THE SUPERPOLLSTERS: How They Measure and Manipulate Public Opinion in America
This book is an account of the birth and development of public policy polling in the United States, as well as an examination of the most influential people who are responsible for the polls.
It begins with a prologue chapter that reveals the emergence of the media pollsters as the new gurus of the American psyche, symbolized in part by the well-publicized confrontation between the ABC News/Washington Post pollsters on the one hand, and Shere Hite on the other, the author whose books on sex and love in the 1970s and 1980s presented a dismal picture of men’s relations with women – but whose claims were largely contradicted by the results of the “scientific” media polls.
The criticisms of Hite echoed the denunciations leveled by George Gallup against The Literary Digest a half century earlier, whose highly respected poll at the time relied on sampling methods similar to those used by Hite. The book recounts how Gallup proved his new “scientific” polling to be superior to that of the Digest, which predicted Alf Landon to win the presidency over Franklin Delano Roosevelt, while Gallup accurately predicted the reverse.
Louis Harris emerged as Gallup’s major rival, introducing numerous innovations into the polling profession. But some of Harris’ methods and passion, along with his obvious biases, elicited as much criticism as praise.
The book also examines the rise of the campaign polls, profiling both the major Democratic and Republican presidential pollsters of the time – including Pat Caddell, Peter Hart, Richard Wirthlin, Bob Teeter, and Stanley Greenberg.
The rise of the media polls came in direct response to campaign pollsters, some of whom would provide reporters with partial or manipulated data about their candidates, leaving the press with tainted information. So profoundly have the media polls permeated our society that today they have become the new guardians of democracy, monitoring what Gallup called the “pulse of democracy.”
Still, as the book shows, monitoring the pulse of democracy can be difficult. Slight differences in question wording, or in the placement of the questions in the interviews, can have profound consequences for how people respond to the polls.
“Most of all, the story of polling is the story of an exciting enterprise, perhaps the most important social science development in the 20th Century. And it is the story of passionate, intelligent, and even daring individuals, for whom the excitement of new discoveries is continually met by this activity that is part science and part art. For in a sense, polling is as old as the human race. It represents the desire among all of us to understand and share with our fellow human beings the thoughts and experiences that life has given us.”
Format: Paperback, 426 pp Pub Date: 1992, 1995
“David W. Moore’s Superpollsters is an original and long-needed study of the professional and political polling organizations and their influential, profit-minded owners, who sell corn flakes and candidates with equal fervor.” “…a pioneering work…”
“…an intriguing, timely, often surprising look at a much misunderstood profession…”
“From a veteran pollster, a thoughtful overview of public-opinion research and of those who helped make it a sociopolitical force in the US…an informed and informative appreciation of an influential industry.”
“The Superpollsters is an overdue examination of the people who have come to exert an enormous influence on our politics and government. David Moore analyzes their power and personalities and gives us their portrait – warts and all.”
“The Superpollsters is an important and extraordinarily well-written book on a subject that should concern every citizen of the Unites States."
“Sex, lies and ‘response acquiescence.’ It’s all here. An arresting account of the birth and development of a genuine made-in-America growth industry: public opinion polling. A ‘must read’ for media pundits, marketing executives and political junkies.”