Numbered Voices: How Opinion Polling Has Shaped American Politics

Paperback | August 15, 1995

bySusan Herbst

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Quantifying the American mood through opinion polls appears to be an unbiased means for finding out what people want. But in Numbered Voices, Susan Herbst demonstrates that the way public opinion is measured affects the use that voters, legislators, and journalists make of it.

Exploring the history of public opinion in the United States from the mid-nineteenth century to the present day, Herbst shows how numbers served both instrumental and symbolic functions, not only conveying neutral information but creating a basis authority. Addressing how the quantification of public opinion has affected contemporary politics and the democratic process, Herbst asks difficult but fundamental questions about the workings of American politics.

"An original and thought-provoking analysis of why we have polls, what they accomplish, and how they affect the current political scene. Herbst's scholarship is impeccable, her writing is clear and crisp, and her findings are original. . . . Every reader will benefit by carefully weighing the issues she raises and the conclusions she draws."—Doris A. Graber, Political Science Quarterly

"An intelligent, theoretically rich, and historically broad account of public opinion over several millennia. . . . The historical accounts are interesting and her interpretations are thought-provoking."—Paul Brace, Journal of American History

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From Our Editors

How are numbers generated by public opinion surveys used to describe the national mood? Why have they gained such widespread respect and power in American life? Do polls enhance democracy, or simply accelerate the erosion of public discourse? Quantifying the American mood through opinion polls has come to seem an unbiased means for ass...

From the Publisher

Quantifying the American mood through opinion polls appears to be an unbiased means for finding out what people want. But in Numbered Voices, Susan Herbst demonstrates that the way public opinion is measured affects the use that voters, legislators, and journalists make of it.Exploring the history of public opinion in the United States...

From the Jacket

How are numbers generated by public opinion surveys used to describe the national mood? Why have they gained such widespread respect and power in American life? Do polls enhance democracy, or simply accelerate the erosion of public discourse? Quantifying the American mood through opinion polls has come to seem an unbiased means for ass...

Format:PaperbackDimensions:235 pages, 8.5 × 5.5 × 0.7 inPublished:August 15, 1995Publisher:University Of Chicago Press

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0226327434

ISBN - 13:9780226327433

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Table of Contents

Preface
Introduction
1: Quantification and Rationality
2: Numbers and Symbolic Politics
3: Techniques of Opinion Expression and Measurement
4: Partisan Politics and the Symbolic Use of Straw Polls, 1856-1936
5: Congressmen, Journalists, and Opinion Assessment, 1930-1950
6: Contemporary Public Opinion Research
7: Crowd Estimation and Public Opinion
8: Opinion Quantification and Democracy
Notes
Bibliography
Index

From Our Editors

How are numbers generated by public opinion surveys used to describe the national mood? Why have they gained such widespread respect and power in American life? Do polls enhance democracy, or simply accelerate the erosion of public discourse? Quantifying the American mood through opinion polls has come to seem an unbiased means for assessing what people want. But in Numbered Voices Susan Herbst demonstrates that how public opinion is measured affects the ways that voters, legislators, and journalists conceive of it. Exploring the history of public opinion in the United States from the mid-nineteenth century to the present day, Herbst analyzes how quantitative descriptions of public opinion became so authoritative. She shows how numbers served instrumental functions, but symbolic ones as well: public opinion figures convey authority and not only neutral information. Case studies and numerous examples illustrate how and why quantitative public opinion data have been so critical during and between American elections. Herbst then addresses how the quantification of pu