REINVENTING THE INDUSTRY
IN ALMOST ALL RESPECTS, the 1948 election was a major setback for the three prominent scientific pollsters of the day. But for a young World War II veteran, who had joined the Roper Organization only a year earlier, it provided a serendipitous opportunity, the beginning of a career that would eventually lead to a prominence in the polling industry rivaled only by George Gallup.
Lou Harris was born in 1921, graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1942, and shortly thereafter went into the Navy. He began working for the American Veterans Committee after the end of the war, and in 1947 met Elmo Roper, who was involved in a research project on veterans. Shortly thereafter, he received a can from Roper, who asked if Harris could write. Roper appeared regularly on radio and had a column on veterans, he told Harris, and he needed someone to write the material. Did Lou Harris want to do that? Harris was reluctant to accept the position. He did not want to write for someone else. He had written for his high school newspaper, the New Haven Register, and he was fiercely proud of the quality of his writing. He talked it over with his wife, Florence Yard, and ultimately decided not to accept Roper's offer. But Roper hired him anyway, to work on commercial projects within the firm. And a year later, after the election debacle, he put Harris in charge of political polling.
A major outcome of Harris' involvement in political polling was perhaps the first in-depth analysis of a presidential election using national public opinion polls ever written. Three sociologists