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The United States Armeu Forces
THE AMERICAN HISTORICAL ASSOCIATION
This pamphlet is one of a scries made available try the War Depart-
ment under the series title 01 ftountliabtv. As the general title indi-
cates, 01 Houudlable pamphlets provide material which informnlion-
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as part of an off-duty education program, and which operators of
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Roundtable discussion broadcasts.
The content of this pamphlet, has been prepared by the Historical
Service Board of the American Historical Association. Kach pam-
phlet in the series has only one purpose: to provide ('actual informa-
tion and balanced arguments as a basis for discussion of all sides of
the question. It is not to be inferred that the War Department
endorses any one of the particular views presented.
Specific suuyvxtioiix for the <liftr.ii anion or forum leoihrr who 'plana
to use thin pamphlet will be found on page / t 0.
Washington 25, I). C, 22 .Ian 1946
IA.fi. 300.7 (22 Jim 46).]
KM 4, Of Houndtable : Arc Opinion Putin Useful?
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ters, Washington 2. f S, D. G. (Copies for Const Guard personnel
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Cuard Headquarters, Washington 25, D. CJ
What was the old-fashioned way of polling opinion? I
What are public opinion polls? . 3
How are polls made? 5
Why do polls get different results? 17
Is it important to know public opinion? 24
What types of information can polls find? 27
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
Other Gl 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 is more unjust or capricious than public opinion.
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.
Hoir accurate was the old ir«v?
Such rule-of-thumb methods of finding out what the public
thinks about its problems allow almost anyone to set him-
self up as an expert on public opinion. They give anyone
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 sort. 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 conclusions 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
the roads, and in the markets, instructs the ear of him
who studies man more fully than a 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
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 f
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 modern 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 09 out
of 100 that the answers will vary no more than about § 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 dips
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 the tasle as wrll as drinking il all.
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 be
increased to assure a big enough sample of i^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 shite
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, thei-efore: 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.
How is the sample set up?
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
Sam}>l«-> should iim 1 1 1 ■ I . all lyprs ihnl make up thr population.
(1) the "controlled sample" method and (2) the "area
Controlled sample. The controlled sample is more com-
monly used. The samples are 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
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. Arc people in
the South likely to think differently about some current
issues than people in the North or on the West Coast? If
so f 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.
3. His standard of living — poor, average, or
A. Whether he is a man or woman.
5. How old he is.
Tn 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
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 the 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 States are
farmers, then the sample question must consist 20 per-
cent of farmers. If 80 percent of the |>eopIe 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 lhat 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 1044 by the
National Opinion Research Center of Denver, Colorado.
The number of persons in the sample was 2,52".
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, say the upholders of
public opinion polls, they should relied the opinion of the
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 ear, and other facts.
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 about telephone and car
ownership. If the percentage of car 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 ana 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
arc gathered from the census and other sources. For ex-
ample, the polling organization gathers figures on counties
that contain big cities, those that include medium-sized
cities, those that have only small towns within their bor-
A NATIONAL CROSS SECTION OR SAMPLE
Middle West ...... 32
21 to 39
West . 12
SIZE OF PLACE
Cities of 1,000,000 popu-
lation . 28
Cities of 50,000 to
1 ,000,000 24
Cities of 2,500 to 50,000
(includes places of less
than 2,500 not consid-
ered urban) 30
Roosevelt voters . , 38
Willkie voters 21
Widowed, separted, di-
vorced 1 3
NUMBER IN HOUSEHOLD
1 -member family . 10
2-member family 25
3-member family 25
4-member family 19
5-member family 21
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 little 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
Hotv 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
'Have yon slopped beating your wife? Yes or No."
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
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
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 final questionnaire. Many
polling surveys arc faulty because the questions have not
been carefully worded and have not l>een tested.
JJ hat kinds of questions are ashed?
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
(Gallup Poll) asked the simple question, "Do you believe
that war bonds are a good investment V Answers were:
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 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 make 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-
scribing how you feel, on the whole, about the people who
live in Germany (Japan)?"
1. Tin- (German (Japanese) people will always wanl to go to
war lo make themselves a* powerful ah possible.
2. Tin- German (Japanese) people may nol like war, bul they
have lb6WH llial lliey are loo easily led into war by powerful
3. The Crrinan (JflpOHMe) people tin nol like war. II lliey
roulil bow 1 1n* >anie ebanee ;i> people in oilier ennnlrie-, they
would heroine p.ocl eili/ens n( the world.
One experienced member of a polling organization has
summed up the objectives of questions on a typical issue as
1. Questions which will discover how many per-
sons have heard of the issue, read of it, thought
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.
4. Yes-no questions to find out which side of the
fence the people are on.
How 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.
Personal 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 lo answer by mail than those on lower
levels. As a result, the sample cannot be controlled as
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."
DON'T KNOW 13.2%
There is little chance of Hitler invading us across 3000 miles of
ocean when he hasn't even been able to cross 20 miles of Channel."
DON'T KNOW 10.5%
COPYRIGHT 1936-41. TIME. INC.
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
It is generally agreed that the usefulness of public opin-
ion polls depends on the reliability of their results. Many
students believe that polling 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.
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 about 50-50, with a good poll the figures 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
Suppose you decide 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 4 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
Intuition, or the "theory 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 be 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 95 out of 100 that the error will be less
than 3 percentage points, although in the other 5 times the
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 6 percent wide
of the actual percentage division of the votes cast for
Landon and Roosevelt ; it was 4.5 percent off the mark hi
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 432
votes and Dewey only 99. Thus, its state sampling was
much less accurate than its national sampling.
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.
HOW U.S. PUBLIC OPINION IN PREWAR YEARS
Would you be willing to fighf or have
a member of your family fight
. . . in case wo were attacked on our own _- — _ , _ _ , _.
territory? 80.3% 1 5.6%
... in case the Philippines were attacked? 23.8% 66.8%
. . . in case a foreign power tried to seiie land _ _ -.»* -,-. *%«/
in Central or South America? 17.4% 7i.8%
. . . in case our foreign trade were seriously
interfered with by force?
Do you believe there is likely to be a
major European or Asiatic war in the
next two or three years?
DON'T KNOW.. 23.9%
If yes, do you think the U. S.
is likely to be drawn in?
DON'T KNOW.. 16.8%
SHIFTED IN RESPONSE TO EVENTS ABROAD
Favor entering war now 2.5 /O
Fighf only if Germany seems likely to win
unless we did 14.7%
Favor policy of economic discrimination
against Germany 8-9 /O
Favor maintaining strict neutrality 67.4 /O
Find some way to support Germany ,2 /O
Don't know 3.9%
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
A lot of mistakes have brought us close to a war
that isn'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 looks 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
COPYRIGHT 1934-41, TIME, INC.
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
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 efTort 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's public opinion to a democracy?
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 their opinions should mold the action of
The successful life of our government operating under
these principles justifies our faith in the people's good judg-
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? Arc our public prob-
lems so 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 gauge 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 this 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 is the existence of such a public opinion as this, the
practice of freely and constantly reading, talking, and judg-
ing public political rights, that gives to popular government
that educated, and stimulative power which is so frequently
claimed as its highest merit."
Do polls stimulate discussion?
Can the polls contribute, then, 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 :
UnA-t -iilnl 17%
Similarly, the polls have tried to find out how much infor-
mation people have on public affairs. Early 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 38 percent of
the persons interviewed throughout the country knew the
length of a representative's elected term of office in Con-
gress and only 30 percent knew how much a Congressman
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 :
\\ hal -lioulil Im- ilotir altulll |>re\rlllin- lllirmploy tlirni
after the war 6K.2%
The pari llir U. S. -Im.iiI.I \Aa\ in w»rM affair- nhrr
llit- war 59,396
Peace lenwi w» be pm-n Ger many ;ti:..v;
I hi in . siirial MTiirily |>rmi*ioiw S'Z.'l'l
Don't know 4.2%
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-
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 gi'oups 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. lie must study the influences
exerted by political machines, by eleventh hour campaign-
ing, and the possibility of interest or lack of interest in the
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
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
Thr main purpose of polling: organisations is nol to makr fori-ca^t*.
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-minded.
Attributed to Phocylides, 560 B.C.
Are polls reaching new fields?
Surveys based on current issues which are not necessarily
connected tvith a forthcoming election are 9 then, the par-
ticular field which the polls 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 result 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
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 see 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 to 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 organizations 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-
fairs does. Opinion surveys can, doubtless, help (he 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 keeping voluntary methods 39%
Favor drafting people 53%
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 they 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
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
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
■ .— ..
Within local arras the bandwagon appeal may actually have an effect.
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 53 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.
Whai 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.
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? Ts 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
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
it 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-
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 polls 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 social matters, that, is 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-
nized the important pari 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?
The 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, Ihe 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 to 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 in 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
Conducted can they serve as means by which government
keeps in touch with the people? Is it reasonable to expect
that any organization which depends on the public for co-
operation or support should make an effort to find out whai
the public thinks?
SHOULD AN UNBIASED CHECK BE MADE
OF AM, POLLS?
Perhaps all polls on public questions will be looked upon
with distrust by some people until Ihey believe firmly thai
these surveys are above suspicion and that they are madi-
as scientifically as up-to-date knowledge will permit.
Should people be assured too that the polling 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 be expected to state that their
methods have horn passed upon by unbiased investigators?
Careful examination of results are already made of fig-
ures 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 thought 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
Literary Digest folded after its grossly erroneous predic-
tion of the 1986 elections. Would a careful and unbiased
checkup of results be a forward step in the development «>f
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 people 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 can 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
Copies of this pamphlet should be made available for
leisure-time reading. This will arouse people's interest in
attending a discussion meeting on opinion polls. 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
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
J ;he 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
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 reslanted 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 Discussion 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 Roundtable: Guide for Discussion
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
find much valuable information ami many helpful sugges-
tion in KM 00, til ttadfo liotwdhtble.
Oiitsliims jitr ilisriissHHi iiri' important
Headers of (his pamphlet and discussion loaders will un-
doubtedly have many questions of their own regarding (ho
usefulness of opinion polls. The leader should encourage
members of his discussion group to ask their own questions,
whether ho uses a forum, panel, symposium, or informal
discussion method. Below arc some questions which may
prove helpful lo loaders in starting off the discussion or
keeping it going.
How does public opinion influence legislation, social ac-
tion, or political decisions in this country? Does the public
usually show good juclgmenl in its opinions on important
issues, or is il host for our leaders lo make decisions inde-
pendently of the wishes of the people?
How can we find oul whal the public thinks? Do modern
polls provide an accurate moans for finding oul whal the
people believe or want? Is the sampling method any bet-
ter than other methods of feeling the public pulse? Whal
important pitfalls are then* in the sampling method? Whal
constitutes a sample of the country's population?
Whal do you believe are I ho main factors which make
people think differently on social, economic, and political
<|iiosliousV Are there major differences of opinion among
various age groups, economic groups, or other classifica-
tions? Are small differences in the results obtained by
various polls lo lie expected? Are "normal margins of er-
ror" neat alibis of! ho pollers, or can t heir appearance in re-
sult*- of sampling procedures be proved inevitable and logical?
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?
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
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, 49 East 33d
St., New York 16, N. Y. (1948). ?4.5U A popular sum-
mary, particularly for businessmen.
Mandate from the People. By Jerome S. Brunei*. Pub-
lished by Duell, Sloan and Pearce, 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 Dayc Press, 48
East 43d St., New York 17, N. Y. (1914). $3.50. The
authors, who are associated with an enterprise which
measures radio audiences, discuss adaptations of the
sampling method to the field of radio listenership.
Guide to Public Opinion Polls. By George II. 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 Pearce (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.
OTHER GIROUNDTABLE SUBJECTS
Introductory copies of each new <il Roundtable pamphlet
are automatically issued to information-education officers
in the United Slates and oversea areas. Additional copies
are authorized on the basis of one copy for each *J. r > military
personnel. Pamphlets may he requisitioned from the United
States Armed Forces Institute, Madison 3, Wisconsin, or
from the nearest USAFI Oversea ttranch. List KM num-
ber, title, and quantity. New subjects will Ik? announced as
published. Gl Roundtable subjects now available:
EM I, Guide for Discussion Leaders
KM 2, What Is PROPAGANDA?
KM lo. What Shall Be Done about Germany after the War?
KM li. What Siiai.i. I'.k Done with thk War Criminals?
KM 12, Can We Prevent Future Ware?
km 13, How Shall Lend-lease Accounts iik Settled?
KM 14, Is the (loon NEIGHBOR Policy a Success?
KM 15, What Shall Be DONE ABOUT JAPAN AFTER VICTORY?
KM 20, What Has Alaska TO Okfkr Postwar Pioneers?
KM 22, Will Tiirrk Bk Work kou All?
KM 'Z\\, WhyCohi's? What Are They? How Do They Work?
KM 24, What LIES AHEAD FOR TUB PHILIPPINES?
KM -7, What Is thk PUTURE OF TELEVISION?
KM 30, Can War MARRIAGES BE MADE To Work? 8
KM 31, Do You Want Your WIFE To Work AFTER thk War?
KM :t2. Shall I Build a House after thk War?
KM 33, What Will Your Town Rb Like?
KM 34, Shall I Go Mack to School?
KM 35, Shall I Take LTp Farming?
KM 36, Does It Pay To Borrow?
KM 'M, Will There Be a Plane in Kvkkv Garage?
KM io. Will thk Krksch Republic Live AGAIN?
KM II, Our British Ally
KM 42, Our Chinese Ally
KM 43, Thk Balkans M xh\ PKOPI,Ktt, Many PROBLEMS
KM 44, Australia: Our Neighbor "Down I'ndkr"
KM 45, What FUTURE FOR thk ISLANDS OF thk Pacific?
KM 46, Our Russian Ally
KM DO, GJ Radio Roundtable
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