The Superpollsters: How They Measure and Manipulate Public Opinion in America

By David W. Moore | Go to book overview

2
AMERICA SPEAKS

IN THE WANING DAYS of the 1936 presidential election, a young man from Princeton, New Jersey, with "slate-blue eyes," and "the measured tread and hunched shoulders of a plowman," was becoming increasingly distressed. He grew "paler and paler as November drew near," one observer wrote. He suffered from insomnia, he sucked on his unlit cigarettes, he worried incessantly that he had done something wrong and that his reputation and financial solvency were about to be destroyed.

To his family and friends, he was known as "Ted," a nickname given to him by his nurse in honor of Theodore Roosevelt. But to America he was known as George H. Gallup, and with less than a month before his 35th birthday, it was another Roosevelt who was causing the worry. A year earlier Gallup had founded the American Institute of Public Opinion and launched a weekly column, presumptuously called "America Speaks!" It was the first "scientific" measurement of the voters' minds, he claimed, and to make it attractive to subscribing newspapers, he offered a money- back guarantee that his prediction of the presidential winner the following year would be more accurate than that of the famed, and highly respected, Literary Digest poll. His ploy was successful in attracting numerous subscribers, some quite prominent. Among them was the Washington Post, whose editor, with great fanfare on the first day of publication, October 20, 1935, hired a blimp to cruise over the city, and pull a streamer behind the aircraft, proudly

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