The Measure of Democracy: Polling, Market Research, and Public Life, 1930-1945
Politicians, government officials, and public relations officers lean heavily on polling when fashioning public policy. Proponents say this is for the best, arguing that surveys bring the views of citizens closer to civic officials. Critics decry polling's promotion of sycophantic politicians who pander to the whims of public sentiment, or, conversely, the use of surveys by special interest groups to thwart the majority will.
Similar claims and criticisms were made during the early days of polling. When George Gallup began polling Americans in 1935, he heralded it as a bold step in popular democracy. The views of ordinary citizens could now be heard alongside those of organized interest groups. When brought to Canada in 1941, the Gallup Poll promised similar democratic rejuvenation. In actual practice, traditionally disadvantaged constituencies such as women, the poor, French Canadians, and African Americans were often heavily underrepresented in Gallup surveys. Preoccupied with election forecasting, Gallup pollsters undercounted social groups thought less likely or unable to vote, leading to a considerable gap between the polling results of the sampled polity and the opinions of the general public.
Examining the origins and early years of public opinion polling in Canada, Robinson situates polling within the larger context of its forerunners – market research surveys and American opinion polling – and charts its growth until its first uses by political parties.
- Series: Heritage
- World Rights
- Page Count: 272 pages
- Dimensions: 6.3in x 1.1in x 9.3in
'This book succeeds well in revealing the dubious ethical ploys of the early political pollsters: their ethnocentric biases, skewed samples, questionable inducement of potential clients, and most disturbing, their willingness to sell polling as a means of invigorating democracy, when in fact their whole methodology and mentality continued to reflect a commercial penchant for controlling and manipulating society. Robinson thus brings the early pollsters alive as innovative, street-smart entrepreneurs ... He points out that the rather slipshod administration of early polls and their wide margin of error in the war serve as a salutary warning to future historians not to deploy poll results in the nanve faith that they represent some form of scientific objectivity.'
Professor Duncan McDowall, Department of History, Carleton University
'Nothing in the current literature compares with Robinson's study in its ability to identify the relationships between Canadian politicians, civil servants, marketers, and public relations specialists. The book provides a wealth of information unavailable to the average scholar in the field of Canadian public opinion studies, and at the same time it highlights the implications which polling presents to democratic politics.'
Professor Joanna Everitt, Department of History and Politics, University of New Brunswick (Saint John)
Daniel J. Robinson is Associate Professor in the Faculty of Information and Media Studies at the University of Western Ontario. His main teaching areas include advertising, broadcasting policy, opinion polling, and political communication.
Subjects and Courses