments as a basis for discussion of al] sides of 
the question. It is not to he inferred that the War Department 
endorses any one of the particular views presented. 

Specific suf/jjestionx for the discussion or forum lender who plans 
£0 ws« tkis pamphlet will ha found on paffe J t 0. 



WAR DEPARTMENT 
Wakiiincton 25, I). C, 22 .Ian 1046 

I A. (3. 300.7 (22 .Dm 4G).] 

EM 4, GI Hmiiidlablc: Arc Opinion Polls Vxcjid? 

Current "War Department instructions authorize the requi- 
sition of additional copies of this pamphlet on the basis of 
one copy for each 25 military personnel, within limits of the 
available supply. Additional copies should be requisitioned 
from the United Slates Armed Forces Institute, Madison It, 
Wisconsin, or the nearest Oversea Branch. 



Distributed for use in the educational and information aJ programs of 
the Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard. This distribution is not 
to be construed as an endorsement by the Navy Department of the 
statements contained therein. 



SDCIGATlONAli SERVICES SECTION, STANDARDS AND CuRRICDJ'AJM Divi- 
sion, Training, Bureau m Navaj. Personnel, Washington 25, 1>. C. 
(Copies for Navy personnel arc to be requisitioned from Educational 
Services Section.) 

Education Suction, WfetMM Division, Special Snmcss Branch, 
UNlTO States Mauikk Corps, Washington 25, D. C- (Distributed 
to Murine Corps personnel by Special Services Branch- Additional 
copies or information may l>e obtained from unit Special Services 

Officers.) 

Training Division, Office of Personnel, Coast liUARn Headojtiar- 
BUBS, Washington 25, D. C. (Copies for Coast Cnnrd personnel 
should be requisitioned from the Commandant (PT), U. $. Coast 
Guard Headquarters, Washington 2a, 1>. C) 





Page- 

What was the old-fashioned way of polling opinion? 

What are public opinion polls? 

How are polls mode? 

Why do polls get different results? I 

Is it important to know public opinion? . 2 

What types of information can polls find? -,,,,.,,-,,,,■,., 2 

Do polls form public opinion? . , 31 

Should Congressmen rely on poll results? 35 

Should polls be financed" and used by federal agencies? 38 

Should an unbiased check be made of all polls? 39 

To the discussion leader 40 

For further reading 44 

OtW Ol Roundtable subjects , 47 



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WHAT WAS THE OLD-FASHIONED WAY 
OF POLLING OPINION? 



IF YOU have been a soldier for some length of time perhaps 
you feel confident that you know what "we believe" or 
what "our regiment believes" on certain subjects. Doubtless 
you've talked to hundreds of men representing all shades 
of opinion within your group. That is why you believe 
you know what "we" think. On a few questions you may 
even be ready to say what the soldiers in "this man's army" 
believe. You may not hit the answer right on the nose, but 
if you have heard enough comment from fellow soldiers, 
you're probably pretty certain that you've caught the drift 
of their opinion. 

Men have been trying for centuries to find ways of gaug- 
ing public opinion. American history is peppered with inci- 
dents in which somebody guessed wrong about what people 
were thinking — all the way from George III who thought 
our ancestors would take a Stamp Tax and like it down to 
a man named Adolf Hitler who had us sized up as a people 
too soft to go to war. Yet methods of measuring public 
opinion are neither magical nor mysterious. They never 
have been. It's an age-old idea that the best way to find 
out what people are thinking is to ask questions of them. 

When the local sage sitting on a cracker barrel at the 
general store tells you his community is in favor of a new 
roof for the schoolhouse, does he know what he is talking 



about? Frobably he has heard and noted the views on the 
subject, expressed by the stream of local citizens who have 
dropped in at the store for weeks past. It's an old-fash- 
ioned way of opinion polling, but it can be pretty sound. 

Likewise, when your Congressman returns to Washington 
and announces that he will support the majority view in 
his home district on the new tax bill, is he just uttering 
words or does he have something- to go on? More than 
likely he bases his remarks on talks with a large number 
of people back home. He may not be able to say what the 
majority view on any particular bill is within a few per- 
centage points, but he believes that he has discovered the 
views of the majority or of those whose support is most 
important to him. 



Nothing as more unjust or caipricious than public opinion. 

Will htm HazlM 



Similarly, political reporters of big city newspapers have 
long made a practice of touring the country before elec- 
tions in an effort to find out the drift of opinion. Afterward 
they base their reports to the public on a large number 
of chats and interviews with persons in various social and 
economic classes. Often their predictions prove correct. 
Sometimes they fall wide of the mark, for the chances of 
error in their method of sampling the population are great. 
They cannot be sure that the persons to whom they talk 
really represent the rank and file of the voters. 

How accurate was the old woy? 

Such rule-of-thumb methods of finding out what the public 
thinks about its problems allow almost anyone to set him- 
self up aa an expert on public opinion. They give anyone 

2 



with an ax to grind a chance to claim public support. The 
announcements often made by representatives of special 
interests, for instance, that "business believes" thus and so, 
that "labor feels," that "the farmers demand," or even that 
the "American people insist," may possibly be based on a 
poll of some vsort. Or they may actually be unsupported 
statements which greatly exaggerate or twist the real opin- 
ion of the public. For unless we are told how and on what 
basis such conclusion were reached, we have no way of 
testing how reliable these sweeping statements are. And 
unless reasonably accurate means are used to find out what 
the public's opinion on current issues is, even the sincere 
and honest forecaster of opinion is likely to make serious 
mistakes in his predictions. 



The proverbial wisdom of the populace in the streets, on 
live roads, and in the markets, instructs the ear of him 
who studies man more fully than n thousand rules osten- 
tatiously arranged. Anonymous, 1804 



Equally tricky are attempts to predict the trend of public 
opinion on the basis of the public's views in years gone by. 
Public opinion is not fixed or static. It changes with the 
times, and big shifts in opinion may result from new situa- 
tions or the effect of recent events. A trend of opinion 
throughout several generations may rapidly give way to 
new forces. Pearl Harbor blacked out isolationism in a 
few hours. 

WHAT ARE PUBLIC OPINION POLLS? 

Modern polling methods are not yet perfect, but close 
students of the subject believe that properly conducted they 
come closer to the right answers than the older and less 
scientific ways of feeling the public pulse. 



By 1936 the public became aware of so-called "public 
opinion polls." And not long after that some people were 
calling them a threat to democracy. They were said to be 
a new way of measuring the public's view. Actually, the 
polls were based on the same old theory of asking questions, 
though that wasn't of course the whole story. 

Soon many began to wonder how summaries of opinion 
could be made when only a few thousand people in the coun- 
try are ever questioned on any one issue. People began ask- 
ing over and over again: ""I wonder how these polls are 
made and how accurate they may be? I've never been inter- 
viewed by them, and I've never known or even heard of 
anyone who was!" 

The pollers are willing to explain their system. The 
ABC's of their methods are widely known and are not 
hard to understand. 

How widespread is their use? 

Day after day polls dealing with questions about public 
affairs and private business are being conducted throughout 
the United States. Opinion polling has also spread to Eng- 
land, Canada, Australia, Sweden, and France. 

In the United States several national polls on public 
questions are operated by endowed and privately owned 
organizations. Departments of the federal government 
like the Department of Agriculture and the War Depart- 
ment carry on opinion surveys. Two state-wide polls are 
actively in the field. At least two municipal polls are in 
operation, attempting to find out for citizens and civic lead- 
ers the popular opinions on local issues. The universities 
and many unofficial organizations are using polling meth- 
ods to study and to improve the polls and gather informa- 
tion on social problems. 

Private business and industry have adopted the polling 
device for studying their own problems. Through it busi- 



nessmen attempt to test markets and the success of their 
advertising:, to investigate the public's opinion of their 
products, and to examine many other problems of policy* 

The motion-picture industry uses polls continually to test 
the popularity of various films. Advertising agencies 
poll prospective users of commercial products for informa- 
tion to use in advertising campaigns. The newspapers, the 
radio industry, and the magazines study reading and listen- 
ing: habits by interviewing samples of their followers. 
Public relations men in industry employ polling methods 
to lay a foundation for their dealings with the public. In 
short, business and industry have adopted the polling de- 
vices in the belief that persons and institutions which 
depend on the public for support or livelihood must keep 
in close touch with the public's wants and wishes. 

The polls are doubtless here to stay. Just how do they 
work? What can we really learn from them? Can polls 
do what is expected of them? 

HOW ARE POLLS MADE? 

The MODl&tN POLLS usually take great care to select and to 
interview a small part or "sample" of the population. In 
this respect they differ from older and less scientific ways 
of feeling the public pulse. To ask questions of a majority 
of the country's adult population, or of even a majority in 
a large city, would be too big and costly a job. It is usually 
possible to interview only a very small part of the people. 
But the part or sample of the population which is finally 
interviewed must be made up of all types — it must repre- 
sent the same kinds of people who make up the entire 
population. This is the crucial point, because an accurate 
"miniature" of the population should reflect the opinions 
of the whole population. 

Those who uphold the reliability of opinion polls say that 



if an accurate miniature, consisting for example of 2,500 
persons, is interviewed at random, the chances are 99 out 
of 100 that the answers will vary no more than about 8 Per- 
cent from the opinions of the whole population. likewise, 
they claim that when an accurate sample of 1,000 persons 
is interviewed, the chances are about 99 out of 100 that the 
answers will not differ by more than 4 to 5 percent from 
the answers of the whole population. 

So the first requirement of a trustworthy poll is the selec- 
tion of an accurate sample or miniature of the population. 
A homely illustration of sampling might be that of a cook 
making soup. He stirs the broth thoroughly and then (lips 
out a spoonful to test the contents of the whole kettle. He 
doesn't need to drink all or most of the soup to judge the 




A spoonful will lell ihe IflMC as w<>II as drinking il aD. 

6 



taste. A spoonful will do the job. Likewise, the grain 
inspector chooses a test sample from the contents of a bin 
or carload- Crop estimates by the federal government are 
not made by counting, for example, all ears of corn grown 
in the United States — that would be impossible, of course — 
but by judging- yields on the basis of fair samples. 

How many are questioned? 

The size of the sample used in opinion polling naturally 
affects the accuracy of the results. Many nation-wide sur- 
veys are being: made on the basis of some 2,500 to 5,000 
interviews. If figures are to be presented by states also, 
or for the different groups in the sample — as, for example, 
members of labor unions — then the total sample must bo 
increased to assure a big enough sample of <*ach of these 
parts or subgroups. A sample of 2,500 may be large 
enough for nation-wide figures, for instance, but if figures 
from the same survey for each of the forty-eight states 
were reported, they would be based on samples which aver- 
age only a little more than 50. The samples for each state 
would probably be too small. 

It is an old rule that the smaller the sample the greater 
the chances of error. Nevertheless, the size of the sample 
is not as important to experienced pollers as the representa- 
tiveness of the sample. A large sample, carelessly chosen, 
can lead to greater error than a properly selected small 
sample. The main question to the poller is, therefore: Is 
the sample a good cross section of the population? In other 
words, does the sample include the various types of people 
who make up the whole population? This is the key point. 

Iloiv is the sample set nip? 

There are several ways in which the sample may be set up. 
The two most commonly used by polling organizations to 
get a proper cross section of the population are known as 

7 




Sample* -hnnlil iiirtmli- all Ivpi^ I li: it 111.1 k.i- up ihi> population. 



(1) the "controlled sample" method and (2) the "area 

sampling" method. 

Controlled sample. The controlled sample te more com- 
monly used. The samples arc carefully set up or "con- 
trolled" so that they include all the different types of peo- 
ple — butcher, baker, candlestickmaker, and so forth — that 
make up the whole population. Each interviewer is as- 
signed the exact number and types of persons he is to 
question. 

What types of people should be included to get a cross 
section of public opinion? Why doesn't everyone react in 
the same way to public questions? Does a poor man think 
differently about politics than a rich man? If so, a sample 
should have both poor men and rich men. Are people in 



the South likely to think differently about some current 
issues than people in the North or on the West Coast? If 
so, people from all sections of the country should be in- 
cluded in a national sample. Are farmers likely to size up 
public problems differently from city people? If so, then 
farmers should be interviewed as well as city dwellers. 

The polling organizations have studied this problem for 
many years and applied mathematical techniques. They 
haven't found out all the answers, but they believe that 
among the main influences that make a person what he is 
and cause one person to think differently about current 
issues than another are: 

1. The section of the country he lives in — East, 
South, North, Middle West, or West. 

2. The type of community he lives in — big city, 
small city, village, or farm. 

?>. His standard of living— poor, average, or 
wealthy. 

4. Whether he is a man or woman. 

5. How old he is* 

In addition, interviewers are usually told to find out 
how much schooling each person has and what his race and 
religion are. These points also have a bearing on a person's 
views. A poller must consider all these factors and many 
more. 

At any rate, before the sample can be made up accurately, 
facts about the population must be known. Figures must 
be gathered from the latest census reports and other 
sources so that it can be known what the make-up of the 
miniature or cross section should be. When the facts and 
figures have been collected, then the sample can be ar- 
ranged so that 1he same percentage of men and women, 
different age groups, economic classes, people who live in 
the big cities or on farms can be included. 



If 20 percent of the people in the United Stales are 
farmers, then the sample question must consist 20 per- 
cent of farmers. If :U) percent of the people live in cities, 
of one million or over, then 30 percent of the interviews 
should be made among residents of large cities. If 53 per- 
cent of the people are 40 or over, then that percentage of 
persons past 40 years of age should be interviewed. 

Notice the table on page 11. It shows the percentages for 
a national sample of adults used in the fall of 1944 by the 
Nal iun;tl Opinion liesearch Center of I Denver. < lolorado. 
The number of persons in the sample was 2,523. 

After the sample has been made up, each interviewer is 
given a list or order which calls for answers to questions 
from certain types of people. When the answers obtained 
by all the interviewers are added up t say the upholders of 
public opinion polls, they should reflect the opinion of the 
entire population. 

The interviewers find out from each person interviewed 
what his occupation is, how much .schooling he has had, 
whether he has a telephone or owns a car, and other fads. 
These figures, after they are added up for the whole sample, 
can be compared with the known facts in the entire popu- 
lation about occupations or maybe alxmt telephone and car 
ownership. If the percentage of ear and telephone owners 
in the sample, for instance, is about the same as the per- 
centage of car and telephone owners in the whole popula- 
tion, then the sample checks with one accuracy test. 

The ttrva sample. The area sample is coming into greater 
favor each year. It calls for a cross section of areas rather 
than of persons. In this case, facts about different types 
of areas such as counties, townships, or election districts 
are gathered from the census and other sources. For ex- 
ample, the polling organization gathers figures on counties 
thai contain big cities, those lha! include iiH'dium-.si/.rd 
cities, those that have only small towns within their bor- 

to 



A NATIONAL CROSS SECTION OR SAMPLE 





Per- 


rV- 


SEX 


ce** 


SECTION cent 


Men 


46 


Northeast 27 




54 


Middle West 32 
South ... 29 
West 12 


A&E 
2 1 to 39 


47 


SIZE OF PLACE 




53 


Cities of !, 000,000 popu- 
lation 28 

Cities of 50.000 to 

1.000,000 24 


RACE 




Cities of 2,500 to 50,000 


White 


91 


(includes places of less 


Negro . 


9 


than 2.S0Q not consid- 
ered urban) 30 

Farms ... 18 


OCCUPATION 




POLITICAL PREFERENCE, 


White-collar workers 


34 


1940 ELECTIONS 


Manual workers 


37 


Roosevelt voters ... 38 


Service workers 


10 


Willkie voters .21 




19 


Nonvoters . 41 

MARITAL STATUS 


ECONOMIC LEVEL 




Single 10 




15 


Married 77 


Middle 


53 


Widowed, separted, di- 


Lower 


32 


vorced 13 

NUMBER IN HOUSEHOLD 
l-member family . . 10 


EDUCATION 




2-member family 25 




18 


3-member family 25 




39 


4-member family 19 




43 


5-member family . 21 



Jl 



ders, and those that are mainly made up of farms. These 
figures are collected for the East, West, and other parts of 
the country. Some of each type of county are picked to 
make up the sample. A number of small areas such as 
townships and sections in the rural counties and blocks in 
the cities are chosen so that the sum of the areas is an accu- 
rate sample of all the areas in the country. 

Interviewers are instructed to call on every household or 
perhaps every third or fourth household in the sections or 
blocks that are finally selected. This method has been devised 
because it allows the interviewer tittle or no choice among 
the persons whom he is to visit and therefore has certain 
advantages over the use of the controlled sample. Also, 
some observers believe that it tends to avoid bias and mis- 
takes resulting from the use of the interviewer's personal 
judgment. 

Time are the questions phrased? 

Selecting a good sample is very important, but careless 
phrasing of questions and the use of poorly trained and 
supervised interviewers can ruin the poll no matter how sci- 
entifically the sample has been made up. 

The questions must be neutral. A "loaded" question which 
suggests an answer may cause serious error in the results. 
For example, take the question, "Should employers be 
forced to negotiate with union labor?" Is it a fair ques- 
tion? Couldn't many meanings be read into this question 
simply because of the word "force'*? Would you know for 
sure what the answers to this question really meant? 
Likewise the blunt question, "Do you read any books?" 
would yield meaningless answers because it is too general, 
it allows for too many interpretations, and it might hurt 
the pride of persons who are interviewed. 

Questions must be clear, so that people cannot misunder- 
stand their meanings. For example, in the course of one 

12 




'Have von slopped healing your wife? Yes or No. 1 



survey it was found that the word "salvage" meant many 
things during the war to different people. To some it sug- 
gested "paper and tin can drives." To a few it had to do 
with "bringing the boys home from the front." Therefore, 
to have used that word in a final survey would have resulted 
in error. 

The questions must deal with matters which the people 
who are interviewed can be expected to answer properly- 
Complicated and technical questions, or those dealing with 
subjects on which they have little information, may yield 
meaningless answers. 

As a result of these and other requirements of a good set 
of questions, the polling organizations should pre-test their 
questions by trying them out on a small number of persons 
rather than relying entirely on the judgment of their own 
staff. Only after the questions have been properly tested 
can they be incorporated in a Anal questionnaire. Many 

13 



polling surveys are faulty because the questions have not 
been carefully worded and have nut U»en tested. 

What kinds af questions are asked'/ 

Exact forms of the questions depend also on the type of 
information which the survey proposes to gather. The most 
common form is one which requires only a yes or no answer. 
It is particularly useful when issues have been before the 
people and when they have probably already formed an 
opinion about them. 

For instance, the American Institute of Public Opinion 
(Callup Poll) asked the simple question, "Do you believe 
that war bonds are a good investment?" Answers were: 

Yen 91% 

No S% 

I ml.-, i.l.,1 %% 

Open or free questions which allow the persons inter- 
viewed to express themselves freely and at length are 
sometimes used, especially when it is important to find out 
the various lines of thinking 1 which are current on an issue. 
For instance, workers in certain industries might be inter- 
viewed and allowed to express themselves freely on the con- 
ditions under which they work, in an effort to find out the 
most important personnel problems in the industry from 
the employees* angle. 

Another form is the so-called multiple-choice question, or 
questions grouped into a check list. Here the persons inter- 
viewed are allowed to malte a choice among a number of 
answers. The multiple-choice questions are useful* for 
example, when it Is important to know how strongly people 
feel about a problem, how well they are informed about an 
issue, or which viewpoint they hold among- those listed. 

Here is an example of this form of question as it was 
used by the National Opinion Research Center: 

"Which of the following statements comes closest to de- 

n 



scribing how you feel, on the whole, about the people who 
live in Germany (Japan) ?" 

1. Thr German (Japune»t-) people will always want 1o go to 
war l*> miikc ihcmsehv* sip powerful its possible. 

2. II" Crrman (Japanese) peoplr m;i y nul lik-e war, bul they 
have "-Imwn llial llii-y art- ti»o ea*ily led inlo war by powerful 
leader*. 

3. Tlir German (Japanese} people du no! like, war. If ihey 

roulil 1 1- 1 ■. e llir Mime rlra mi' ;i.«. peopl* 1 in oiImt enimlrir*, lln-y 
WOllM Uet'Ohie gO0(l i ili/.-ns .,| llir \Mirlil. 

One experienced memljer of a polling organization hay- 
summed up the objectives of questions on a typical issue as 

follows : 

- 

1. Questions which will discover how many per- 
sons have heard of the issue, read of it, thought 
about it. 

2. Questions to get at the direction of popular 
thinking about the issue. 

3. Questions to bring out the intensity with which 
people are thinking about the issue — how 
strongly they feel about it f 

4. Yes-no questions to find out which side of the 
fence the people are on. 

1 1 mr are interviewers trained and supervised? 

Most of the modern polling surveys are based on personal 
interviews. The Gallup Poll, for example, employs from 
800 to 1,000 interviewers throughout the country. 

Persona] interviews are considered preferable to surveys 
made through the mails because some classes of persons are 
more likely to answer by mail than are others. It has been 
found, for instance, that persons in the upper economic 
levels are more likely to answer by mail than those on lower 
levels. As a result, the sample cannot be controlled as 

15 



PHRASING OF QUESTIONS IS VERY IMPORTANT 

FORTUNE SURVEY.. APRIL 1941 




"If Hitler wins, do you think he will be able to invade 
the United States?" 

YES 33 % 

NO 56.1 % 

DON'T KNOW 10.9% 




If Hitler subdues Europe and gets the British Fleet 
in his possession, he will be able to invade us." 



AGREE 52J 

DISAGREE 33.9$ 

DON'T KNOW 13.2% 




There is little chance oi Hitler invading us across 3000 miles of 
ocean when he hasn't even been able to cross 20 miles of Channel." 

AGREE 47.2% 

DISAGREE 42.3% 

DON'T KNOW 10.5% 



COfWCHT l?3*-4l, TIME, INC, 



16 



closely when mail questionnaires are used as is possible 
when personal calls are made. 

But good interviewing is an art which calls for careful 
training and supervision. Bias, and hence error, can result 
if the interviewer isn't neutral or if he influences the 
answers of the person he is questioning. Interviewers are 
usually picked on the recommendation of local leaders. 
Their social, economic, and political leanings are studied in 
an effort to select those who are likely to do their work 
objectively and honestly. A check on the interviewer is 
usually made in the course of the analyses of polling data 
to find out if he followed instructions exactly and how his 
work compares with that of the others. 

WHY DO POLLS GET DIFFERENT 
RESULTS? 

It is GENERALLY AGREED that the usefulness of public opin- 
ion polls depends on the reliability of their results. Many 
students believe that polling 1 has proved a reliable guide to 
what Americans think or how they feel about certain issues 
and that the results obtained when a sample of the popula- 
tion is interviewed may be '"blown up" to indicate what all 
Americans think or feel. On the other hand, some students 
of opinion polls declare that this method of obtaining 
national views cannot attain great accuracy because the 
sample, no matter how carefully selected, will not reflect 
the entire range of individual ideas or feelings that char- 
acterize 138,000,000 Americans. 

Polling, however, is not an exact science. Since only 
samples of the population are interviewed, final figures are 
always subject to a margin of error. The sampling method 
cannot produce exact figures like those found in the labora- 
tory of the chemist or the physicist. People of a community 
cannot be subjected to precise analytical measurements. 

*7 



Exactly what accounts for an opinion held by a person or 
for his personality cannot be isolated and studied as pre- 
cisely as the elements which make up a chemical compound. 
Nevertheless, if properly done, polls are said to result in 
figures which are very close to the nation-wide average. 
This belief has to some extent been borne out by sampling 
the voters before an election. Unless the division of opinion 
is a bou 1 - r j() 50, with a good poll I lie (inures can be expected 
to call the turn on the winner or the popular side of the 
issue. A candidate getting about 53 percent or more of the 
vote can be picked to win without much question. 

Does chance enter in? 

Mere chance accounts for the normal margin of error. 
These chance factors have been studied under what is 
known as the "theory of probabilities." With a little 
patience anyone can test this theory, using dice or pennies. 
And very few crapshooters keep their shirts who haven't a 
working knowledge of this law — though they may call it 
intuition! 

Suppose you decade to find out how many heads and tails 
you will get if you toss four pennies at the same time. The 
pennies have only two sides and it can be proved that you 
are more likely to get 2 heads and 2 tails than any other 
combination. That is, you can expect to get 4 heads or 4 
tails from one-sixteenth of the throws, 3 heads and 1 tail 
or 3 tails and 1 head from one-fourth of the throws, and 
2 heads and 2 tails three-eighths of the time. 

Suppose, however, that when you toss the pennies the 
first time you get 4 heads, You toss them the second time 
and maybe, to your surprise, you get A heads again! Of 
course you wouldn't come to the conclusion that the pennies 
have only heads and no tails- You not only know other- 
wise, but know that you haven't tossed the pennies often 
enough to be sure of such a conclusion. Your sample isn't 

18 




I Min tiiMii. or ilii' "ihtorj of probabilities' 



big enough. But if you toss the four pennies over and over 
again, recording the* combination of heads and tails you get 
after each toss, you will find that you get closer and closer 
to the figures you can expect to get theoretically. The mar- 
gin of error will continue to decrease as the number of 
tosses (sample) increases. If you keep up the tosses until 
you have made 1,000 or more, you should get the expected 
results within a small margin of error. 

• The same rules and similar chances of error operate when 
you carefully sample the population in an opinion survey- 
In other words, even if the sampling and interviewing have 
been perfectly carried out, it can he proved by mathematics 
that chance can cause small margins of error. For example, 
it can be shown that in a sample of 1,000, taken at random, 
the chances are 9(5 out of 100 that the error will be less 
than 3 percentage points, although in the other 5 times the 

19 



error may be larger. The chances are 99 out of 100, how- 
ever, that the error will be less than 4 percent. If the sam- 
ple is 2,500, taken at random, the margin of error is about 
2 percent in the first case, and about 3 percent in the sec- 
ond. This means that if the same questions were asked of 
the whole population, the figures would be likely to fall 
within a few percent of those obtained by a careful use of 
the sampling method. The risk is small. It is considered a 
reasonably safe gamble. 

Are the differences significant? 

It follows that if two or more polls get answers to the same 
questions which differ by no more than these normal errors 
they have, for all practical purposes, achieved the same re- 
sults. It would be mere chance, however, if they came out 
exactly the same percentages. If the polls announce results 
which differ by a larger margin than the normal error per- 
mits, then the difference is significant, and is caused by 
some other reason besides chance. The samples may not 
have been equally true cross sections of the population, or 
the questions may have been worded differently in each poll. 
The champions of polling methods say that the evidence 
is strong that the major polls get the same results for all 
practical purposes. Moreover, their figures tend to vary 
less and less from true figures — such as election returns — 
as years go by. In 1936 the Gallup Poll was G percent wide 
of the actual percentage division of the votes cast for 
Landon and Roosevelt; it was 4,5 percent off the mark in 
1940, and less than 2 percent off in 1944. However, in 1944 
the Gallup Poll was much more off the mark in guessing 
the outcome of the electoral votes. It indicated a fairly 
close race — so far as electoral votes are concerned — between 
Roosevelt and Dewey, but actually Roosevelt obtained 4:52 
votes and Dewey only 99. Thus, its state sampling was 
much less accurate than its national sampling. 

20 



The Fortune (Elmo Roper) Poll has varied only 1 percent 
from the results in each of these elections. 

The pollers claim that these results are better than more 
haphazard methods used in the past. They far surpass, for 
example, the Literary Digest poll of 1936 which was not 
based on a carefully selected cross section of the population 
and which resulted in an error of 19 percent. That error 
helped to end the existence of the Literary Digest 

To summarize the means by which one can try to tell 
the difference between reliable and unreliable polls: 

1. Does the polling organization explain its procedures 
to the public so that anyone can determine whether 
it follows reliable practices? Is the organization 
willing to submit its data to impartial analysis? 

2. The reader should examine carefully the questions 
and results of polls which come to his attention. 
Are the questions neutral in tone or are they 
"loaded"? Do the questions deal with real and 
present situations? Are they merely intended to 
bring: out opinions on the basis of assumptions? Do 
the questions and answers deal with past, present, 
or future situations? 

3. Who is sponsoring the polls? Is the sponsor an 
organization interested, for example, in research 
or in the welfare of the general public? Or does 
the organization gather data furthering the inter- 
ests of some special group? 

4. If the poll is conducted by a private organization, 
does it depend for its existence on special interests? 
Does it depend for its existence on support from 
the general public? The major polls can maintain 
public confidence only so long as they continue to 
be accurate within the limits of chance errors. 

5. Do the privately owned polls which regularly an- 
nounce their findings undergo an audit or checkup of 
their results? At least two organizations have 
given funds for the study of modern polling meth- 
ods. The funds are used partly for research and 
analyzing figures supplied by the major polls* 

21 



HOW U.S. PUBLIC OPINION IN PREWAR YEARS 



JANUARY 1936 



jfiS^gS 



Would you be willing to fight or have 
a member of your family fight 




• ... IB ease wo were attacked on our own 
territory? 



YES MO 

80.3% 15.6% 

. . . in case the Philippines were attacked? 23.8% 66-8% 

. . . in case a foreign power tried to *eize land 



in Central or South America? 

. . . in case our foreign trade were seriously 
■interfered with by force? 



17.4% 73.8% 
34.4% 53.8% 



DON'T 
KNOW 

4.1% 
9.4% 

8.8% 

11.8% 



JULY 1937 



Do you believe there is lilcely to be a 
mafor European or Asiatic war in the 
next two or three years? 



) 



•MM* 



/ 



YES 46.9% 

NO 29.2% 

DON'T KNOW.. 23.9% 



If yes, do you think the U. S. 
is lilcely to be drawn in? 

YES 46.6% 

NO 36.6% 

DON'T KNOW.. 16.8% 



22 



SHIFTED IN RESPONSE TO EVENTS ABROAD 



DECEMBER 1939 



Favor entering war now 2.5 /o> 

Fight only if Germany seems likely to Win 

unlets we did 14.7% 

Favor policy of economic discrimination 

against Germany 8-9 /O 

Favor maintaining strict neutrality 67,4% 

Find some way to support Germany ,2 /o 

Other 2.4% 

Don't- know 3.9% 




AUGUST 1941 



Those who think this is our war are wrong, and the 
people of this country should resist to the last 
ditch any move that would lead us further toward 

war. 

A tot of mistakes have brought us close to a war 
that Un't ours, but now it's done, and we should 
support, in full, the Government's program. 

While at first it looked as if this wasn't our war, 
it now loots- as though we should back England 
till Hitler is beaten. 

It's, our war as well as England's, and we- should 
have been in there fighting with her long before 
this. 

Don't know. 






*£•? 



U.3% 

22.4% 

41.3% 

12.4% 
7.6% 



#&** 



53.7% 

For 
military 
interven- 
tion 



COPYRIGHT IW4-41. TIME, INC. 



23 



6. Does the poll usually attempt to go beyond simple 
yes-no questions? Does it try to arrive at an under- 
standing of the public's attitude on questions? In 
addition to giving figures on mere division of opin- 
ion, does it try to find (a) what interest the public 
has in the issue, (b) what information the public has 
on the issue, (c) what reasons people have for 
their viewpoints, and (d) how intensely people feel 
about the issue? 

IS IT IMPORTANT TO KNOW 
PUBLIC OPINION? 

Is it important in a democratic nation to find out how the 
public feels about popular issues? If so, should the public's 
viewpoints be found out somehow when important issues 
actually face the country? Or are the people too badly 
informed or indifferent to have dependable opinions? 

Public opinion is, in fact, recognized as an important 
force in statecraft. In countries ruled by dictatorships 
every effort is made to keep the public in line by allowing 
only one point of view to be heard. No free play of public 
opinion is permitted. 

What** public opinion to a demovruvy? 

In a democracy like ours it is an accepted idea that the 
public which is called upon to make important decisions at 
the ballot box must be kept informed of popular issues. It 
is also an important principle of our governmental system 
that public policies are decided upon by the people. Popu- 
lar control over lawmaking bodies, over executives in the 
government, and over domestic and foreign policy is a basic 
idea in our political society. The people are the source of 
power. Hence Iheir opinions should mold the action of 
government. 

The successful life of our government operating under 
these principles .justifies our faith in the people's good judg- 

24 



ment. We believe that once the public's views on public 
issues are known and acted upon, our government will be 
improved rather than damaged. It is often said that only 
those who distrust the public and the soundness of its judg- 
ment need fear an expression of its views. 

Do elections tell enough? 

Can we get enough information to keep us and our repre- 
sentatives informed of the trend of public opinion from 
elections held at regular intervals? Are our public prob- 
lems 30 simple that they can be solved merely by a show of 
hands? That question was raised in the last century by a 
close student of American government, James Bryce, Brit- 
ish ambassador to the United States. In his American 
Commonwealth, Bryce made the following comment: 

"The obvious weakness of government by opinion is the 
difficulty of ascertaining it. . . . The one- positive test 
applicable is that of an election, and an election can at best 
do no more than test the division of opinion between two or 
three great parties. , . . An American statesman is in 
no danger of consciously running counter to public opinion* 
but how is he to discover whether any particular opinion is 
making or losing: way, how is he to gau^e the voting strength 
Its advocates can put forth, or the mora! authority which its 
advocates exert? Elections cannot be further multiplied, 
for they are too numerous already." 

Bryce wrote on thin subject before the modern polls had 

been developed. Nevertheless, he looked forward to the 

time when in a democracy the viewpoint of the people could 

"become ascertainable at all times." Regular reports on 

the people's views would stimulate the discussion of public 

affairs. They would assist, therefore, in the development 

of public opinion, and according to Bryce, 

"It in the existence of such a public opinion as this, the 
practice of freely ami constantly reading talking, and jiulg- 
insr public political rights, that gives to popular government 
that educated, and stimulative power which is so frequently 
claimed as its highest merit." 

25 



Do polls stimulate diavussion? 

Can the polls contribute, (hen, to this stimulating discussion 
of public affairs by focusing- attention on current issues? 
The Gallup Poll, for example, in the summer of 1943 in- 
quired into public viewpoints on social security legislation. 
Asked whether the Social Security program should be 
changed to include farmers, domestic servants, government 
employees, and professional persons, the persons inter- 
viewed answered: 

Yea hV/o 

No - 1*>% 

DndMded tljfi 

Similarly, the polls have tried to find out how much infor- 
mation people have on public affairs. Karly in 1945 the 
Gallup Poll called attention to the lack of knowledge among 
American voters on the machinery of government. The 
results showed up a gap in the public's knowledge of gov- 
ernment which might be filled by the information agencies 
that reach the people of the country. Only .'58 percent of 
the persons interviewed throughout the country knew the 
length of a representative's elected term of office in Con- 
gress and only :*>0 percent knew how much a Congressman 
is paid. 

On the other hand, the Fortune survey in a poll conducted 
in 1944 tried to find out what people thought were the big 
public issues at that time. A cross section of the popula- 
tion was asked, "Which two or three of these things do you 
think are the most important to America?" The choices 
and the results were: 

V. h:ii .limilil In* (linn- -ilioul iirt-Yt-tiling umiiiptiiwiii'nl 

after ihe war 6JL£% 

Tlic purl I In* IL S. -linuM pl.i\ in unrlil :ifl";iir- .-iflrr 

the >■ .ir S93% 

IVsirr Irrni- In In- KjVMI (-«Tiii;im 2%£% 

Fuliirr mm' i; 1 1 MTiirily prm i-iimi*. . , 32.2% 

Don't know 4.2% 

26 



If this poll accurately reflected the public's views, could 
it have stimulated further discussion of these topics and 
informed government officials of the trend of popular opin- 
ion? Is this kind of information useful to the public ? 

WHAT TYPES OF INFORMATION 
CAN POLLS FIND? 

The polls can find out what people are thinking about im- 
portant public questions. According to their champions, 
the polls are fact-finding devices which help to keep the 
public well informed. The polls can keep the public in 
touch with important shifts in public opinion, it is said, and 
therefore in the shifts of forces which decide where the 
political, economic, and social power in this country lies. 

Critics, however, point out that polling, in addition to 
being restricted by the small size of the sample, is subject 
to the bias of interviewers and those who analyze the data, 
and that in some instances also the questions may not be 
well or carefully phrased. Some discount in the reliability 
of opinion surveys must therefore be made. 

Despite the skepticism of polling practices voiced by some 
sociologists and economists, polls are being used more and 
more to gather facts and also opinions. The Bureau of the 
Census uses the sampling method, for example, to gather 
currently factual information about the labor supply in the 
United States. Other organizations try to find out the 
opinions of people on any of the day's significant issues. 
Information which the polling organizations attempt to 
gather can be illustrated by the following questions: 

1. What are the wants and wishes of the public? 

2. What are the people thinking about? 

3. What is troubling the public? 

4. What are the opinions of people on current prob- 
lems? 

27 



5. To what extent and in what respects are people 
badly informed about current issues? 

6. What are the voting" habits of people, in general, 
and of special groups within the population? 

7. What are the differences of opinion among people 
in various geographic areas in the country, among 
political groups, among groups representing different 
social and economic levels? 

The comment is often made that elections do not answer 
these questions fully. They provide no means of testing 
the public will between elections. They do not show clearly 
what the public thinks of current issues when it Votes for 
the candidates. Their results can be misinterpreted. Users 
of polling methods say that opinion surveys can fill this 
gap in the information which reaches the public. 

What value are pre-election polls? 

Election predictions are dramatic tests of polling methods 
and the reputation of the pollers has come to be based 
largely on them. Elections offer a severe test of the poller's 
methods. He must make two predictions: which people will 
vote and how they intend to vote. He cannot merely sample 
a cross section of the adult population. He must attempt 
to find out the opinions of those who will rote at the elec- 
tion. He must attempt to overcome the influences resulting 
from weather conditions on election day and other factors 
which will affect the turnout. He must study the influences 
exerted by political machines, by eleventh hour campaign- 
ing, and the possibility of interest or lack of interest in (he 
election among important parts of the voting population. 
If his predictions forecast the viewpoints of the adult popu- 
lation rather than the preference of the people who actu- 
ally voted, perhaps more accurately than the election itself, 
and if they vary widely from the election returns, he will 

28 



have failed in the eyes of the public- And whenever the 
election is closely contested, an error of a few percentage 
points might cause him to predict the winner wrongly. The 
main purpose of polling organizations is not, however, to 
make election forecasts. 

To be sure, they offer a testing ground for finding out 
why people vote as they do, when and on what basis they 
make up their minds, what relationships exist between 
their votes for certain candidates and current issues, and 
what differences of political opinion exist among various 
groups and types of people. The elections also give pollers 
a chance to study to what extent the voters appear to be 
affected by political platforms, speeches, and various other 
forms of publicity. 

It would be difficult to show that the 164 election fore- 
casts made by one polling organization during nine years 




The tiiaiii purpose of |«ollmp organisation* in not to makf force**!*. 

29 



up to the end of 1944 had in themselves served an impor- 
tant public purpose other than to provide a public test of 
polling techniques. If a poller can forecast elections cor- 
rectly time after time within a few percentage points, can 
he be sure that the accuracy of his public opinion polls con- 
ducted with the same methods on social, political, and eco- 
nomic questions will be high? 

The answer is not simple. The polling of voting behavior 
is relatively easy and not subject to question. It is like 
counting a show of hands at a meeting. Polling people on 
current issues involves complications. Asking people, for 
example, whether they favor a hard or soft peace for Japan 
requires them to think about the matter before giving an 
answer. What does a hard peace mean? A soft peace? 
Many of those interviewed will answer only to be obliging 
even though they may not have enough information to give 
an answer. You will notice that polls often report a per- 
centage who "don't know" or "haven't any opinion" about 
the question asked. This percentage may be a key to the 
meaning of the poll's results. 



Trust not the populace; the crowd is many-mi nded. 

Attributed to Phocylides, 560 B.C. 



Are polls reaching new fields? 

Surveys based on current issues which are not necessarily 
connected with a forthcoming election are, then, the par- 
ticular field which the polte are cultivating. The area of 
public health is an example. Are people poorly informed 
about public health? In what respect is more information 
likely to resiill in better standards of health and the saving 
of lives? In what localities are the needs peculiar? What 
public health measures is the public willing to support? To 

:w 



answer these questions requires a survey among the people. 
Questions must be asked and answers recorded. 

The people have the right and duty to decide on matters 
of policy. Government officials need advice from the people 
on questions of policy. They can carry on their work more 
confidently and intelligently if they know the public atti- 
tude. Whether we should have a social security program 
may well be the subject of a public opinion poll. On 
the other hand, the detail of just how the social security 
policy shall be administered is not likely to be a suitable 
subject for an opinion survey. The public cannot be ex- 
pected to serve as a congress of experts for considering 
matters which it doesn't understand or which can be under- 
stood only by persons who have special knowledge of the 
problem. Technical details and the means for carrying 
out public policies will have to be left to experts or persons 
who have had specialized training. 



The pressure of public opinion is like the pressure of the 
atmosphere; you can't ste it — but, all the same, it is six- 
teen pounds to the square inch. James Russell Loivell 



DO POLLS FORM PUBLIC OPINION? 

An attempt can be made to use polls to influence rather 
than tb reflect public opinion. Polls can be manipulated to 
give a false picture of public opinion. Moreover, there is 
evidence that since polls are believed to be reliable and 
useful, the public could be misled by unreliable surveys. 

What influence have they? 

But the major polling organisations argue that the polls 
exert an influence on the public in much the same manner 
that any book, any set of facts, or discussion of public af- 

31 



fairs does. Opinion surveys can, doubtless, help the public 
by stimulating discussion of current problems. 

The public itself — if we are to judge by a poll on the sub- 
ject — has a lot of confidence in opinion sampling. Asked 
if they think the polls "are a good thing or bad thing in our 
country/' 73 percent said, "a good thing," while 21 percent 
admitted they didn't know. 

Early in 1945 the Gallup Poll released results of a survey 
which showed that a majority of voters favored a "work 
or fight" bill rather than attempts to get people into war 
jobs by voluntary methods. The division of opinion was 
reported as follows: 

Favor keepinp voluntary methods 39% 

Favor drafting |n-op]c 53% 

Uncertain 8% 

This subject was being widely discussed and debated at the 
time and the results of the poll intensified the discussion. 

Was it good or bad that this evidence was made public? 
Could the figures influence public opinion? If so, was it a 
bad influence? Should influences on public opinion be re- 
stricted to radio talks, newspaper and magazine articles, 
pamphlets, public speakers, and other means of reaching 
the public and not include the results of public opinion 
surveys? Can you support the argument that it is against 
public interest to know what a cross section of the popu- 
lation says it believes about an urgent public question? 

The modern polls are designed to report — they do not 
usually pretend to solve problems. They try to record, not 
to form opinion or solve highly technical problems. They 
may exercise the same indirect power on policymakers and 
the rank and file that any published studies exert. 

Do (hey help load the bandwagon? 

Whether the public is actually swayed by the results of 
opinion polls is hard to say. One test is provided by the 

32 



election polls. If opinion surveys exert an important in- 
fluence on the public, then the division of opinion during 
an election campaign should be in the same direction as 
the polling results. The leading candidate should gain in 
strength as the campaign proceeds. Voters who hadn't 
made up their minds or who had favored the opposing can- 
didate should be found climbing on the leading candidate's 
bandwagon. Can we find any evidence that there is such a 
trend ? 

In 1936 the Literary Digest poll showed Landon winning 
by a landslide, Landon was badly beaten in the election. 
In the 1940 election one major poll showed that Willkie was 
gaining strength in the final stages of the campaign. Per- 
haps he was, but he lost the election. 

During the presidential election campaign of 1944 the 
Gallup Poll published figures showing that 71 percent of a 



.-*> v %* 



^ 



-4* 

< 



$dj££h* * 




Within local areas iJie bandwagon appeal may acluplly have an effect. 

33 



cross section of all voters thought Roosevelt would win the 
election. 17 percent thought Dewey would win, and 12 per- 
cent were undecided. But the civilian vote in the election 
ran about 5S to 47 in favor of Roosevelt. 

Consequently major polling organizations argue that the 
"bandwagon theory" has not been supported by election 
data. In general, the public appeared to vote for its can- 
didates even if the odds were against them. The people 
did not seem to be swung in significant numbers one way 
or another by opinion survey data. 

Whitl do studies reveal? 

Studies in local areas have indicated, however, that the 
bandwagon appeal actually does operate during a political 
campaign, although a real effect on the outcome of elections 
has not been proved. A study of the 1940 presidential elec- 
tion in Erie County, Ohio, for instance, showed that some 
persons who changed their intention to vote for a candidate 
during the campaign said that they had been influenced by 
the polls. The number was small. Nevertheless, the study 
showed that there may have been some bandwagon influence 
in this case, however small the final effects on the election. 
Is it dangerous for the public to follow the polls as a 
measure of public opinion? No such danger has been 
proved. On the contrary, disinterested opinion leaders have 
not hesitated to study data resulting from opinion surveys 
and to use them freely in public discussions. Polling re- 
sults are published widely in reputable periodicals and in 
articles by conscientious students of public affairs. Results 
of opinion surveys are included in studies such as the For- 
eign Policy Reports, not as conclusive evidence, but as con- 
tributions to an understanding of public attitudes. This 
would indicate that many students of public affairs take 
the results of polls seriously. 

34 



SHOULD CONGRESSMEN RELY 
ON POLL RESULTS? 

To WHAT EXTENT should Congressmen rely on polling re- 
sults to guide them in voting on legislation? Is it in the 
public interest to follow confidently the people's view of the 
issues? Is it important to correct the prevailing opinion 
on popular questions? In what manner, in view of polling 
results, can Congress best exert leadership? 

Congressmen usually seek all possible advice before they 
arrive at their decisions. They want to use every means 
available for determining what the people want and what 
people believe about current issues. Public opinion polls 
can furnish the Congressmen with one form of evidence 
which they can use together with evidence from other 
sources. A Congressman would probably not rely solely on 
the polls for an estimate of public opinion, but he could be 
expected to make use of every evidence of public opinion. 

Is the public always right? 

Critics of the polls argue that the public's opinions should 
not alone be taken into consideration by Congressmen in 
making their decision, since the public as a whole lacks the 
information necessary to forming sound opinions on many 
important issues. The polls themselves show that a third 
of the nation has but a vague idea of a tariff, and most 
Americans cannot name a single provision of the Atlantic 
Charter, nor are they aware that the United States received 
reverse lend-lease aid from Great Britain. And about 40 
percent are confused as to who such well-known public fig- 
ures as Thurman Arnold, Philip Murray, John L. Lewis, or 
Eric Johnston are. 

Published results of polls have shown time after time 
that the public favored a policy before Congress had acted 
upon it* Well-known instances are : repeal of the neutrality 

35 



act, lend-lease, preparedness, the need for more air power, 
conscription, and price and wage controls. This does not 
mean that Congressmen had not already thought deeply 
about these matters before the polls were taken. It may 
mean merely that Congress was inclined to study these 
questions with great care before committing itself or that 
ft was awaiting some good evidence of the public viewpoint 
on these important questions. 

Is the minority important? 

Few persons would suggest that Congress should follow 
blindly the opinions of a majority of the public as they are 
revealed by modern polls. 

In this connection, Gerald Johnson, one of the editors of 
the Baltimore Sun and a well-known historian says, "Some- 
times a man in public office ought to take the unpopular 
side. If he cherishes some hope that it may not be so un- 
popular as it looks, it is easier for him to do his duty. But 
if public opinion were always measured precisely, no such 
doubts would be laid upon the man who must do what is 
right in spite of the wrath of his constituents." 

Even if the polls were to become widely accepted as the 
best evidence of the public's views on current issues. Con- 
gressmen need not become robots. Otherwise, as one writer 
has remarked, "democratic government might as well be 
conducted by a roomful of $25-a-week clerks, adding up the 
results of national referenda." 

Have polls a place in government? 

But polling results can show Congress how well the people 
are informed on public questions, how intensely they feel 
about specific issues, how fair and sensible is the public's 
reaction to government policy, how and why the people 
divide on these questions, and where the "sore spots" of 
public opinion are. With such information at hand, Con- 

36 



gress can use its best judgment to decide what course to 
take In the public interest. The polls are as important 
probably as pressure groups, newspapers, and other things 
which try to shape public opinion. They will be valuable 
to democracy only to the degree that our leaders are able 
to learn how to evaluate their results — that is, how to use 
and not to use them. 

Late in December 1944, a Congressional committee which 
was investigating' campaign expenditures made a critical 
investigation of polling data gathered by one of the major 
polls during the 1944 presidential campaign. The com- 
mittee chairman's remarks which opened hearings on this 
subject included this comment : 

"If polls can be useful to the Congress and to the Nation 
in determining attitudes on public questions, then certainly 
the mechanism by which the poll a operate becomes of tre- 
mendous interest to the Congress because the Congress could 
be the first to benefit by the use of this information." 

The technical committee which assisted the House com- 
mittee in its investigation pointed out a number of defects 
in polling methods,, yet reached the following conclusion: 

"Modern scientific sampling technique can predict with 
striking accuracy the results which would be obtained if a 
complete canvass were made of the entire population. The 
use of scientific sampling methods in ascertaining public- 
opinion constitutes an important contribution to the needs 
of a well-informed democratic society. . . . Scientific 
sampling and survey techniques now available, carefully and 
rigidly used, will yield information relating to public opinion 
and to economic, political and s-ocial matters, that in. depend- 
ably accurate within relatively small margins of error, at 
great speed, and with low cost." 

The interest in Congress shown by the investigation of 
polling methods may be taken as a straw in the wind. 
While the committee did not intend to accept without criti- 
cal study the reliability of the polls, it nevertheless recog- 
nised the important part which the polls play in the dis- 
cussion of social and political issues in the United States. 



SHOULD POLLS BE FINANCED AND 
USED BY FEDERAL AGENCIES? 

THB USEFULNESS of polls to government agencies other than 
the legislative branch is already undergoing extensive tests. 
The Department of Agriculture has for several years made 
use of polling procedures to determine the attitude of 
farmers on matters affecting policies of the department. 
Likewise the Army, the Treasury Department, the Census 
Bureau, and other agencies are conducting surveys among 
parts of the population in which they are interested. 

These agencies have assumed that if business throughout 
the country has found it profitable In use the sampling 
method of inquiring into public opinion, then this method 
also could be usefully applied in the art of government. For 
within about two weeks a sampling of public opinion can be 
made on any suitable subject- In other words, a referendum 
at small cost to the public can be made if for no other 
reason than to get the advice of the public on a problem. 

Sometimes basic facts, such as are gathered by the Cen- 
sus Bureau in its regular reports on employment and un- 
employment are assembled quickly by the sampling method. 
Or administrators use polling devices to test their pro- 
cedures, to find out how well their activities and their poli- 
cies are understood, and to enlist the public's help in putting 
government programs into operation. For example, the 
attitude of farmers on the government's crop production 
and farm price policies has been the subject of official polls. 
Changes have been made an printed government forms as a 
result of evidence accumulated by surveys, and infor- 
mation has been released to the public to correct what polls 
showed to be "areas of public ignorance." 

So long as polls, financed with public funds, are used for 
administrative rather than political purposes, are they dan- 
gerous to democratic processes? If they are carefully 

38 



Conducted can they serves as means by which government 
keeps in touch with the people? Is il reasonable io expect 
that any organization which depends on the public for co- 
operation or support should make an effort to find out what 
the public thinks? 

SHOULD AN UNBIASED CHECK BE MADE 
OF ALL POLLS? 

Perhaps all polls on public questions will lie looked upon 

with distrust by some people until they lielieve firmly that, 
these surveys are above suspicion and that they are made 
as scientifically as up-to-date knowledge will permit. 
Should people be assured too that the polling 1 organiza- 
tions are not linked up with special interest groups? Would 
it be a service to the public and to the polls if regular check- 
ups of the results were made by some unbiased and expert 
group? Could the polls Im> expected to state that their 
methods have been passed upon by unbiased investigators? 

Careful examination of results are already made of fig- 
ure's gathered by some major polls. These "audits" are 
somewhat like those made of bookkeeping records or ac- 
counts of business concerns and government offices. Simi- 
larly, audits could be made of all polls on public questions, 
perhaps under the guidance of expert statisticians who are 
not connected with the polls. And the techniques of 
sampling, of getting closer and closer to a cross section of 
national though! should be constantly perfected. 

Actually any poll which turns out to be wrong or mis- 
leading may lose its standing with the public. The very 
existence of a poll depends on its record of accuracy. The 
UU'nu'if Ih'tfcxf folded after its grossly erroneous predic- 
tion of the l!)." ? .G elections. Would a careful and unbiased 
checkup of results be a forward step in the development of 
public opinion (tolling? 



TO THE DISCUSSION LEADER 



Public opinion is important in democratic America, and 
the role of polls as a means of measuring that opinion is a 
subject that will interest nearly any discussion group. 

Most of us like to know how other peop]e think and feel 
about a great variety of subjects. Newspapers, magazines, 
books, and radio bring us the results of opinion polls. But 
how many of us know how opinion polls are taken, or how 
reliable they are, or what useful purposes they serve? 

This pamphlet discusses how polls are made, why differ- 
ent polls produce varying results, what types of information 
these polls can obtain, and what some of the views are re- 
garding the usefulness of polls. Readers of this pamphlet 
and discussion leaders are encouraged to prepare their own 
questions and raise them at a discussion meeting on "Are 
Opinion Polls Useful?" 

How ran leaders arouse interest? 

When you have decided where and when your discussion 
meeting is to be held, you should consider ways of getting 
that information to persons who might like to attend your 
meeting. A group discussion of this subject will be news 
in your area. You should see that announcements are made 
in appropriate newspapers. You can have posters made and 
placed in conspicuous places — recreation rooms, libraries, 
and mess halls. You can post notices on bulletin boards. 
You can announce the meeting over a loud-speaker sys- 
tem. You can suggest that librarians display copies of 
this pamphlet and supplementary reading materials on a 
special table. 

Copies of this pamphlet should be made available for 
leisure-time reading. This will arouse people's interest in 

40 



attending a discussion meeting on opinion poJls. It will 
also enable them to evaluate more intelligently the informa- 
tion presented by your speakers. And it will prepare them 
to take a more active part in the discussion. 

Your own careful planning of your meeting will be a big 
factor in making your discussion successful. If you plan 
a forum, panel, or symposium type of discussion, the selec- 
tion of good speakers is very important. If you plan an 
informal discussion, then it is doubly important that you 
prepare thoroughly before the meeting. Such visual aids 
as a blackboard and perhaps some appropriate charts will 
probably prove helpful in whatever type of discussion you 
use. 

What kind of discussion meeting is best? 

The size of your group, facilities of your meeting place, and 
familiarity of members of your group with opinion polls 
are factors that will enter into your decision as to what 
type of discussion is best. 

A forum speaker on this subject should be an expert on 
opinion polls. He should be given an opportunity to read 
this pamphlet before his talk. You, the leader, should time 
the meeting so that members of your group will have at 
least half an hour for informal discussion and questioning 
of the forum speaker. 

The usefulness of opinion polls is a subject that lends 
itself to panel or symposium discussion. Panel speakers 
could discuss major points of view about opinion polls in a 
conversational manner before the rest of the group. Sym- 
posium speakers might divide the subject into four 10-min- 
ute talks. The first speaker's subject could have some such 
title as "How Do We Know What the Public Thinks?" in 
which he discussed the various ways that opinion is ex- 
pressed. The second could discuss "How Accurate Are 
Opinion Polls?" The third could talk on the subject, "Are 

41 



Opinion Polls Really Useful?" And the fourth, looking into 
future potential uses of opinion polls, could discuss "What 
Are Possibilities and Dangers of Opinion Polls?" 

Since most individuals will have some pretty definite 
ideas about the usefulness of opinion polls, you could turn 
your entire meeting over to informal discussion. You 
might illustrate poll-taking to your group by conducting 
some ballot voting at the meeting. For example, you might 
distribute small ballots at the beginning and ask all persons 
to vote on the questions raised by the title of this pamphlet, 
Are Opinion Polls Useful? voting "yes," "no/' or "unde- 
cided." Then at the end of your discussion meeting you 
might take another vote by the same individuals on the 
same question and compare results. You might experiment, 
also with some question in which you think there would be 
considerable diversity of opinion — preferably one of par- 
ticular interest to your group. Phrase the question so that 
it is completely objective when another person is questioned. 
Phrase the same question so it is slanted to invite a "yes" 
answer, and then restarted so it will invite a "no" answer. 
This will help demonstrate the responsibilities facing 
poll-takers, and also the dangers of opinion polls if they 
are used for propaganda purposes. If you decide to try a 
poll of your own, be sure to reread and observe the "Warn- 
ing" on page 2 of EM 1, Guide for Dismission Leaders, 

Handbooks to help discussion leaders 

Various types of discussion meetings and numerous helpful 
suggestions to discussion leaders are discussed in consid- 
erable detail in EM 1, GI lioundtable; Guide for Discmmon 
Leaders. 

Leaders faced with the problem of planning and conduct- 
ing a group discussion on the radio or over a loud-speaker 
system of the United States Armed Forces Institute will 

42 



find much valuable informal ion and many helpful sugges- 
tion in KM !JG, ill Radio Uvintfiftihfr. 

Orirsfinirs fttr iIisa issshhi art' un jnn fant 

[leaders uf (his pamphlet and discussion haulers will un- 
doubtedly have many i|ucsliuns uf their OWI1 regarding the 

usefulness of opinion pollst. The leader should encourage 
members of his discussion group to ask their own questions, 
whether he uses a forum, panel, symposium, or informal 
discussion method. Below art* some queslions which may 
prove helpful 1o leaders in starting off I ho discussion or 
keeping it going, 

I 
How does public opinion influence legi.sltt.Uoii, social ac- 
tion, or political decisions in this country? Does the public 
usually show good judgment in ils opinions on important 
issues, or is il best tor our leaders bo make decisions inde- 
pendently »f the wishes of the people 7 

2 
How can we find out whal Ihe public thinks? I In modern 
pedis provide an accurate means for finding out whal the 
people believe or want? Is the sampling method any liei- 
ter I hail other methods of feeling the public pulse? What 
important pitfalls are there in the sampling method? Whal 
constitutes a sample of the country's population? 

3 

Whal do yoil believe ape the main laclors which make 
people think differently em social, economic, and political 
mieslions? Arc I here major differences of opinion among 
various age gmujw, economic groups, or other classifica- 
tions? Are small differences in I he results obtained by 
various polls In be expected? Are "normal margins of er- 
ror" neal alibis of the pollers, or c;m their appearance in re- 
sult** of sampling procedun'sbe proved inevitable and logical? 

13 






4 

Are there dangers in the growing use of polling pro- 
cedures in business and government? Are there any re- 
strictions to prevent misuse of polls to influence public 
opinion or to slant the results? How can the public be 
safeguarded from unreliable polls? How can the public 
judge the reliability of opinion polls? 

5 

How should our representatives in government view opin- 
ion polls? Should legislators base their votes on the desires 
of the public as shown by opinion polls? Can legislators 
study the polling results seriously and still remain public 
leaders? How would you use the data supplied by opinion 
surveys if you were a lawmaker? Should the government 
use the sampling method to find out what the people think 
about current issues and government policies? Is it dan- 
gerous to allow government administrators to conduct 
public opinion surveys? Do you think opinion polls are 
useful ? 



FOR FURTHER READING 



These books are suggested for supplementary reading if 
you have access to them or wish to purchase them from the 
publishers. They are not approved nor officially supplied 
by the War Department. They have been selected because 
they give additional information and represent different 
points of view. 

Consumer and Opinion Research. By Albert B. Blanken- 
ship. Published by Harper and Brothers, 4§ East 33d 
St., New York 16, N. Y. (1943). $4.50. A popular sum- 
mary, particularly for businessmen, 

44 



Mandate from the People. By Jerome S. Bruner. Pub- 
lished by Duell, Sloan and Pearee, 270 Madison Ave., 
New York 16, N. Y. (1944). $2.75. What the public 
thinks about important current issues, as revealed by the 
polls, is brought together and interpreted in this volume. 

Gauging Public Opinion. By Hadley Cantril. Published 
by Princeton University Press, Princeton, N. J. (1944). 

$3.75. A sound and valuable .study of polls. 

Radio Audience Measurement. By Matthew N. Chappell 
and C. E, Hooper. Published by Stephen Daye Press, 48 
East 43d St., New York 17, N. Y. (1944). $3.50. The 
authors, who are associated with an enterprise which 
measures radio audiences, discuss adaptations of (he 
sampling method to the field of radio Kstenership. 

Guidb to Public Opinion Polls. By George 11. Gallup. 
Published by Princeton University Press (1944). $1.50. 
This is a handbook which attempts to summarize the sub- 
ject in question and answer form. 

The People's Choice. By Paul F. Lazarsfeld, Bernard 
Berelson, and Hazel Gaudet. Published by Duell, Sloan 
and Pearee (1944). $3. A report on a comprehensive 
study of voting habits during the presidential campaign 
of 1940 in Erie County, Ohio. Sampling methods were 
used to gather information on political behavior, vote in- 
tentions, and the impact of reading and radio listening 
on the electorate. 

What America Thinks. By William A. Lydgate. Pub- 
lished by Thomas Y. Crowell Co., 432 Fourth Ave., New 
York 16, N. Y. (1944). $2.50. A member of one of the 
major polling organizations discusses sampling pro- 
cedures and popular points of view in the recent years, 
revealed by the polls. 

15 



OTHER GIROUNDTABLE SUBJECTS 



Introductory copies of each new (!l Itouvrftuble pamphlet 
are automatically issued to Information-education officers 
in the United Slates and oversea areas. Additional copies 
aire authorized on the basis of one copy tor each 2- r > military 
personnel. Pamphlets may be requisitioned from the United 
States Armed Forces Institute, Madison 3, Wisconsin, or 
from the nearest USAFI Oversea Branch. List KM num- 
ber, title, and quantity. New subjects will be announced as 
published. SI Roun&tahle subjects now available: 

KM 1, Guide tor Discussion Leaders 

KM 2, What Is Propaganda? 

KM 10, What Sham, lit: Done ABOUT Germany after the War? 

KM II, What SHALL Be Done with THE War Criminals? 

KM 12, Can Wk Prevent Future Wars? 

km 13, flow Shall Lend-Lkasb Accounts Be Settled? 

KM 14, Is the <iooi> Nkichbor Policy a Success;? 

KM 16, WHAT SHALL Be DOKB ABOUT JAPAN AFTER VICTORY? 

KM 'JO, What Has Alaska To OFFER Postwar PIONEERS? 

KM 22, Win. TiiKiiU Mr. Work for ALL? 

EM 23, Why Co-ore? What Abb Tiucr? How Do Tub* Work? 

KM 24, What Lies Ahead for the Philippines? 

KM "J7, What Is tiik Future of TELEVISION? 

KM ;S0, Can War Marhiacks Be Made To Work?* 

KM 31, Do You WANT Your Wike To Work AFTER the War? 

KM ."!2, Sham. I Build a House after the War? 

KM 83, What Will Your Town Be Like? 

KM 34, Shall f Co Hack to School? 

km r:r>, Shall I Take Up Farming? 

KM :us, DoFfe It Pay To Borrow? 

KM 87, Will There Bk a Plane in Kvkrv <Jarai;k? 

EM 40, Will the French Republic Live Again? 

EM 41, Our British Ally 

KM -i:\ (Hi; Chini si \i I i 

KM 43, The Balkans — Many Peoi-lks. Many Problems 

KM 44, Australia: Our Neighbor "Down Under" 

KM 46, What Future for the Islands of the Pacific? 

KM 46, Our Russian Ally 

EM !)tl r ill Radio Kohndtaisle 



• h'ur >li -t, iLuiiuu in tTnilii) KinU-^ unly. 

' II S. GOVERNMENT PRINIING OFFICE: IWS-47«?« 
Tvr mitt- \>y ihv Saprrintmctcnl vf Itarwmvnt*. I'. ft Gwmmcnt l*i J nii »• ,• *>iii. . 

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