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Polls and the Media

Michael W. Traugott


Election polls have a long history of a symbiotic relationship with the media, dating back to the nineteenth century ( Converse 1987 ; Frankovic 2008 ). However, it was not until the 1920s that polls insinuated themselves into the news operations of election coverage on a regular basis. Before the advent of the modern polling period, the major political poll operating in the United States was conducted by a leading circulation magazine, the Literary Digest . Based upon its subscriber lists, eventually supplemented by information from telephone directories and automobile registrations, the Literary Digest conducted large mail surveys to produce estimates of the outcome of presidential elections. While the magazine made good estimates from its data in 1928 and 1932, its 1936 estimate that predicted a Landon win over Roosevelt was a disaster ( Squire 1988 ). Of greater significance, George Gallup had started a new public polling operation and promised his first major news client, the Washington Post , that his methods could outperform the Literary Digest . When he did, a new era of public polling for news organizations was born (→  Public Opinion Polling ; Survey ). The nature of the symbiotic relationship was, and remains, that public polling organizations needed the news media to publicize the work they did during elections in order to promote their availability for private ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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