Political Polls

October 12, 1960

Report Outline
Changing Role of Public Opinion Polls
Canvassing Methods and Poll Results
Political Polls and Democratic Processes
Special Focus

Changing Role of Public Opinion Polls

Public opinion polls have played a part in past national elections but never so large a part as they are playing in the 1960 presidential campaign. The polls have been credited by political scientists and others with profoundly influencing, if not determining, the choice of this year's candidates for the presidency; the choice by the presidential candidates of their running mates; the issues to be emphasized and attitudes to be taken by the candidates in campaign speeches and debates.

Political polls continue to be looked upon by the general public as simple forecasts of aspirants' chances of nomination and candidates' chances of election, but they have become much more than that. National politicians who formerly made vital decisions on the basis of personal observation, counsel or pure hunch, now base their judgments on data supplied by the opinion specialists. The present-day candidate for high office has his own private polling organization. If its findings are favorable to his cause, he may give them to the press or have them leaked at a propitious moment; if the findings are unfavorable, they may result in drastic revisions of campaign strategy.

What has happened is described as belated utilization in the political field of the techniques and facilities long employed by business corporations to find best markets for their products, old and new, and more particularly to shape their products to the public taste. Politicians have learned that private polls can help a presidential candidate pinpoint key areas and issues in a way not possible for the large nation-wide polling organizations. And limited polls are less costly—an important consideration for the less affluent office seeker. The cost varies from a range of $3,000-$7,500 for a “quickie” telephone poll of 600 people to $100,000-$300,000 for a nation-wide “sampling in depth.” The most frequent users of private polls have been the candidates with the fewest financial worries. Newsweek estimated (Aug. 31, 1959) that Nelson A. Rockefeller had more than 134 voter surveys made before his election as governor of New York in 1958. Sen. John F. Kennedy (D Mass.) is known to have had pollsters at work ever since his failure to win the Democratic vice presidential nomination in 1956.

ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
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Jul. 26, 1968  Polls in Election Campaigns
Oct. 12, 1960  Political Polls
Nov. 08, 1940  Measurement of Public Opinion
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