Measurement of Public Opinion

November 8, 1940

Report Outline
Forecasts and results of the 1940 Election
Election Forecasts in Previous Years
Development of Scientific Methods of Sampling
Measurement of Opinion on Public Issues

Forecasts and results of the 1940 Election

In spite OF their failure to predict the Roosevelt landslide in the Electoral College, the Gallup and Crossley forecasts of the 1940 presidential election results were much more accurate than were their forecasts of the 1936 election. The Fortune survey, which had predicted the percentage division of the popular vote in 1936 with an error of less than 2 per cent, reduced the error in this year's poll to one-half of 1 per cent.

The true test of accuracy of a straw vote is not so much correct prediction of the result as close agreement between the estimated and actual percentages of the vote as divided between the major candidates. A prediction that Roosevelt would obtain 60 per cent of the total vote this year would have been exactly as far wrong as a prediction that Willkie would win with 51 per cent, although it would have come much closer to placing states in the correct winning and losing columns.

In 1936, the Gallup poll underestimated Roosevelt's share of the popular vote by 6 percentage points, and underestimated the Roosevelt strength in two individual states by as much as 11 and 12 percentage points. In that year the Crossley poll underestimated the Democratic popular vote by slightly more than 6 percentage points, and the Democratic vote in one state by 17 percentage points. In 1940, each of these polls underestimated the Roosevelt vote in the nation by just 2.7 percentage points. The evident improvement in the accuracy of the polls is not diminished by the fact that this year both Gallup and Crossley thought the election would be very close, while both predicted a substantial Roosevelt victory four years ago.

ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
Feb. 06, 2015  Political Polling
Jul. 15, 1994  Foreign Policy and Public Opinion
Sep. 16, 1988  Benefits and Dangers of Opinion Polls
Mar. 05, 1976  Public Opinion Polling
Jul. 26, 1968  Polls in Election Campaigns
Oct. 12, 1960  Political Polls
Nov. 08, 1940  Measurement of Public Opinion
Campaigns and Elections