Opinions & Views

Schizophrenia & Politics

The Confidence Gap: Business, Labor, and Government in the Public Mind by Seymour Martin Lipset and William Schneider; The Free Press; New York.

" American public opinion," Theodore Roosevelt once said, “is a vast ocean. It cannot be stirred with a teaspoon!" Since then, assorted experts have tried, with increasingly sophisticated tools, to measure the depth, length, and substance of that sea of ideas, myths, biases, and dreams which constitutes the average American's conception of himself and the world around him. To a significant extent, their purpose has been not just to measure opinion, but also to determine how it may be molded. Sometimes the pollsters have been wildly wrong. In the celebrated Literary Digest survey of 1936, over 2.5 million respondents confidently predicted the landslide victory of Alf Landon over FDR. In 1980, most of the major opinion firms anticipated a tight Presidential race. Of course, the contest was not close at all. Still, if modern polling has yet to enter the realm of exactitude, it is equally far from pseudoscientific soothsaying. Polls do present a roughly accurate picture of who we are and what we believe, so long as the proper questions are posed.

It is for this reason that political candidates of every ideological stripe are avid followers of surveys. In fact, it is a rare candidate for any major office who does not commission polls....

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