The Pollsters: Public Opinion, Politics and Democratic Leadership

By Linday Rogers | Go to book overview

Chapter I:
Gives preliminary consideration to some
of the Pollsters' Pretensions.

PUBLIC-OPINION polling, if not a major, is a large and important American industry whose tycoons and their academic acolytes have been far from reticent in boasting of achievements.

"The speed with which sampling referenda can be completed for the entire nation,"
writes Dr. George Gallup,
"is such that public opinion on any given issue can be reported within forty-eight hours if the occasion warrants. Thus the goal has nearly been reached when public opinion can be 'ascertainable at all times.' "
1

The phrase in single quotes comes from Lord Bryce, whom, as will appear later, the pollsters have confidently even though impertinently adopted as their patron saint. Presumably Dr. Gallup will not actually get to his goal until the "ascertainment" of public opinion is instantaneous. He claims, nevertheless, that we are on the threshold of

"a new stage in the development of democratic government."
If this were true it would be frightening. Fortunately it is not true.

Always anxious to find curricular winds blowing from a different direction, many American colleges now offer courses to prepare students to enter the polling indus

____________________
1
George Gallup, A Guide to Public Opinion Polls, p. 4 ( Princeton University Press, 1948).

-3-

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