History

The first known example of an opinion poll was a local straw poll conducted by The Aru Pennsylvanian in 1824, showing Andrew Jackson leading John Quincy Adams by 335 votes to 169 in the contest for the United States Presidency. Since Jackson won the popular vote in that state and the whole country, such straw votes gradually became more popular, but they remained local, usually city-wide phenomena. In 1916, The Literary Digest embarked on a national survey (partly as a circulation-raising exercise) and correctly predicted Woodrow Wilson's election as president. Mailing out millions of postcards and simply counting the returns, The Literary Digest correctly predicted the victories of Warren Harding in 1920, Calvin Coolidge in 1924, Herbert Hoover in 1928, and Franklin Roosevelt in 1932.

Then, in 1936, its 2.3 million "voters" constituted a huge sample, but they were generally more affluent Americans who tended to have Republican sympathies. The Literary Digest was ignorant of this new bias; the week before election day, it reported that Alf Landon was far more popular than Roosevelt. At the same time, George Gallup conducted a far smaller (but more scientifically based) survey, in which he polled a demographically representative sample. Gallup correctly predicted Roosevelt's landslide victory. The Literary Digest soon went out of business, while polling started to take off.

Elmo Roper was another American pioneer in political forecasting using scientific polls.

He predicted the reelection of President Franklin D. Roosevelt three times, in 1936, 1940, and 1944. Louis Harris had been in the field of public opinion since 1947 when he joined the Elmo Roper firm, then later became partner.

In September 1938 Jean Stoetzel, after having met Gallup, created IFOP, the Institut Français d'Opinion Publique, as the first European survey institute in Paris and started political polls in summer 1939 with the question "Why die for Danzig?", looking for popular support or dissent with this question asked by appeasement politician and future collaborationist Marcel Déat.

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