The history of public opinion polls

Date of publication: September 1, 1987


Anyone can sound public opinion. In Athenian Greece it was done with demos, but only a tiny elite had a say; in the 18th Century the Frenchman J. Hector St John de Crevecoeur travelled the American colonies probing the public mood, in the 19th Century the first American poll was taken in 1824 by a newspaper, the "Delaware Watchman", while in Disraeli's England "Tadpole and Tapers" went among the electorate in order to gauge the public mood. Abraham Lincoln said "Public opinion is everything" and Lincoln had a habit of asking strangers seemingly idle questions which were not idle at all but very much like a trial lawyer's cross-examination. He called his meetings with strangers 'public opinion baths'. Each president since Roosevelt, each prime minister since MacMillan, each Chancellor since Adenauer and each President since de Gaulle have had his (or her) pollster.

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