Public Opinion, 1935-1946

By Hadley Cantril; Mildred Strunk | Go to book overview
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one of the reasons for establishing the Office of Public Opinion Research in 1940 was to accumulate archives of survey data for research purposes. Almost as soon as it became known that this material was being gathered together, we were besieged with requests for information. Most of the requests were legitimate, coming as they did from social scientists, government officials, public servants, and other observers or students of the current scene. As the years went on, the number and variety of requests mounted until it became quite impossible to answer them adequately.

During a luncheon meeting several years ago with Datus Smith, Director of the Princeton University Press, and Lloyd Free, then Editor of the Public Opinion Quarterly, we talked about the nature of these requests and the potential value and usefulness this type of information could have for a wide range of people: historians, sociologists, political scientists, economists, editors, policy makers, businessmen, labor leaders, and a host of others whose professional lives are, in one way or another, concerned with public reaction to events. We thought of the interest comparable information would have for us today if it had been gathered during the period of the American or French Revolution, the Civil War, pre-Hitler Germany, or the early days of the New Deal. And we thought, too, of the significance information approximating this in reliability and inclusiveness would have if it were available from Soviet-dominated areas.

So it occurred to us that a service might be performed both for present and future social scientists if we could somehow manage to put between two covers at somewhat regular intervals the available results of carefully indexed surveys. The job seemed a logical one for the Office of Public Opinion Research to begin. Accordingly, an appeal was made to the Rockefeller Foundation, which provided funds to assist in the preparation of this volume. As we got into the work, more and more data became available to us and the task assumed even greater proportions than we had originally contemplated. The present volume covers surveys from their beginning in 1935 through 1946 and includes material from 16 different countries.

While any competent investigator knows that our methods for measuring and understanding public opinion are still in their infancy, there is little doubt among those concerned with empirical research in the social sciences that sampling techniques, combined with careful questionnaire design and skilled interviewing, provide one of the most reliable instruments so far devised for such research. The steadily increasing number of monographs and books that have appeared in the past decade and that have been based wholly or in part upon survey material provides ample testimony of the function such material can have. Furthermore, the increasing amount of money spent by hard-headed businessmen and by government officials in acquiring special information via surveys can only reflect the demonstrated reliability of such data for those concerned with policy decisions.

This is not the appropriate place to enter into any technical evaluation of methodology. Readers interested in such problems are referred to the Public Opinion Quarterly or to the International Journal of Opinion and Attitude Research. Nor is this the place to consider the implications of public opinion polls for the democratic process. It might be pointed out, however, that this scientific tool, like all others, is in itself neutral and can be used for good or evil according to one's own definition and purposes. It should also be noted that there


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Public Opinion, 1935-1946


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