The Pollsters: Public Opinion, Politics and Democratic Leadership

By Linday Rogers | Go to book overview

Chapter 4:
Inquires whether in the light of the
analysis in Chapter 3 Public Opinion
is ever the sum of the Answers that
People are willing to give to Strangers.

IT is A curious fact that, although the pollsters have paid a great deal of attention to the problem of securing interviewers who are unbiased and do not cheat, they do not seem to have been greatly interested in the question of whether it is legitimate to add up the kind of opinion that is disclosed in interviews with strangers 1 and call it "public opinion." This is a point that has interested Tom Harrisson, the leading spirit of the British organization, Mass-Observation, which endeavors to find out what ordinary folk are thinking and talking about. 2 It does not pretend to practice a new science. It draws on private diaries, and its interviewers record at some textual length opinions and judgments of the persons who are talked to. Mass‐ Observation deals with opinions rather than "opinion." It is informative rather than statistical. It does not measure. It does not bother to elaborate coding pro-

____________________
1
It has been said that men are tempted to lie after fishing, before the wedding, and during elections. Perhaps "when answering public-opinion interviewers" is a candidate for the fourth category.
2
What follows relies heavily on a brilliant article, "What is Public Opinion?" Political Quarterly, Vol. XI, p. 368 ( 1940).

-37-

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