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Numbered voices : how opinion polling has shaped American politics /

Main Author: Herbst, Susan.
Format: Book
Language: English
Published: Chicago : University of Chicago Press, 1993
Series: American politics and political economy.
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Opinion (1), Public (1)
Review by Choice Review

A half century ago polls were touted as providing factual information about the popular mood. Recent studies such as David W. Moore's The Superpollsters: How They Measure and Manipulate Public Opinion in America (CH, Sep'92) and its predecessor, Roland Perry's Hidden Power: The Programming of the President (1984), and most recently, Media Polls in American Politics, ed. by Thomas Mann and Gary Orren (CH, Apr'93), assess how the proliferation of polls have shaped American politics. These studies find as much or more to criticize about the impact of polls as to applaud, and Herbst's book is in this tradition. Public opinion data, she concludes, have become a commodity purchased by individuals and groups seeking to gain or sustain power. This primary conclusion follows from the author's two central concerns: explaining why opinion polls are so pervasive in American politics and identifying the uses that are made of opinion data. Herbst's short but powerful interdisciplinary assessment of public opinion polling is both historically and theoretically grounded. Highly recommended for specialists in the field. Graduate; faculty; professional. E. C. Dreyer; University of Tulsa

Copyright American Library Association, used with permission.
Review by Booklist Review

For a university colloquium on the measurement of public opinion, Herbst's tract would incite reasoned debate if the attendees were scholars of philosophy, history, and epistemology. They would drop names like de Tocqueville, Max Weber, and Walter Lippmann to theorize about numbers and power. But the public library needn't be excluded from such erudition, because the author's work also contains many morsels of American history for the dedicated amateur scholar. It recounts the origin of the "straw" poll in the nineteenth century. It refers repeatedly to the greatest cautionary tale in statistical sampling, the magazine Literary Digest's 1936 prediction of an Alf Landon victory. It notes the passing of other archaic methods of gauging the public mood--counting crowd sizes, for example. As such cheek-by-jowl techniques have been superseded by pollsters, Herbst worries about the deleterious effect on participatory democracy, and to point up the flavor of the past, she has surveyed a sample of politicians and journalists of the 1940s to see how they took the public pulse. To them, a standard deviation was the bar patron that didn't wear a particular campaign button, not a number crunched by a computer. A blend of anecdote and theory, this work is suitable for the larger collection.--Gilbert Taylor

From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.