The Pollsters: Public Opinion, Politics and Democratic Leadership

By Linday Rogers | Go to book overview

Chapter 5:
Considers the Inability of the Pollsters
to tell us the loudness of the yeses and
noes they say they hear.

EVEN IF THE YESES and noes had real meaning, two important questions would remain: How heartfelt are the yeses and the noes? How many people really care one way or the other? As I wrote in 1941:

Dr. Gallup is unable to tell us how strongly a policy is favored and how bitterly it is opposed. Yet, until we have some idea of intensity of feeling, we know nothing whatever about public opinion. Suppose that 60 per cent of the voting population wanted Congress to bar strikes in defense industries; 30 per cent opposed action and 10 per cent were undecided. [I am now assuming that there are no considerable differences of opinion on the kind of legislation that is desired.] This would mean little unless we knew how many of the majority, not caring greatly, thought that on the whole there should be legislation and how many desired it ardently. More importantly, how bitterly would those who did not want defense strikes made illegal oppose any attempt to outlaw them ? Public opinion polls cannot answer these questions. They cannot disclose how eager sections of the public are for legislation or executive decision and how resentful

-45-

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