Every day tens of thousands of Americans tell complete strangers details about some of the most private aspects of their lives: their sexual behavior, political attitudes, status of their health, whether or not they are married or living with someone, how much they earn and how old they are. And they freely give this information--most with complete confidence that it will never be used against them, since that is what the stranger at the door or on the telephone promised--simply because they have been told they are a part of that great American ritual known as the public opinion poll. The results of these polls then influence perceptions, attitudes, and decisions at every level of our society, from individual to local to national, and in every sphere of its operation--social, economic and political.
Although the number of polling enterprises and pollsters in the country is immense, a relative few exert a disproportionately large amount of influence. It is these I have termed the "superpollsters," not because the individuals themselves are especially proficient at polling, although usually they are, but rather because they happen to be in a situation where the results of their polling greatly influence others, especially decision makers. There are, of course, other "superpollsters" who have not been included in this book, not necessarily because they are less deserving than those who are included, but because in my subjective account they do not contribute as centrally to the story I want to tell about polling in America.
That story focuses on the growth of polling and the excitement that the activity generates among the great personalities who have made it an integral part of our society. It begins with the emergence of the media pollsters as the new gurus of the American