Taking America’s Temperature

OVER THE PAST HALF-CENTURY, POLLING HAS REMADE THE ELECTORAL PROCESS. IS IT HELPING DO THE WORK OF DEMOCRACY MORE EFFECTIVELY—OR ERODING IT?

A polltaker’s lot is perhaps least enviable when his profession is dealt with by historians of presidential elections. Almost all of them give prominent play to polling’s two most celebrated disasters: 1936, when a respected national magazine’s straw poll forecast a loss for Franklin D. Roosevelt, and 1948, when Harry Truman confounded almost universal predictions of defeat and overcame Thomas E. Dewey. These sensational landmarks obscure the fact that in the 14 other elections between 1936 and 1996 no such major mistakes were made.

 
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