HARWOOD L. CHILDS
Associate Professor of Politics
NEW YORK: JOHN WILEY & SONS, INC.
LONDON: CHAPMAN & HALL, LIMITED
HARWOOD L. CHILDS
All Rights Reserved
This book or any part thereof must not
be reproduced in any form without
the written permission of the publisher.
Printed in the U. S. A.
THE HADDON CRAFTSMEN, INC.
CAMDEN, N. J.
THIS volume is the outgrowth of a series of lectures constituting
a part of a two weeks' course on public relations organized by
the American Council on Public Relations and presented to groups
of business men at Reed College, Portland, Oregon; Stanford Uni-
versity; and the University of Washington in Seattle, during the
summer of 1939. They were also included in the short course offered
by the Council in Milwaukee in February, 1940.
Public-relations problems are essentially public-opinion problems.
Moreover, the academic student of public opinion soon discovers that
those most realistically concerned with his field of study are men and
women seeking to solve public-relations problems. Starting with the
practical problems of public relations I have tried to show how a
knowledge of public opinion will aid in their solution and what an
understanding of public opinion involves.
The purpose of these lectures is twofold: (i) to present a theory
of public opinion which will serve as a frame of reference for public
officials, political leaders, business executives, labor leaders, and group
leaders generally who are today at grips with public-relations prob-
lems; (2) to clarify the meaning of such terms as public relations,
public opinion, public interest, and propaganda, and to appraise the
role of certain institutions and practices in the public-opinion arena.
Special attention is given to public-opinion polls, public-opinion re-
search, current attempts to analyze propaganda, and the impact of
foreign propaganda on the American scene. Some suggestions are
offered for improving the functioning of public opinion in a
Limitations of the lecture platform precluded a detailed elabora-
tion of the theses presented. Nevertheless, it may be of value to pub-
lish the papers substantially as they were delivered, even though the
satisfaction that comes from meticulous refinement of statement is,
to some extent, sacrificed. Definitions and philosophies are, by their
very nature, personal matters. If Humpty Dumpty could make words
mean what he wanted them to mean, so can we; and so can we make
our philosophies mean what we want them to. The important thing
is as George Cornewall Lewis once stated: "Where all people talk
on the same subject, they should be agreed about the vocabulary with
which they discuss it: or, at any rate, they should be aware that they
are not agreed."
I wish to express my gratitude to Professor Rex F. Harlow of Stan-
ford University, President of the American Council on Public Rela-
tions, for the opportunity afforded me to test my thinking in the fire
of comment, criticism, and suggestions that came from those enrolled
in the Council's short courses. I wish also to acknowledge my in-
debtedness to the publishers of Fortune magazine, the Public Opin-
ion Quarterly, F. S. Crofts and Company, William Morrow and
Company, the Institute for Propaganda Analysis, and the Macmillan
Company for permission to quote various passages from their pub-
lications as indicated in the text. The publishers of the Dictionary of
American History, Charles Scribner's Sons, have generously permit-
ted me to make use of material I prepared for them in the lecture on
The Concept "Propaganda." The National Council for the Social
Studies and the Atlantic Monthly have been similarly gracious in
permitting me to draw upon some material from previously pub-
lished articles of mine in the lectures on Public-Opinion Polls and
Public Opinion and Social Control.
HARWOOD L. CHILDS
March I, 1940
What Are Public Relations? I
The Basic Problem of Public Relations 13
What Is the Public Interest? 22.
What Is Public Opinion? 35
Public-Opinion Polls 49
Formation of Opinion 61
The Concept "Propaganda" 75
The Art of Propaganda 89"
Propaganda and Dictatorship 103
Propaganda and Democracy 119
Public Opinion and Social Control 129
Selected References 145
Name Index 147
Subject Index 149
What Are Public Relations?
IN A recent article in the magazine Fortune, the author introduces
a discussion of the subject, "The Public Is Not Damned," with
The year 1938 may go down in the annals of industry as the
season in which the concept of public relations suddenly struck
home to the hearts of a whole generation of businessmen, much
as first love comes mistily and overpoweringly to the adolescent.
Indeed, during 1938 there was scarcely a convention that did not
feature an address on public relations, scarcely a trade magazine
that did not devote some space to the subject, scarcely a board of
directors that did not deliberate weightily on the powers of the
new goddess. And they found that the sphere of this Mona Lisa
was all of industry and that she presided over its most bewilder-
ing and least tangible aspects.1
Current interest in the subject of public relations is matched only
by widespread disagreement and confusion regarding its meaning.
In order to discuss intelligently the backgrounds of public relations
we must have a meeting of minds so far as the concept itself is con-
cerned. And right at the outset I wish to stress a note of warning.
If there are some who subsequently come to feel that my conception
of this vitally important subject is too idealistic, I can only say that
I am not primarily concerned with public relations as they are, but
with public relations as they should be. Furthermore, I hold no brief
for much that is labeled public-relations work-the antics, stunts,
tricks, and devices by which individuals and corporations often seem
to obtain good will without actually trying to remove the real causes
of ill will. I am not particularly interested in any one thousand ways
to win friends and influence people. For me the subject of public
relations goes much deeper than many current treatises on profes-
sional and corporate etiquette would suggest. In my opinion the
1 Superior numbers refer to numbered notes beginning on page 143.
An Introduction to Public Opinion
prevailing interest in public relations will continue and increase, for
it epitomizes one of the fundamental problems of our times.
Public relations may be defined as thoseaspects of our personal
and corporate behavior which have a social rather than a purely
private and personal significance The increasing importance of
public relations isdue primarily to the increasing number of personal
and corporate activities which do have this social and public signifi-
cance. Personal freedom is rapidly assuming a new meaning in the
face of widespread technological and cultural transformations. To
define public relations is to define private relations, to draw a line
between personal freedom and social responsibility. Such a line can
never be static. It is a moving line that must be redrawn continually
as conditions change. All that we can reasonably attempt to do is to
draw the line as of today. We cannot see far into the future. In order
to draw the line today, however, it will be useful to take stock of the
immediate past to find out why this problem of public relations has
become such an important, vital phase of our social, political, and
In defining public relations as "thoseaspects of our personal and
corporate behavior which have a social rather than a purely private
and personal significance" I am aware that I may be taking liberties
with a concept that has different meanings for many students of the
subject. The origin of the term is shrouded in mystery. It certainly
was employed in somewhat its current connotation during the early
years of the present century. I have in my possession an address de-
livered by an executive of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad in 1906
on the subject "The Public Relations Problem of the Railroads." And
it is worthy of note that public utilities were among the first, ap-
parently, to give attention to the problem. Frequent references are
made, for example, to the early efforts of the Bell Telephone System
in the public-relations field.2 And this is not surprising, because the
Bell Telephone System, as well as railroads and other economic units
"affected with the public interest," were among the first to feel the
necessity of redefining economic freedom in terms of growing social
responsibilities. The officials of the Bell Telephone System realized,
even at a time when some prominent officials in steel and other
manufacturing industries were pursuing a policy of "the public be
damned," that the social effects of their business operations made it
What Are Public Relations?
impossible for them to define their own personal freedom in such
Before reviewing the important developments of the recent past
that have given rise to current interest in the subject of public rela-
tions I shall comment on a few definitions of the term in order to
underscore the nature of the problem as I see it. One writer has
defined public relations as "the planned presentation of your point of
view in terms that will create public understanding and win public
acceptance."" Of a similar character are these definitions: "By public
relations is meant the art of tempering the mental attitude of hu-
manity in general towards a company, so that its position with the
public shall be impregnable,"' or again "the development of cordial,
equitable and, therefore, mutually profitable relations between a
business, industry, or organization and the public it serves."5
Each of these definitions misses, I believe, an essential point. Public
relations as such is not the presentation of a point of view, not the
art of tempering mental attitudes, nor the development of cordial
and profitable relations. It is not the label for a new technique of
propaganda that will necessarily bring fame and fortune to those
who use it. Jlt implty__iname for activities which have a social
significance. Our problem in each corporation or. iT--usry is to find
'outi-wharthese activities are, what social effects they have, and, if
they are contrary to the public interest, to find ways and means for
modifying them so that they will serve the public interest. The
public-relations executive is not primarily a press agent or a propa-
gandist. He is a student of the social effects of personal and cor-
porate conduct who undertakes to use his knowledge so as to mini-
mize the harmful consequences of such conduct and to maximize the
Another author has defined public relations as "the name business
gives to its recognition of itself as a political entity,"' and still an-
other as "a fundamental attitude of mind-a philosophy of manage-
ment-which deliberately and with enlightened selfishness places the
broad interest of the customer first in every decision affecting the
operation of the business."7 These definitions display a broader and
deeper philosophical insight. But public relations is more than a new
philosophy of management, a new ism that will serve as an antidote
to Communism or Fascism. Public relations simply refers to those
An Introduction to Public Opinion
relations or activities of ours which have a general, social significance.
It is the function of public-relations counsel to find out what these
relations are, what social effects they have, whether these effects are
contrary to the public interest, and what modifications in them may
be necessary to bring them in line with the public interest.
I know that many will ask: What is the public interest? This is a
crucial question, and I propose to deal with it at some length later.
For the present I merely wish to stress the point that public relations
is not a new technique of propaganda, nor is it some novel panacea
or philosophy to be foisted on business. It is simply the name for
certain types of activities, maria\ of whiith %\:re once ofspeTsonal
significance, but now, owing to the dynamics of social change, are
affected with the public interest. An outstanding phenomenon_ .E
recent times has been the increasing scope of these public relations,
the multiplication of social consequences from personal and cor-
porate acts. These acts are the subject matter of public relations.
Some have defined public relations as simply the relations of a
business or corporation with the public "judged by the common
concept of sound human conduct."' If, by this definition, we mean
relations having a public or social significance I raise no objection.
To insist, however, that the term be restricted solely to relations or
activities generally regarded as sound is to prescribe ethical limita-
tions which ignore the neutral, objective character of the expression.
Our conclusion, therefore, is this: Public relations is simply a name
for those activities and relations of ours which are public, that have
a social significance. The student of public relations wishes to know
what they are, what social effects they have, whether these effects
are in the public interest, and, if not, what can and should be done.
Public relations is not the name for a new ideology, nor the designa-
tion for an esoteric art of propaganda. It is simply the name for a
class of personal and group activities whose changing dimensions
affect the lives of all of us.
The starting point in our thinking about public relations logically
begins, therefore, with a consideration of the more important reasons
why so many of our personal relations have suddenly been trans-
formed into public relations. The farmer, for example, is often re-
ferred to as our staunchest individualist. For decades he was quite
free to conduct his farming operations as he jolly well thought best.
What Are Public Relations?
He tilled the soil, planted seed, harvested crops, raised cattle, picked
apples, cut lumber, mended fences, raised and educated his children
about as he chose. Whatever he did or failed to do affected only
slightly the welfare of his neighbors and even less the welfare of the
community generally. His public relations were the least among his
The situation of the farmer was not exceptional. The doctor and
the lawyer, the teacher and the business man lived their lives in
comparative isolation-at least, the number of persons affected by
what they did was small. Out of this environment emerged a philos-
ophy of public relations that was essentially a dogma of personal
freedom. Slowly at first, then with accelerating tempo conditions
changed. At first blush it seemed as though some evil spirit mo-
tivated the change. Men tried to identify the evil genius. They at-
tributed the change to the grasping, selfish aims of individuals and
groups; to the party in power; to labor; to radicals surreptitiously
befouling the minds of the masses; to all sorts of personal devils.
One indication or measure of the increasing scope of public rela-
tions was legislation. Legislative bodies began to pass laws regulating
the hours and conditions of work of women and children. Laws
were passed regulating the practices of railroads and utilities. Pure-
food laws were passed; milk had to be tested; fire escapes had to be
built; doctors and lawyers had to be certified by the state before they
could practice their profession; teachers had to undergo specified
types of training before they could enter the classroom. The final
straw, in the minds of many, was the adoption of the prohibition
amendment, a measure which brought the drinking habits of the
American people within the scope of public relations. How may we
account for these transformations? Shall we attribute this broadening
scope of definition to legislative maliciousness or the perfidious ac-
tivities of would-be despoilers? Or must we look deeper to the very
elements of social change themselves?
The fact of the matter is, as I see it, that impersonal, sociological
forces were at work, having a centripetal tendency to draw indi-
viduals together into ever larger, ever closer, interdependent units.
These forces were everywhere at work in society, but their effects
were often minimized, especially in a country such as the United
States, with an abundance of natural resources.
An Introduction to Public Opinion
Onof-themost obviour-f rthee sociologicalforces-~was-popultion
growth. From the national, historical point of view population
growth brought about westward expansion, the opening up of new
areas, the enlargement of the electorate, and expanding dimensions
of publics and markets. With it went an increasing urbanization of
the population. After the passing of the frontier, however, and the
end of the nineteenth century the rate of population growth de-
clined. Students of population tell us that this rate is likely to con-
tinue its downward tendency until we have a much more stable
relation between population and natural resources. No student of
public relations may ignore the implications of this great sociological
force. It has affected and will continue to affect the social character
of our activities. Personal and economic freedom in sparsely settled
communities has a very different connotation from what it has in
metropolitan areas or in a country with a high degree of population
I have mentioned some of the implications of population growth
in quantitative terms. But the quality of the population, its composi-
tion, the interrelations of different nationalities within it, and the
ever-changing character of its customs, mores, and attitudes exert a
power influence upon the scope and nature of public relations.
Of equal importance as an explanation of the growth of public
relations are political changes. Democratic government, in the sense
of popularly elected officials, representative assemblies, and written
constitutions, experienced a slow and unfcertain-expansion until the
end of the eighteenth century. Even then the suffrage was narrowly
restricted and mass opinion as a factor in government was largely
ignored. The nineteenth century, however, witnessed a rapid and
continuous development from these early beginnings. State after
state adopted written constitutions. The suffrage was progressively
extended. Not only did the proportion of the population officially
participating in public affairs steadily increase, but formal responsi-
bilities likewise expanded. The adoption of direct primary laws and
the increase in number of elections, as well as the spread of the initia-
tive and referendum, added to the civic responsibilities of citizens.
The opinions of the masses became politically significant. Corpora-
tions and groups generally were compelled to recognize the political
as well as the financial implications of what they were doing.
What Are Public Relations?
Another reason for the increasing significance of public relations
is the spread of educational facilities withthe accomp.Irn, ing increase
'irliteracTepublic .upprt-Tcschools and colleges, the introduc-
tion of compulsory school-attendance requirements, and statutory
rules affecting child labor made the three R's the general rather than
the exceptional equipment of the population. It is estimated that
more than two and three-fourths billions of dollars are spent annu-
ally for education in this country, and that one out of every two
persons of secondary-school age, and one out of seven of college age,
are in a secondary school or college. The full sweep of the changes
accompanying this development is only partially suggested by the
fact that nearly one-fourth of the population of the United States is
directly or indirectly engaged in educational activities.
Democratic government not only assigns a large proportion of its
citizens increasing responsibilities in the determination of public
policies, but also seeks to make its citizens competent to deal with
them. Whether the competence of public opinion is actually increas-
ing, and even more important, whether the increase in competence,
if there be such, keeps pace with increasing responsibilities, are ques-
tions of far-reaching importance. The significant thing so far as the
student of public relations is concerned is that the spread of educa-
tional facilities raises the expectations and increases the demands of
citizens. In many cases it aggravates discontent with existing condi-
tions, multiplies efforts to remedy them, and makes public opinion a
more volatile, articulate factor in state life. Masses of illiterates and
uneducated persons may be contemptuously ignored in our pursuit
of happiness and freedom. Not so the growing numbers of people
turned out by our mammoth educational systems. The social and
public consequences of our actions may remain the same; the size of
the population and its composition may remain unaltered; even our
form of government may remain unchanged. If, however, an increas-
ing proportion of the population visualizes new ideals and expects
higher standards of living, the social implications of our activities
assume a new meaning. Discontent arises because of the gap between
expectations and realities. It is not enough for American citizens to
know that they have a higher standard of living than the Russians or
the Orientals. They evaluate conditions in terms of their own ideals,
not those of other peoples.
An Introduction to Public Opinion
For many years the subway system of New York has operated
shuttle trains between Times Square and the Grand Central Station.
These trains operate today much as they operated when the system
was built. At times the congestion at both terminals is indescribable.
The foul air, the dust, the poorly constructed platforms, the clangor.
noise, and jamming are almost unbelievable. Guards shout, as the\
have done for decades, "Watch your step," as you leap from plat-
form to train. You hold your breath and squeeze into the train on
the general theory that there is always room for one more. Only the
pressure of steam or forced air could possibly close the doors.
No doubt when the shuttle was constructed people using this mode
of transportation were more or less satisfied. At any rate, from the
operating company's point of view passengers could take it or leave
it. The subway was a purely private undertaking, and the company
need assume no responsibility for social consequences or public atti-
tudes. The management had no public-relations problem.
Today the situation has changed, owing in part to the growth in
population; to an increase in the number of people using this sup-
posed "convenience"; to the fact that people in New York have
become more articulate politically, perhaps, but owing especially to
the fact that people have come to expect more from transportation
agencies than simply a piece of rolling stock that rolls between two
terminals. They have been educated to demand more. The situation
has become a public-relations problem. This is only one instance
which illustrates the interaction of forces bringing about a changing
concept of personal freedom and public relations.
The development and improvement of agencies of mass impres-
sion may also be cited as a reason for the increasing significance of
public relations. Although journalism in a crude state came to this
country with the early colonists, it was not until after the close of
the Revolution that a daily paper was published in this country. For
many years thereafter circulation figures were extremely modest. In
spite of improved methods of news-gathering, typesetting, printing,
financing, and distribution, it was not until the last few decades of
the nineteenth century that newspapers with a daily circulation of
over a million copies were possible.
The advent of motion pictures and radio broadcasting is largely
the story of the last twenty years. Radio communication prior to the
What Are Public Relations?
World War was used chiefly for maritime and experimental pur-
poses. The first real broadcast in this country did not occur until
1920. However, after the creation of the Radio Corporation of
America in 1919 and subsequent improvements in sending and re-
ceiving apparatus, the growth of radio was phenomenal. Today
nearly three-fourths of the families in the United States own radio
sets, and it is estimated that broadcasting stations have a daily audi-
ence of more than thirty-seven millions. The tempo of technological
changes in this field may even be accelerated now that television and
facsimile transmission have become realities.
And so with the motion picture, which really started its dramatic
career during the last years of the nineteenth century. It was not until
after the World War, however, that its possibilities as an agency of
mass impression began to be realized. In fact these possibilities were
definitely restricted until after the invention of sound-recording de-
vices and the installation of talking pictures in theatres throughout
the country, beginning in 1928.
Technical improvements in means of communication have pro-
duced marked effects upon the scope of public relations. They have
greatly enlarged the size of publics. They have increased the power
and influence of those in a position to control and use these instru-
ments and, at the same time, have weakened the relative influence
of those who do not have access to them. We have to do not only
with larger, better-informed, and more responsible publics. We also
deal with publics whose opinions probably are changing at a rate
more rapid than ever before. A mechanized world which enables
individuals to establish contact with millions of people simultane-
ously is a world in which opinion changes over wide areas are
certain to occur more frequently and suddenly. Nationwide hook-
ups, feature pictures displayed at the same time throughout the
country and over the world, newspapers and magazines with circula-
tions in the millions can produce opinion revolutions as different
from the slow evolutionary changes of the past as TNT is different
New doctrines and ideologies which in the past could not be
brought to the attention of the masses except by a slow process of
infiltration can now be broadcast one minute with the expectation
that they will take effect the next. A speech by the President, by an
10 An Introduction to Public Opinion
industrial or political leader, which formerly would have taken
weeks and months to bring to the attention of the bulk of the Amer-
ican people, may now be heard simultaneously by millions and affect
the result of an election or the course of international relations the
One consequence of this is that individuals are subjected to many
more stimuli than formerly, are brought into closer touch with
everybody's problems. To their own problems of family and occupa-
tional life are added the worries and problems of central Europe, the
Orient, Africa, and South America.
But this is not all. Almost over night each of us may find himself
living in a glass house. The doors of our skeleton closets are thrown
wide open. Inquiring reporters and congressional investigating com-
mittees stand ready to headline any or all of our activities for the
entertainment of curious masses. The press, the radio, and the motion
picture have upset traditional notions of privacy-and exposed us to
the gaze of the multitude. Probably nothing has so profoundly af-
fected our traditional freedoms as these developments in the field of
communications. In face-to-face communities and groups our friends
generally knew us for what we really were and could evaluate our
motives and activities in the light of this knowledge..Not so the
masses who are incessantly peering at us through the magnitihc,'Flut
sometimes distorted, lenses of journalists, broadcasters, and motion-
The concept of public relations in our times has been affected,
therefore, by sociological, political, cultural, and technological
changes of a fundamental nature. Our personal freedoms have been
increasingly circumscribed. Our social responsibilities have expanded
I and, probably will expand, to what limits no one knows. No better
evidence of this can be found than in the economic sphere, where
economic forces have step by step vested our personal freedoms with
greater and greater social responsibilities. Indications of this are nu-
merous: the increasing size of undertakings, the concentration and
integration of business units, specialization and division of labor,
multiplication and refinement of products, standardization, trade
unionism, mass production, and widening of markets. The activities
of manufacturers affect directly the welfare of farmers, workers, and
the consuming public. The activities of farmers in turn have a direct
What Are Public Relations?
bearing upon both the purchasers and the users of their products.
The production and manufacture of intricate and refined goods ne-
cessitate the cooperation of an ever-increasing number of economic
units. We usually cite the example of assembly lines in our large
automobile industries. There we can see vividly how the actions of
one affect the work of many. The failure of one person to do his job
properly may throw the whole undertaking out of order.
In a very real sense, however, our whole economic system is an
assembly line, and the welfare of the national economy is dependent
upon the proper functioning of each unit. If it is difficult to keep an
automobile assembly line functioning efficiently from the ore mines
at one end to the garages at the other, how much more difficult must
it be to order the functioning of an entire national economy? The
introduction of this assembly-line principle into our national econ-
omy is the inevitable price we pay for the many kinds of goods and
services we have. To run trains on time, to have radios in our homes,
to purchase automobiles at the prevailing price, to have submarines,
and to use typewriters, natural resources from all parts of the country
and the world have to be processed and assembled, manufactured
and distributed. To lament the increasing centralization of control
within industry, to decry the advent of bigness and monopoly, is to
plead for cruder commodities and less refined services. We do not
wish to lower our standards of goods and services, and yet we insist
upon a type of national economy in which they cannot be provided.
Business through its inventive capacity has awakened in the minds
of the masses wants that never existed and has provided the means
for satisfying them. What it has failed to do is to take account of the
social responsibilities it assumed by so doing.
Any satisfactory explanation of the growing significance of public
relations may not ignore the many events of the post-war period that
have disposed the masses to criticize the traditional functioning of
our economy. Economic crises, periods of depression, unemployment,
threats of dictatorial aggrandizement, price changes, demands for
greater security, profits, taxes-all these have served to multiply ten-
sions, create feelings of discontent and insecurity, and produce a
more vigorous struggle for control over that instrument of salvation,
public opinion. In order to realize many of their hopes and expecta-
tions discontented groups have turned to the government for aid.
An Introduction to Public Opinion
To obtain control over the government they have become more and
more politically minded, which in the American sense of the term
means that they have become more and more conscious of the
importance of public opinion. Labor and agrarian groups almost
from the outset were politically minded in this sense, but it has taken
a New Deal to awaken business to this point of view. Previously
confident of the power of money and material resources to assure
their supremacy, business leaders ignored, very largely, the mass
effects of their actions.
In a world in which social change is taking place at a greatly ac-
celerating rate and in which governments are being forced to assume
greater responsibilities, the tenets of personal freedom, the functions
of government with respect to leadership of opinion, and the role of
public opinion with respect to government are being subjected to
more searching analyses than ever before. It is evident that, con-
fronted with a domestic situation which calls for an increasing
amount of social budgeting and cooperation, and in the face of an
international situation which calls for a united front against dic-
tatorial aggression, we are being forced to modify our traditional
conceptions of where the line should be drawn between personal
freedom and social responsibility. We cannot have a planned econ-
omy capable of satisfying our wants efficiently and continue to exer-
cise our accustomed liberties quite as we have done before. We must
face the problems of public relations, the problems that arise because
of the increasing scope of our activities which have a social
The Basic Problem of Public Relations
OUR last lecture dealt with the meaning of the term "public rela-
tions." We defined it as those aspects of our personal and
corporate behavior which have a social rather than a purely private
and personal significance; and we focused attention upon some of
the reasons why the concept has broadened in scope and importance
in recent years. We discovered that an adequate explanation pre-
supposed an understanding of the operation of certain basic socio-
logical, political, cultural, and economic forces which make for
greater social interdependence. We now turn to the question: What,
in the light of these changes, is the basic problem of public relations ?
The basic problem of public relations, as I see it, is to reconcile or
adjust in the public interest those aspects of our personal and cor-
porate behavior which have a social significance. One of the first
tasks of the counsel on public relations and students of the subject is
to analyze personal and corporate behavior in terms of their effects
upon the community. And by community I do not mean simply the
corporate community of stockholders, employees, and consumers.
These publics are important, and the relations with them constitute
a part of the problem. But the effects of personal and corporate ac-
tivities extend far beyond the limits of our immediate corporate
family to the masses generally. This analysis of our personal and
corporate activities cannot be pursued satisfactorily unless we have
an adequate understanding of the sociological, political, economic,
and cultural background of these activities. Without this knowledge
we cannot evaluate properly the social implications of our work.
Within the past few years, for example, a new industry has ap-
peared on the American scene-television. Whether we are manu-
facturers or users of television receiving sets, the introduction of this
new medium of communication is certain to affect the scope and
nature of our activities. But how? This is a problem of public rela-
tions. It is the job of public-relations counsel and students to study
these effects, ascertain the extent to which the production and manu-
An Introduction to Public Opinion
facture of television sets affect the habits and interests, not only of
employers and employees, stockholders and customers, but of all
elements in the population.
There is first of all the public-relations problem of the television
industry itself and the various units that compose it. How does the
introduction of this new instrument affect other industries, their
profits, their employment conditions, their methods of carrying on
business? How does it affect other groups in the population-farm-
ers, teachers, public officials, housewives? How will its use by a gov-
ernment agency, by an educational institution, by a private corpora-
tion affect the relations of these agencies or institutions with the
numerous publics with which they come in contact? How does it
alter the relations of such publics with us, and how does it modify
the relations of such publics with one another?
It is not only necessary to identify effects as they occur, but it is
equally important to forecast what those effects are likely to be in
the future. Otherwise serious difficulties may arise before there is an
opportunity to control or modify practices. The counsel on public
relations must be in a position not only to follow day by day the
ever-changing nature of public relations, but also to anticipate prob-
able trends and consequences. This foresight is one of his most price-
less possessions. It is not something that comes as manna out of
heaven, but it is the product of wide knowledge and experience, a
real understanding of sociological trends in contemporary society.
Numerous illustrations could be cited to show how this knowledge
has actually been used by farseeing executives to anticipate the prob-
able effects of specific changes in corporate policy upon public rela-
tions. Only an intelligent appreciation of the historical backgrounds
of industrial relations could have given the management of Big
Steel the foresight to anticipate the wide implications of its decision
some months ago to modify its employee policy as it did. The United
States Steel Corporation recognized from the time of its founding in
1901 the nationwide importance of news of Big Steel's activities.
Throughout its history it has continued to publish detailed informa-
tion regarding its operations. But for a long time steel operators
failed to take account of the social implications of many other aspects
of their corporate practices-their basing-point system, their labor
policy, the import of sociological changes outside the industry. The
The Basic Problem of Public Relations
dramatic signing of an agreement with the C.I.O. in March, 1937,
which came as a shock to many business leaders, really reflected an
exceptional appreciation of current trends, a foresight all too unusual
in the business field.
Much is made in the literature of public relations of recent efforts
by the United States Steel Corporation to improve its relations with
the public: the new pressroom at 71 Broadway with every con-
ceivable facility for contributing to the comfort and convenience of
representatives of the press, the new era of executive cordiality,
"open-house" programs, the use of films and pamphlets to tell the
"Story of Steel." These efforts are good as far as they go. They evi-
dence some recognition of the changing panorama of social change.
But the problem of interpublic adjustment goes much deeper-and
necessitates a far more comprehensive and detailed diagnosis of
social trends than even Big Steel has envisaged.
One of the earliest, farsighted public-relations programs ever
conceived in the history of American business was that of the Bell
Telephone System. As far back as 1883 Theodore Vail perceived, as
few did at the time, the public-relations implications of the business.
He noticed, for example, that the work of his telephone operators,
men for the most part, failed to display the patience and tact neces-
sary for meeting satisfactorily the annoying problems which arose
at the switchboard in dealing with subscribers. At once he substituted
women for men operators.
Further recognition of the public implications of the business
came with the inauguration of a national advertising campaign in
1908. Long before the electric-light, gas, and power industries sensed
the growing antipathies of the masses to corporate practices in the
public-utility field telephone executives had divorced their business,
so far as the public mind was concerned, from other types. Attacks
on the utilities, particularly the defunct National Electric Light Asso-
ciation, which culminated in thoroughgoing governmental investiga-
tions, left the telephone industry virtually unscathed.
This is not the place to describe in detail the mechanics of public-
relations practice as followed by the American Telephone and Tele-
graph Company. Many of them have since been followed by other
industries. Considerable progress has been made in the electrical,
food, manufacturing, banking, retailing, petroleum, airplane, auto-
An Introduction to Public Opinion
mobile, motion-picture, railroad, radio, brewing, and other fields.
Relations with the press have been improved; business reporting has
been modernized; the film and the radio have been used; in some
cases contacts with the public have been improved by "open-house"
parties, advisory committees, etc.; employees have been trained to
"say it with a smile"; the basis of stock ownership has been broad-
ened; advertising appropriations have increased; community welfare
programs have been introduced.
It is because of these efforts, good in themselves, that public rela-
tions has come to be defined solely in terms of publicity. Telling
one's story is certainly an important development. My only conten-
tion is that it does not go deep enough. It does not, and cannot, take
account of the gaps and lags in social progress out of which the
real problems arise. The basis for an enlightened public-relations
policy is and always must be a thorough understanding of the forces
that make those relations what they are, a careful analysis of the
social implications of specific practices. Public-relations advice, to be
worth anything, must be grounded on a comprehensive knowledge
of the past, of trends and relationships in the field of social change.
It must begin with the life history of the person and the corporation,
and more than that with the life history of the American people:
their economic, political, and social background.
It is evident that the adjustment of corporate and personal rela-
tions having a public and social significance with fundamental social
trends has not taken place in many spheres of human affairs. One
example of maladjustment is in the field of international relations.
Governments as well as unofficial groups and institutions have their
public-relations problems; The actions of government agencies as
well as individuals have more far-reaching implications today than
ever before. The freedom of individual states to act as they wish
without regard to the general social worldwide implications of their
activities has been steadily diminishing. Even the dictatorial powers
will slowly, all too slowly perhaps, come to realize that they are
integral parts of an international community, and simply cannot
pursue a policy of complete isolation from the rest of the world.
They apparently do appreciate the import of changes in the field of
communication upon international relations. They sense the impor-
tance of propaganda and the necessity for taking into account the
The Basic Problem of Public Relations
opinions of the masses throughout the world. Nevertheless they seem
to ignore other changes, other forces quite as important-economic,
social, political-persistently delimiting the bounds of state discretion.
But the dictatorships have not been alone in failing to take ac-
count of the changing character of government public relations.
The democracies, and the United States in particular, during the
years immediately following the World War tried, ostrich-like, to
avoid the implications of activities that affected people throughout
the world. Our failure to take part in the League of Nations; our
delay in joining the World Court; our tariff policies, our trade poli-
cies, our immigration laws reflected an old spirit of nationalism
developed in an era when the dimensions of national freedom were
much greater. One of our most lamentable shortcomings as a nation,
I believe, is our tendency to act, legislatively and otherwise, without
careful consideration of the social, the worldwide significance of our
We say: Well, what difference does it make what effect this act
has upon the peoples of the Far East, of South America, of central
Europe? Years ago it might not have had much significance. But
the interdependence of nations and states is far different today from
what it was then. Our international difficulties can be solved only if
we attempt to adjust our public relations on a basis more in accord
with the public interest, internationally perceived, than on a purely
national basis. I am not prescribing a foreign policy for the United
States. What I am seeking to do is to emphasize the importance of
adjusting our foreign policies to the operation of social, economic,
and political forces that are definitely affecting our relations with
Another striking example of maladjustment is in the field of labor
relations. If I were to assign one basic reason for the difficulties I
would say that they are due primarily to a failure on the part of
both parties to take full account of social changes that have mate-
rially affected the implications of their activities. Management, for
example, has introduced new machines, fabricated new products,
introduced new labor-saving devices, altered technological processes,
all too often without due regard to the far-reaching and cumulative
effects of these changes. Management restricts its research activities
to the technical field, focuses attention solely upon the material fac-
An Introduction to Public Opinion
tors involved, and provides no machinery for a comprehensive and
continuing study of the implications of business activities upon social
Ever since the beginning of the twentieth century, and even before,
our institutions of higher learning have been devoting an increasing
amount of attention to the study of the social sciences; to an exam-
ination of sociology, social psychology, political science, and eco-
nomics. Unfortunately, however, these findings have not been placed
at the disposal of business units within our society to the extent that
they should. Where some effort has been made to take advantage of
this work, such as the attempt to apply principles of psychology and
social psychology to advertising, the objective has been the interests
of a particular business unit, profits, an enlarged scope of freedom
rather than an adjustment of activities to growing social responsibili-
ties. How many business firms now have a public-relations depart-
ment within their organization, a social science division capable of
analyzing and interpreting for them, not merely the balance-sheet
significance of their operations, but the social implications of what
they are doing? Members of managerial staffs have introduced new
machines and processes, but where have they attempted to measure
the effects upon the conditions of employees, attitudes of mind,
standards of living, or, for that matter, the effect of these changes
upon competitors, upon consumers, upon the economic system gen-
Industrial problems arise, so students of sociology tell us, because
of cultural lags, because of the varying rates at which different as-
pects of social change take place. Every change in corporate and
personal behavior has widespread repercussions and tends to throw
economic and other systems out of joint unless the change is prop-
erly synchronized with other changes. In moving forward towards
a goal, whether it is economic or military, it is imperative that all
units advance at something like the same rate or else invite disaster.
Using the military analogy one might say that the public-relations
difficulties of American business have arisen because some divisions
have moved ahead so much more rapidly than others that they have
lost touch with neighboring units and disorganized the general ad-
vance. This is true, not only for individual units within the economic
system, but also for the national economy as a whole. It has got out
The Basic Problem of Public Relations 19
of touch with allied forces of social, cultural, and economic change
and tried to win the war itself.
In the field of labor relations, progress in the technological sector
has advanced much more rapidly than progress in the sociological
sector. There has existed no general staff to synchronize and direct
operations on a broad, general front. Too little account has been
taken of the direction and rate of change in employee attitudes, of
their hopes and expectations; the effects of widespread popular edu-
cation, improvements in communication and transportation agen-
cies; the fundamental effects occasioned by the World War; the rise
of new philosophies; crises and depression. To be sure we read about
them, but seldom did we transfer our knowledge to the arena of our
own activities. We knew that a World War occurred. We knew
something about the havoc it occasioned. And yet we failed to take
account of the many fundamental changes that ensued. We still talk
about a return to normalcy and the American Way, as though its
course had been fixed in 1914. We zealously try to pick up where we
left off in 1917 and insist on the same old freedoms without regard
for all these fundamental changes that have taken place since in the
lives and attitudes of peoples throughout the world.
I should like to cite just one more example of what I mean by a
public-relations problem. We are all aware of the current emphasis
upon what is called socialized medicine. For decades states have been
passing statutes designed to promote the health of its citizens. These
statutes reflect in large part changed conditions brought about by
the rise of cities, the introduction of new types of employment, and
more particularly by changing attitudes toward the responsibility of
the community in matters of health. More recently we have been
witnessing the spread of various types of social, old-age, and hos-
pitalization insurance plans. A point has now been reached where the
medical profession is on the defensive.
Dr. Rock Sleyster, President of the American Medical Association,
in an address before the i73rd annual convention of the Medical
Society of New Jersey on June 6, 1939, said:
The nation's physicians are being libeled and threatened with
a regularity that shows method and purpose by a storm of
propaganda for socialized medicine. Notice has been given that
we are to be investigated, excoriated, flagellated and perhaps
An Introduction to Public Opinion
excommunicated. . God help us, for we too have dared to
differ with the all-wise, have called attention to their inaccura-
cies, have refused to be stampeded into agreeing with their un-
American and revolutionary doctrines. No credit is given to a
profession that has given a million dollars a day in free service
and millions more at far below cost. What comparable record
have the purveyors of other necessities of life to offer?
And so the American Medical Association finally discovers that it
has a public-relations problem! But what is the nature of this prob-
lem, and why has it arisen? If our preceding analysis is correct the
problem has arisen because social change has proceeded more rap-
idly in some sectors of our social life than others; because the medi-
cal profession as a whole has not been following carefully enough
the social implications of its work, its import upon and relation to
activities in other fields. The medical profession is not the victim of
a malevolent group of people with wild-eyed schemes of social re-
form. Its difficulties are largely due to its own blindness to social,
economic, and cultural forces that have been operating for a long
time. It should have been aware of these forces long ago. It should
have anticipated these social trends. It should have tried to keep pace
with these changes.
This is not to say that all phases of social change are necessarily
desirable. It does suggest, however, that an enlightened public-
relations policy would have anticipated them, would have taken
measures long ago to deal with them. The frantic efforts to preserve
former freedoms now seem a bit ill-timed. It is always an exasperat-
ing and frequently a painful process to try to catch up with the
times. No public-relations counsel can wave a magic wand and sud-
denly turn back the onward surge of social forces. The public-
relations problems of the medical profession have been growing
like a cancer for years.
In all fields-international relations, labor relations, medicine, and
throughout our national economy-we may observe similar trends;
struggles for progress without a sufficient understanding of the
progress that is really going on. A public-relations policy envisaged
solely in terms of propaganda, of word and symbol manipulation,
is certainly a shortsighted policy. No amount of publicity can really
stem the operation of basic, socialized forces. The method of con-
The Basic Problem of Public Relations 21
trol must be predicated on a continuous, searching analysis of these
fundamental forces. Throughout the rank and file of our population
bewilderment prevails. We have pressed buttons, turned switches,
installed machines, and opened flood gates without fully under-
standing the basic laws of biology, psychology, and sociology. And
if there have been some who have thought that they understood
them, their plaintive voices have been silenced by the onrush of the
mob, intent on turning on more switches and pressing more buttons.
I have stated that the basic problem of public relations as I see it
is to reconcile or adjust in the public interest those aspects of our
personal and corporate behavior which have a public significance.
This principle applies regardless of the size of the unit concerned.
The starting point in working out a public-relations policy is a care-
ful analysis of our personal and corporate behavior in the light of
social change generally. Without knowing the basic economic, cul-
tural, political, and social trends of our times we cannot ascertain,
much less anticipate, the public implications of what we are doing.
It is the lag between social trends that gives rise to our problems,
and the search for answers must be a search for the reasons why
these lags exist, where they exist, and what can be done to synchro-
nize social movement. The business of producing and distributing
goods and services must be studied in relation to the total situation,
the total environment in which we are functioning. Executives of
corporations cannot afford to devote all or even the major portion of
their energies solely to technological considerations. They must raise
their eyes to the level of wider horizons. The public-relations counsel
must be something more than a publicist, a journalist, or a statis-
tician. He must be a social scientist capable of advising management
regarding the environment in which it is operating.
What Is the Public Interest?
I HAVE tried to establish, in our discussions thus far, these two
propositions: (i) that our public relations are essentially those
aspects of our personal and corporate behavior which have a social
significance; (2) that the basic problem of public relations is to
adjust such relations to the broader aspects of social change in a way
that will promote the public interest. It is my thesis that our public-
relations problems arise because we are unable or unwilling to as-
sume the social responsibility for our actions we should, either be-
cause we fail to recognize their social implications or because we
insist on a definition of personal freedom in terms that are out-
moded. It is our failure to adjust in the public interest our concep-
tion of what are and what are not public relations that is the real
source of our difficulty. It is not only shortsightedness but also un-
willingness to act that produce catastrophic gaps and lags within the
arena of social change.
Now the social scientist himself must accept a part of the respon-
sibility for this state of affairs. He has been quite as indifferent to his
own social responsibilities as leaders in other walks of life. He de-
claims incessantly about "science" but all too little about "social."
The obvious difference between a social science and a natural science
is the fact that one is social and the other is not. This truism has been
frequently ignored in the interminable discussions about the nature
of a science and the applicability of the methods of physical sciences
to the study of social phenomena.
It is not enough, however, for the social scientist to analyze per-
sonal and corporate behavior in terms of their social effects. He
must posit a standard or criteria of social welfare. And the fruits of
his research should be placed at the disposal of the community. All
too frequently he discovers principles or invents techniques only to
have them seized and used to the detriment of his fellow men.
Recently the press of the country announced that a famous natural
scientist at Harvard University had refused to allow citizens of
What Is the Public Interest?
Fascist countries to use his discoveries because they would presum-
ably employ them, not to promote public welfare, but to implement
racial selfishness and aggrandizement. Here was an academic re-
search worker and world-renowned scientist who had the courage
to act upon a recognition of the broad public-relations implications
of his work and to insist that his discoveries be devoted to what he
believed to be the public interest. The fact that his action was head-
line news only goes to show how dramatic a departure it was from
the ordinary. The prevailing attitude among many natural scientists
seems to be that their profession relieves them from all responsibility
for taking the public interest into consideration in what they are
doing. And I regret to say that this point of view exists to a large
extent among social scientists. And with what result?
Over and over again the laboratories of the social scientists have
been ravaged to promote the interests of private groups with little
or no thought of the social effects. The fruits of advertising research,
for example, have been taken and used by patent-medicine vendors
and manufacturers of adulterated foods with even greater avidity
than by those seeking to promote even indifferently worth-while
social services. In many cases our psychological laboratories have
been prostituted to the uses of socially undesirable causes. And I
regret to say that much of the prevailing interest in public relations
is often based upon no broader idealism than the desire to find out
how to promote some profitable cause irrespective of its social use-
fulness. There is always a lurking, curious interest in the question:
How can I mold public opinion? How can I persuade the masses
to accept my ideas, my gadgets, my services? Now where is one to
look for a social purpose, a public interest, in all this?
But what is the public interest, our smart friends will ask? Who
is competent to say? The fact of the matter is, so the clever argu-
ment runs, that no one knows what the public interest is. Even the
scholars, the learned, the scientists, the intelligentsia disagree. Who
really knows whether tariffs are in the public interest or not? Who
is competent to say whether prevailing utility rates are contrary to
the public interest? As a matter of fact, who can prove beyond the
shadow of a doubt that the sale of narcotics, adulterated foods, and
deleterious nostrums may not, from the long-time point of view, be
serving the true public interest? How often have we heard the
24 An Introduction to Public Opinion
argument that intemperance may really be a blessing in disguise, for
those who use alcohol to excess, so we are told, may better be dead
than alive. Intemperance serves to weed out the unfit; likewise the
rigorous operation of an uncontrolled, competitive system. Does not
the latter ensure the survival of the fittest?
The concept "public interest" in company with much idealism has
suffered a severe setback in recent years, especially since the World
War. In a world of multiplying ideologies and conflicting interests,
absolute standards of value have gone into the discard. Theories of
relativism and pragmatism have tried to give some semblance of
philosophical sense to the situation but without much satisfaction
except, perhaps, to philosophers themselves. And in the midst of
perplexing uncertainties social scientists themselves have retreated
to the four walls of their laboratories, and with monastic fatalism
and skepticism insisted that they have no concern with questions of
values, of social responsibility, and of the public interest.
Current interest in the subject of public relations can materialize
into something worth while only if it brings social scientists and
executives together on the basis of mutual concern for the public
welfare. If one side merely seeks to discover a few more tricks, a
few more schemes for promoting private objectives irrespective of
the public interest, there is little point to the undertaking. If the
other side is simply looking for an opportunity to endow or finance
some form of research activity merely to gratify the desire for
prestige and social recognition, then the results will be futile, the
problems of public relations will become more rather than less acute
and distressing. The underlying motivation for public-relations study
must be a desire to serve the public interest. That is obviously the
inspiring motive behind this great undertaking-the American In-
stitute of Public Relations.
It is my thesis that the public interest, so far as the United States
is concerned, is and can only be what the public, what mass opinion,
says it is. By mass opinion I mean the collective opinions of the
American people as a whole.
Now it is clear that public opinion is a dynamic and changing
thing. The rate of change is affected by many influences and is
greater with respect to some subjects than others. Public opinion
with respect to the social value of adulterated foods and narcotics
What Is the Public Interest?
is certainly far more stable than it is with respect to the use of alco-
hol or the desirability of a given neutrality policy. In our considera-
tion later on of the efficacy of public opinion as a criterion of public
interest this fact of the relative degree of stability of public opinion
regarding different subjects should be kept in mind. Moreover, the
degree of certainty and conviction with which public opinion sup-
ports or disapproves of public policies varies. The public conception
of public interest will be clearer and more precise in some fields than
The American theory of social adjustment and public interest has
been gradually divorced from other notions that prevailed for a time.
The theory that divine revelation via specific human channels gave
to one man or group of men a monopolistic preview of public inter-
est is gradually losing its convincingness. There is less danger, the
masses have discovered, in assuming that divinity reveals the public
interest through the minds of the masses than there is in the belief
that it reveals this interest through specially inspired individuals or
There was a time when churches purported to be the sole reposi-
tories of divine insight into the true nature of the public interest,
but persistently the impact of social change forced them to recant at
least so far as temporal matters are concerned. The invention of the
printing press in the fifteenth century, the Renaissance and Reforma-
tion, geographic explorations, and the Industrial Revolution started
a chain of developments which finally brought about the undermin-
ing of the church as the sole dispenser of truth and revelation. The
advent of Fascism and National Socialism would seem to mark a
revival of earlier tendencies. Nevertheless it is significant to note that
these self-ordained, dictatorial elites are careful to point out that
the source of their will and inspiration is really public opinion.
Skeptics observe, however, that sometimes dictators are compelled
to employ the far-fetched argument that their will may, in some
instances, be a truer expression of public opinion than the votes of
the electorate on election day.
Americans have become accustomed to the ever-recurring claims
of special-interest groups that they, and they only, speak in terms of
the public interest. So far' ai 'I kkho, uc&i' special-interest groups
have never indulged jn' tjhe species of scholastic dialectics of the
An Introduction to Public Opinion
Fascists, however, and sought to differentiate between a true public
opinion and the ordinary, garden variety of public opinion that ex-
presses itself at the ballot, box. Most of these claims are discounted
or discredited altogether. But there still persists in some quarters the
notion that somehow or other the opinions of the masses are less
likely to be expressions of public interest than the pronouncements
One of the principal contributions of nationwide polls, such as
those conducted by the American Institute of Public Opinion and
the magazine Fortune, has been the light they have thrown on the
matter of the competence of the masses, the wisdom of the electorate,
to pass upon questions of public policy. The results of these survey,
tend, I believe, to reestablish faith in the underlying tenets of democ-
racy, the theory that, by and large, over reasonably long periods of
time, public opinion is as safe a guide to follow as the opinions of
smaller and select groups. Of course these experiments cannot estab-
lish, in the absence of objective absolute standards, the wisdom of
the masses. They do suggest, however, that the masses are by no
means as destitute of common sense as is sometimes supposed.
Perhaps it will help us to comprehend some of this common sense
that resides in the collective mind of the masses if we glance at the
results of the American Institute polls during the last few years. It
may astonish us, perhaps, to find how closely the judgments of the
masses coincide with our own. And of course we assume that our
conception of the public interest makes sense! If time permitted it
would be interesting and profitable to poll the opinions of our own
group on a set of Institute questions and compare the results with
those of the nationwide polls. Experience indicates that divisions
of opinion within this group would probably be about the same as
those in the larger public. At least it would be unlikely that the dif-
ferences would be due solely to an intelligence-quotient factor.
The American Institute of Public Opinion launched its nation-
wide polling activities in October, 1935. Since that time the people
of the country have been polled on more than five hundred issues:
on political and economic questions, on foreign affairs, and on a
wide variety of social problems-9 For many questions the division
of opinion was marked, indicating nod convincing preponderant state
of opinion one'w4y br another. In such cases it would be hazardous
What Is the Public Interest?
to use public opinion as a guide to public policy. In other instances
the questions were of transitory interest and have no lasting signifi-
cance. Very often they dealt with exceptional situations, and the
answers were undoubtedly influenced by the particular conditions.
The lack of stability in these conditions warrants the assumption
that changes in public opinion on these questions will be frequent.
Moreover, some were questions of fact or asked the respondent to
prophesy the future. For example, the question, "Do you think there
will be another World War?," asked in August, 1937, merely under-
took to test the prophetic genius of the masses and shed little light
on the question of public interest. Of a similar type were the ques-
tions, "Do you think stock prices will go higher or lower in the
next six months?" "Have you heard about the Wall Street case of
Richard Whitney?" and "Is the Republican Party dead?"
Of particular significance, however, are the answers to questions
regarding matters of widespread social import on which the masses
take a decided stand, answers which show, for example, a 70 per
cent or more agreement. Undoubtedly many of these questions
could have been phrased so as to elicit more significant answers, but
a review of them may not be without value. The question which I
should like to have you keep in mind as the results of these polls are
considered is: Do they indicate that mass opinion is or is not a safe
guide to follow in defining the public interest?
Let us examine first of all the questions on political and economic
I. Do you favor a third term for Roosevelt?
(April, 1938.) No-70%.
2. Would you favor changing the term of office of the President of the
United States to one six-year term with no re-election?
(June, 1936.) No-74%.
3. Should the federal government reduce expenditures now?
(September, 1936.) Yes-77%.
4. In your opinion, which will do more to get us out of the depression-
increased government spending for relief and public works or helping
business by reducing taxes?
(April, 1938.) Help business-79%.
5. Should the government do away with the WPA and give only cash or
(May, 1937.) No-79%.
An Introduction to Public Opinion
6. Do you think that people on relief in your community are getting as
much as they should?
(April, 1938.) Yes-7i%.
7. Would you favor a law making it a crime for a relief official to attempt to
influence the vote of persons on relief?
(May, 1938.) Yes-86%.
8. Should the government take a census of the unemployed?
(May, 1937.) Yes-73%.
9. Whenever Congress has voted to amend the Constitution, should the
amendment then be put up to the state legislatures or directly to the
people of each state for approval?
(March, 1937.) Directly to the people-82%.
o1. Do you believe the Roosevelt administration should try to defeat the re-
election of Democratic Congressmen who opposed the Supreme Court
(September, 1937.) No-73%.
ii. Should employers and employees be compelled by law to try to settle their
differences before strikes can be called?
(July, 1937.) Yes-89%.
12. Would you favor laws regulating the conduct of strikes?
(July, 1937.) Yes-84%.
13. Do you approve of citizen groups, called vigilantes, which have sprung
up recently in strike areas?
(August, 1937.) No-76%.
14. Should labor unions be required to incorporate?
(May, 1937.) Yes-86%.
15. Are you in favor of labor unions?
(July, 1937.) Yes-76%.
16. Should government employees join labor unions?
(August, 1937.) No-74%.
17. Would you like to see the C.I.O. and A.F. of L. labor unions settle their
differences and work as one labor organization?
(October, 1937.) Yes-79%.
18. Should government positions, except those which have to do with impor-
tant matters of policy, be given to (i) those who help put their political
party in office, or (2) those who receive the highest marks in Civil Service
(March, 1936.) Civil Service-88%.
19. Do you think inflation would be a good thing?
(April, 1937.) No-8o%.
20. Do you think the C.C.C. should be made permanent?
(April, 1938.) Yes-78%.
21. Should military training be part of the duties of those who attend?
(August, 1938.) Yes-75%.
What Is the Public Interest?
22. Are you in favor of government old-age pensions for needy persons?
(January, 1936.) Yes-89%.
23. Do you approve of the Social Security tax on wages?
(January, 1938.) Yes-73%.
24. Do you think a single man earning less than $i,ooo a year should be
required to pay a federal income tax?
(March, 1938.) No-87%.
25. Should state and federal employees be exempt from income taxes?
(March, 1938.) No-87%.
26. Should people who own federal, state, and municipal securities be required
to pay taxes on the income from these securities?
(April, 1938.) Yes-74%.
27. Do you believe the government should buy, own, and operate the rail-
(February, 1938.) No-70%.
28. Do you approve of Secretary Hull's policy in seeking a reciprocal trade
agreement with Great Britain?
(March, 1938.) Yes-73%.
29. If Great Britain reduces tariffs on American goods, should we reduce
tariffs on British goods?
(March, 1938.) Yes-73%.
On the above-mentioned political and economic questions public
opinion expressed itself very clearly. Doubtless some would disagree
with the views expressed on particular issues. But can we honestly
say that a domestic economic and political program along the lines
approved by the masses would be lacking in common sense, obvi-
ously inimical to the public interest ?
Without reviewing in detail the questions asked in other fields we
find that in foreign affairs 70 per cent of the people agree:
(1) That if other nations agree to reduce their spending for armaments,
America should agree to reduce its expenditures to the same extent.
(2) That the United States should build a large navy and enlarge its air
(3) That a larger navy, as favored by President Roosevelt, will be more
rather than less likely to keep us out of war.
(4) That the manufacture and sale of war munitions for private profit
should be prohibited.
(5) That in order to declare war Congress should be required to obtain
the approval of the people by means of a national vote.
(6) That if another war like the World War develops in Europe America
should not take part.
(7) That all nations should agree not to bomb civilians in cities during
An Introduction to Public Opinion
(8) That the colonies taken from Germany after the World War should
not be given back to her.
(9) That the United States government should continue to maintain the
present armed forces in China for the protection of American citizens.
(Io) That in view of conditions in the Orient the United States should
not give the Philippines their independence now.
In the field of social policy we discover that the American people
believe most emphatically:
(1) That the distribution of information on birth control should be made
(2) That the Government should create a bureau to distribute informa-
tion concerning venereal diseases, should set up clinics for the treatment of
such diseases, that Congress should appropriate $25,000,000 to help control
them, that states should pass legislation requiring tests for venereal diseases
for all persons seeking marriage licenses.
(3) That habitual criminals and the hopelessly insane should be sterilized.
(4) That Congress should enact a law which would make lynching a
(5) That married women should not earn money in industry or business
if they have husbands capable of supporting them.
(6) That divorces should be made easier to obtain.
(7) That the federal government should aid state and local governments
in providing medical care for mothers at childbirth.
(8) That parole boards should be more strict than they are now in grant-
(9) That all owners of pistols and revolvers should be required to register
with the government.
As Professor Paul Cherington recently stated: "We have been told
by motion picture magnates, radio-vaudeville program devisers, cer-
tain sardonic advertising men and even some newspaper men that
the army intelligence test results of a twelve-year average mental age
were about right."10 This seems to be a prevailing impression among
many who scoff at the intelligence of the masses. Dr. George Gallup,
director of the American Institute of Public Opinion, has this to say,
The sampling surveys of recent years have provided much
evidence concerning the wisdom of the common people. Any-
one is free to examine this evidence. And I think that the per-
son who does examine it will come away believing as I do that,
collectively, the American people have a remarkably high degree
What Is the Public Interest?
of common sense. These people may not be brilliant or intel-
lectual or particularly well read, but they possess a quality of
good sense which is manifested time and again in their expres-
sions of opinion on present-day issues. . It would of course
be foolish to argue that the collective views of the common peo-
ple always represent the most intelligent and most accurate an-
swer to any question. But results of sampling referenda on hun-
dreds of issues do indicate, in my opinion, that we can place
great faith in the collective judgment of intelligence of the
Another clue to the answer to our question is afforded by the
experience of our states with direct legislation. Professor Edwin A.
Cottrell has recently published an evaluation of "Twenty-Five Years
of Direct Legislation in California," and his conclusions are most
illuminating.1' Among other things they show that:
These votes were not only a check on hasty or ill-considered
legislation but also excellent as education. . Evaluation of
the measures . shows a decidedly conservative attitude on
the part of the masses. . There is no evidence that a large
number of measures are sectional-in application, support, or
opposition. . Where there have been sinister or special inter-
ests behind measures, both the Legislature and the people have
usually refused to enact their proposals into law. . There has
certainly been a sustained number of measures presented at
each election and a corresponding interest in voting upon them.
. Neither fear of much radical legislation on the one hand,
nor of an ultra-conservative attitude of the people on the other,
has proved justified. . There is some evidence that the peo-
ple are more anxious to adopt and obey legislation passed
through the direct process than through the usual method of
legislative enactment. . There is certainly more intelligent
discussion and deliberation of measures by the electorate than is
found in a session of the Legislature with its obscure and in-
efficient committee system. . Most editorial writers and stu-
dents of government agree that over the whole period of direct
legislation the people have understood most of the measures
and as a whole have acted wisely in making their decisions. . .
Those who predicted that direct legislation would lead to gov-
ernment by newspapers were far from correct. . Conflicting
An Introduction to Public Opinion
measures often appear on the same ballot. However, the voters
have never adopted any which were in direct opposition. . .
The early charge that direct legislation would arouse passions
between different elements of the population has failed to mate-
The experience with the initiative and referendum in California and
the sample polls of the American Institute of Public Opinion tend to
support the prophetic saying of Theodore Roosevelt that "The
majority of the plain people will day in and day out make fewer
mistakes in governing themselves than any smaller body of men
will make in trying to govern them."
I have just been reading with considerable interest a study of
World War propaganda by Professor Peterson, dealing primarily
with the efforts by Great Britain and the Allies to undermine the
American policy of neutrality during the years 1914-17.'" It is inter-
esting to note that, whereas the campaign was markedly successful
in bringing about an early and decided pro-Ally attitude on the part
of a great majority of the newspapers of the countries, a majority of
the Cabinet members including President Wilson himself, as well as
leaders in business, academic circles, and politics, the campaign was
surprisingly ineffective in producing changes in the attitudes and
opinions of the masses. In 1917 as in 1914 they were still sympa-
thetic toward the Allies but were quite unwilling to throw overboard
enthusiastically the policy of neutrality and go to war. Were they
wise or right in taking this position? Some will say no. But I think
the perspective of the years would justify us in saying that they
acted, collectively, quite as intelligently as their leaders.
I do not wish to press this point too far. Without objective, fixed
standards for doing so, we cannot claim with absolute assurance that
the masses have always acted wisely and intelligently. Nor can we
say that they are as competent to pass upon some questions as others.
There are few who would boldly assert that on technical questions,
on questions that deal with matters far beyond the common experi-
ence or interest of the average citizen, the opinions of the masses
would be worth very much. But the evidence points unmistakably
to the conclusion that, on broad questions of social, political, and
economic policy, the opinions of the masses seem to show a "re-
markably high degree of common sense."
What Is the Public Interest?
There is an even more important reason for asserting that public
interest is what public opinion says it is. Lord Bryce once wrote that
"The excellence of popular government lies not so much in its wis-
dom as in its strength." And he goes on to state, "Once the principle
that the will of the majority honestly ascertained must prevail, has
soaked into the mind and formed the habits of a nation, that nation
acquires not only stability, but immense effective force. It has no
need to fear discussion and agitation. It can bend all its resources to
the accomplishment of its collective ends." He does point out, how-
ever, two possible dangers: (i) the difficulty of ascertaining the will
of the majority; (2) the possibility that minorities may not suffi-
ciently assert themselves. I believe that these dangers are not so real
now as they were in 1893 when he wrote, for reasons that will be
Definitions of the public interest which reflect the collective opin-
ions of the masses also have a strength and stability which far exceed
the judgments of restricted minorities. This does not mean that
public opinion is inflexible or static. Its movements on matters of
fundamental importance are, however, likely to be slower and more
predictable than those of smaller groups. It is true that the advent
of agencies of mass impression, and improvements in facilities of
human contact, tend to speed up the process of social change. Never-
theless the force of mere numbers may and does serve to filter the
impurities of selfish desires.
In stressing the virtues of public opinion as a guide to public in-
terest I am not unmindful of its defects. We are unable in any case
to deal with absolute standards of value, and the question is whether
the collective judgment of the masses is, in the long run, likely to
be a better guide than that of an individual or a specially selected
minority. The competence of the masses is, of course, conditioned
by the environment and by the opportunities they have to acquire
information, to listen to different points of view, to discuss and ex-
press their opinions freely, and to use their reasoning powers. Con-
ditions might become such that it would be absurd to speak of pub-
lic opinion as a safe guide to public policy, if and when virtually all
facilities and conditions for forming enlightened opinions did not
exist. This has been true in some countries in the past and may be
true in dictatorial countries today.
An Introduction to Public Opinion
We have argued that our public relations are those aspects of our
corporate or personal behavior which affect the public, the commu-
nity; that the basic problem of public relations is to adjust those as-
pects of our behavior which affect others in such a manner as to
promote the public interest; and that the public interest is what
public opinion says it is.
Before concluding this phase of our discussion I wish to quote an
excerpt from a recent study of public relations. It indicates, I believe,
that, even within the arena of professional practice, students are
beginning to realize that they do have at hand tangible criteria for
finding out what the public interest is. As individuals or corpora-
tions we may no longer excuse our negligence in attempting to ad-
just our public relations to the public interest on the ground that
we do not know what the public interest is. We do know, or, with
a little effort, can find out. As the authors of this study state: "One
common basis underlies all sound public relations. It must adhere,
in fundamental policies, to the commonly recognized standards of
personal ethics and the highest concept of the public welfare. . .
The ultimate arbiter of corporate and institutional acts, policies,
services, relationships and products is public opinion."1
What Is Public Opinion?
THUs far I have submitted to you the following propositions:
(i that the term public relations refers to thoseaspects of our
corporate and persinjil lliaT ior which lave social implicationr;_(2)
that the basic problem of public rclati,:on i, to adjust those relations
to current cultural, economic, and political trends ,: as Io pri.,mote
the public interest; and (3) that the best way to determine what
the public interest is is to find out what public opinion says it is.
I wish now to consider the question: What is public opinion? I
think it is evident that public opinion lies at the very heart of our
problem. By knowing what public opinion is we possess criteria for
evaluating the state of our public relations.
The origin of the expression "public opinion" is a mystery.'5 In
the literature of early Greece and Rome, and throughout the Middle
Ages, political philosophers were keenly aware of the importance of
the opinions of the masses. The phrase Vox populi, vox Dei dates
from the latter part of the Middle Ages. It was not until the eight-
eenth century, however, that the term "public opinion" was sub-
jected to systematic analysis and treatment. During the seventeenth
and eighteenth centuries such writers as Voltaire, Hobbes, Locke,
and Hume paid tribute to the power of public opinion. But it was
the period of the French Revolution, and more particularly the writ-
ings of Rousseau, to which we must turn for the first careful dis-
cussions of the subject. Hobbes spoke of the world as being governed
by opinion- Locke used opinion as one of his three categories of
law; and Hume gave expression to the classic statement that "It is
. . on opinion only that government is founded; and this maxim
extends to the most despotic and most military y g: .ern men t, as well
as toL the moint free .nd most popular Blaise Pascal referred to pub-
lic opinion as the "Queen of the World," to which Voltaire replied,
"If opinion is the Queen of the World the philosophies govern the
Rousseau, writing in the eighteenth century, developed one of the
An Introduction to Public Opinion
most explicit formulations of the concept of public opinion up to
his time. He applied his theory of popular infallibility to the state,
claiming that the "most general will is also the most just." This view
has been repeated many times since. Rousseau believed that even
despotism rested on public opinion, for, he said, "Despotic rule is
servile even when it is based on opinion; for you depend on the
prejudice of those whom you rule through prejudice." ,tousscau
seems to have been the first to use the phrase l'opinion publihue, and
his discussion of the relation between public opinion and law is sig-
nificant. He stated that "Whoever makes it his business to give laws
to a people must know how to sway opinions and through them gov-
ern the passions of men."
One of the first to discuss the significance of public opinion as a
factor in statecraft, one of the first to sense, apparently, the problem
of public relations in its relation to statecraft, was Jacqucs Neckcr,
French finance minister. His experience led him to emphasize the
relation between public opinion and public credit. He found that the
salons of France played a very important part in the formation of
the public opinion of his times, and that the opinions of the bour-
geoisie were really decisive in their influence. Necker produced the
only detailed analysis of the concept of public opinion during the
French Revolution, although there were numerous references to
the subject in the ephemeral writings of the period.
S The French Revolution did, however, stimulate discussion of the
subject of public opinion on an unprecedented scale, much of it
centering around the question of the competence of the masses to
rule. In Germany the Revolution inspired systematic treatments by
Wieland, Garve, Fries, and Hegel. Out of these discussions emerged
more precise definitions of terms as well as attempts to ascribe the
proper role of public opinion in public affairs. Garve, for example,
defined public opinion as "the agreement of many or of the major-
ity of the citizens of a state with respect to judgments which every
single individual has arrived at as a result of his own reflection or of
his practical knowledge of a given matter." This definition has come
down to us virtually unscathed in the writings of Lowell and other
political scientists. Most of the German writers during this period
Held that the competence of public opinion to rule extended only
to general principles. Hegel advanced the theory, a forerunner of
What Is Public Opinion?
Fascism, that public opinion was to be respected only for the e-ecn-
-tial principles that it embodied and that it was the task of the great
man to find out what these essential principles were.
Jeremy Bentham was the first to present a detailed discussion of
the subject in English. He emphasized the importance of public
-opinion as a means of social control, discussedTts relation to legis-
lationii d was~one of the first to examine the role played by the
press in its formation. He held that public opinion was necessarily
an integral part of any democratic theory of the state. The basic
problem of public opinion as he saw it was to maximize the rec-
titude of the decisions by it."
It is evident, therefore, that students have been concerned with
the subject of public opinion from earliest times. Many of the prob-
lems we face today were perceived and considered at least as far
back as the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. It would
serve no useful purpose at this point to catalogue references to pub-
lic opinion in the writings of the nineteenth century and later. The
number of such references is legion. Much attention was given to
the problem of the competence of the masses to express intelligent
opinions on matters of public policy. This matter was discussed
rather fully by such writers as Ancillon, Rosenkrantz, Mackinnon,
Buckle, Dollfus, Biedermann, Bluntschli, Stahl, Urquhart, Maine,
Gneist, Bryce, Lowell, and Lippmann. The increasing importance
of the press in its relation to the formation of public opinion enlisted
the interest of many. Students of law and jurisprudence, such as
Taylor, Lieber, Austin, Ritchie, Esmein, Willoughby, and Dicey,
made careful analyses of the relation between public opinion, law,
and political institutions. More and more attention was given to the
question of how public opinion was actually formed by sociologists
and psychologists. Tarde, Wallas, Christensen, Lippmann, and many
others emphasized the emotional and irrational character of the pub-
A. F. Bentley, writing in 1908, inspired a long list of studies deal-
ing with the influence of pressure groups upon public opinion. The
World War and the writings of Lasswell, Stern-Reubarth, and others
focused attention upon the role of propaganda. The variety of spe-
cialized studies of particular factors influencing the formation of
An Introduction to Public Opinion
public opinion was matched only by the multiplicity of factors that
might be studied.
Sociologists stressed the significance of public opinion as a means
of social control; psychologists, the role played by various inherited
and environmental factors in the formation of personal opinions;
students of law and jurisprudence, the influence of public opinion
upon public policy; students of politics, its influence upon govern-
ment and the influence of official as well as unofficial agencies of
government upon it. Among the more comprehensive and systematic
treatments of the subject were those of Gersdorf (1846); Lewis
(1849); de Tocqueville (1835-40); Holtzendorf (1879); Bryce
(1888); Dicey (1905); Lowell (1913); Bauer (1914); Tonnies
(1922); and Lippmann (1922).
,Public-opinion research and study today cut across and transcend
the traditional lines separating social-science departments and may
be found in practically all social-science disciplines. Considerable
attention is now being given by statisticians, psychologists, journal-
ists, advertisers, and market researchers to the problem of ascertain-
ing the state of public opinion on particular issues. Various types of
polling and sampling techniques are being used. Shrewd and pruden-
tial observations are being supplemented by precise methods of opin-
ion census-taking. Noteworthy in this field are the activities of the
American Institute of Public Opinion and the magazine Fortune.
Studies of pressure-group activity, propaganda, communication
agencies, as well as psychological researches into the genesis of in-
dividual opinions continue to throw additional light on the process
of opinion formation. Because so many different factors influence
the formation of public opinion this field attracts an unusually large
number of students.
The management and control of public opinion have always inter-
ested many students. Considerable progress was made in advertising
research before the World War, and since 1919 interesting opinion
management has expanded to include the study, not only of com-
mercial propaganda, but also of propaganda of all sorts. Probably no
aspect of the whole subject arouses more interest than the problem
how to win the support of public opinion.
The advent of autocracies in new forms has given rise to renewed
discussions of the proper role of public opinion in the life of the state.
What Is Public Opinion?
Again and again the questions are asked: Is public opinion in the
sense of mass opinion a safe guide to follow? Upon what types of
questions is it competent to express an opinion, if any ? Where is the
line to be drawn between those questions upon which it is and is not
competent to pass judgment? These questions go to the very roots
of the theory of democracy and have been considered rather care-
fully by such writers as Bryce, Lowell, Lippmann, and Catlin. Most
advocates of the democratic way of life stress the importance of an
informed, intelligent public opinion. The quiition how' the role of
public opinion in public affairs can be improved has been the starting
point for many studies. Educators particularly are concerned with
the problcnm'n.:, the minds of many the basic problem of public
oplinion is the problem of education.
One of the most disturbing aspects of the whole subject of public
opinion i the growing intensity of conflic: of opinion, the deepening
cleavages between groups, the absence of generally accepted premises
and goals. War, whether it is between nations, races, or classes, is a
reflection of this state of opinion..The problem of minimizing inter-
national and class differences of opinion is largely a psychological one,
the problem of reconciling and harmonizing differences of opinion.
\To doso it is necessary first of all to find out why states of opinion
are what they are, the real causes. Sometimes these causes are imag-
inary, based upon misconceptions and misunderstandings..Whenever
this is so the difficulties may be remedied by information, the dis-
semination of facts, and the educational enlightenment of the groups
concerned. Many difficulties and obstacles stand in the way of this
procedure, however, and every effort must be made to remove them.
Many differences and clashes of opinion are based, not on misun-
derstanding, but on conflicting interests and aims. No amount of
information and purely intellectual enlightenment can, unaided,
change the human heart, remove individual and group selfishness,
reconcile fundan-ental cleavages in philosophical outlooks on life.
Stronger medicine is needed. Wills must be molded as well as minds.
Enlightened selfishness may, indeed, be the worst kind of selfishness,
because it implements selfishness, as recent ceents in Europe and
throughout the world have demonstrated.'Onc of the most difficult
problems in the arena of public opinion is to reconcile the wills of
men as well as their opinions.
An Introduction to Public Opinion
The term "public opinion" has been employed in a great many
different senses, so many in fact that some students have questioned
the advisability of using the term.16 Many attempts have been made
to define the expression in a way that will be generally acceptable.
Periodically some student will attempt to assemble a collection of
definitions and classify them with a view to reconciling differences
in meaning. Inevitably he concludes with another addition to the
already long list. Virginia Sedman, for example, after a careful
analysis of the definitions of Lippmann, Lowell, Dewey, King, Hol-
combe, Bogardus, and others, concluded that "Public opinion, for us,
is an active or latent force derived from a composite of individual
thoughts, sentiments and impressions, which composite is weighted
by the varying degrees of influence and aggressiveness of the separate
opinions within the aggregate."'7
Floyd H. Allport, in the first issue of the Public Opinion Quarterly,
also tried to bring order out of the conceptual chaos by surveying the
literature of the field and specifying several fallacious notions that
have given rise to misunderstandings. He called attention specifically
to such fictions and blind alleys as (I) the personification of public
opinion; (2) the personification of the public; (3) the group fallacy;
(4) the fallacy of partial inclusion in the use of the term "public";
(5) what he calls the fiction of ideational entity; (6) the emergent
theory; (7) the eulogistic theory; and (8) the journalistic fallacy.
And he, too, contributed another definition. It reads: "The term
public opinion is given its meaning with reference to a multi-
individual situation in which individuals are expressing themselves,
or can be called upon to express themselves, as favoring (or else dis-
favoring or opposing) some definite condition, person, or proposal
of widespread importance, in such a proportion of number, intensity,
and constancy, as to give rise to the probability of affecting action,
directly or indirectly, toward the object concerned."'8 If this is what
we mean by the term public opinion it is easy to understand why
novitiates shudder and shun the problem.
The term "public opinion" is obviously a general and rather in-
clusive expression like many other useful English expressions such as
"political party"; "weather"; "democracy." Only as it is related to a
particular public and to specific opinions about definite subjects does
it become significant in the sense that it can be studied. In this respect
What Is Public Opinion? 41
it is similar to the'word "weather," which a dictionary defines as "a
state of the atmosphere." Students of meteorology are not usually
concerned about weather in general, but about the state of the at-
mosphere at a particular time and in a particular place. Defined in
these terms the word "weather" becomes significant and can be
studied. Similarly the term "public opinion" must be related to a
specific public and to definite opinions about something. Then it is j/
possible to study it, find out what the state of public opinion is,
why it is what it is, what changes have been and are taking place,
and what if anything should be done.
It is obioli that therere re many kinds of publics. In some cases
a public will be a group of indl.iJu:ls \\ith coimmu.n interests and
possibly a formal organization. But the public in which we are inter-
ested may be composed of a very heterogeneous collection of indi-
viduals without organization, lacking identifying symbols and
attributes. Designating or defining the word "public" does not mean
"selecting a common attribute of a group and postulating this as the
characteristic which gives this mass of individuals a distinctive en-
tity." A public is simply any collection of individuals. The failure to
specify the collection of individuals constituting the public to which
we are referring has led to no end of difficulty.
The number of different publics in a community is theoretically
the number of distinct combinations of individuals possible in that
community. Among the more significant publics, as a rule, are such
organized groups as the citizens of a state and the members of
political parties, trade unions, business organizations, churches, fra-
ternal groups, and political and professional associations. But publics
also include such unorganized groups as crowds, customers, news-
paper readers, and clienteles of different types. A public may mean
for purposes of study merely a collection of individuals composed of
all persons who pass a given mailbox on a specified day. Moreover,
individuals maybe_ members of different publics simultaneously.
That is to say, they may at one tiiime be members of a football crowd,
a physicians' clientele, a fraternity, a church, and a political party.
Students of public opinion as well as leaders and managers of public
opinion display interest in different publics and in different aspects
of these publics.
\There is no such thing as the public except in thesense that there
An Introduction to Public Opinion
may be a particular group of person, about which we are speaking.
As students of public relations we may be and quite naturally are
interested in a great many different publics, particularly those that
have and exercise an influence on public policy. An important public
in this respect is the group which comprises all the eligible voters in
the United States. This is obviously a very important public, but one
difficult to deal with because of its size. Within this larger public
are numerous smaller publics exercising influence on the larger and
of considerable influence with reference to it.
It is frequently stated that for a business corporation there are four
principal publics with which it is concerned: (i) the internal group
comprising management and employees; (2) customers; (3) stock-
holders, competitors, or the trade; and (4) the general public. This
is an over-simplification of the picture. To analyze satisfactorily the
effect of corporate behavior on employees, for example, it may be
important to distinguish subpublics such as members of trade unions,
company unions, and the unorganized; or, using other bases of
classification, to study different age groups, wage groups, married
and unmarried, and even those who walk and those who ride to
work. For any individual or corporation a great many distinctive
publics are significant.
The question is often raised whether or not' the term "public
opinion" should or should not be restricted in meaning to collections
of individual opinions from large publics, from the "masses." The
opinions of large numbers of people are usually more interesting and
significant than those of small publics. But not necessarily so. In
democracies the opinions of those constituting the electorate are un-
doubtedly of great importance. In Italy, Germany, Russia, and other
autocracies, however, the opinions of very small publics, of two or
three key men even, may be of greatest importance.
/ Perhaps the word "opinion" can best be defined as "a verbal ex-
pression of attitude." There are, of course, many other expressions of
attitude such as laughter, the shaking of the head, and the look in
one's eye. The question may be asked whether opinions expressed
in words are accurate indices of attitude, and the answer must be
that in many cases they are not. But what a person says is very often
not only an indication of attitude but also an indication of what we
may expect him to do. Whether accurate expressions of attitude or
What Is Public Opinion?
not, they are objective, and are significant in themselves-so signifi-
cant that hundreds of thousands of dollars are spent annually to find
out what they are. Opinions as expressed in the voting booth are
determining factors in social and political life.
Some will ask for a definition of attitude, but we do not need to
pursue the ultimate meaning of things indefinitely. For our purposes
it is sufficient to quote the definition of ititude given by a psy-t,
chologist who says that it is "the sum-total of a man's inclinations
and feelings, prejudice or bias, preconceived notions, ideas, fears,
threats, and convictions about any specific topic."'. In either words,
it is a tendency to act in a particular manner, a tendency which is
liberated whenever the proper stimulus is presented. Whereas atti-/
tudes are subjective, opinions are objective, taking the form of written
or spoken words.
The word "attitude" as used in current academic discussions pre-
sents some difficulties. To say that a person has a favorable attitude
toward a proposition raises the question whether or not this state-
ment means anything more than to say that he is in favor of it. To
say that he is in favor of it because he has a favorable attitude toward
it really does not tell us very much. Is there such a thing as an atti-
tude, a distinct entity, which has a distinct life of its own? Can
attitudes have any real meaning until we know to what objects and
subjects they refer? Perhaps it would be better to think of the word
"attitude" as an exlprcsion used to describe a series of habitual re-
sporbt.I Vl.tyical responses, rather than a pre-existing force that causes
certsan :Xprcssions of opinion.20
Opinions differ fromr one another in many respects, such as con-
tent, the form in which they are expressed, their quality, their stabil-
ity, their intensity, and the way in which they have been formed or
elicited. Any one or more of these aspects may assume importance
depending on the interest of the observer or the investigator. A
scientist may be interested primarily in the truth of the opinion, or
the way in which it has been formed; a novelist, in the style in which
it is expressed. A national advertiser or a politician may focus his
attention upon the types of persons holding a particular opinion,
their wealth, social standing, influence.
It is clear that an opinion is always the opinion of a person, not of ,
a group as such. Public opinion always refers to a collection of indi-
An Introduction to Public Opinion
vidual opinions, not to some mystical entity that is floating about in
the atmosphere over our heads. To find out what a given state of
public opinion is, therefore, we have to collect the opinions of indi-
viduals. This point would require no special emphasis were it not for
the fact that some writers have thought in terms of a "group mind"
quite separate and distinct from the minds of tangible persons.
S By public opinion I mean, therefore, simply any collection of
individual opinions designated. If we are studying the opinions of
the individual members of a forum audience it is quite as definitely
a study of public opinion as if we were studying the opinions of the
voters of the United States. We are usually interested in those collec-
tions of opinions which exert considerable influence upon our affairs.
This definition is admittedly a very broad one. The questions may
be asked: What is to be gained by attempting to define public opin-
ion so broadly? Is there not a difference in degree that amounts to a
difference in kind between the opinions of a small group and those
of very large groups?
Perhaps the best way to answer these questions is to ask another.
What is to be gained by defining the word "weather," as diction-
aries do define it, as simply a state of the atmosphere? Is there not a
difference in degree that amounts to a difference in kind between
the state of the atmosphere in a lecture hall and its state generally
throughout the United States ? I do not think so, unless we are pre-
pared to admit that the word "weather" is not applicable to all states
The source of the difficulty seems to be this. Individual students
are continually seeking to restrict the meaning of the term "public
opinion" to particular collections of individual opinions or aspects of
these collections in which they happen to be interested. By keeping
the term broad, a common meeting ground is provided for students
who are really interested in the same fundamental problems al-
though at first blush their activities may seem unrelated. The prob-
lem of focus is one for the individual investigator. It would be a
mistake for students of public opinion to insist that those particular
aspects of it in which they happen to be interested are the only im-
portant ones, much less that public opinion itself is confined in
meaning to their foci of interest.
Social-science research has been handicapped rather than helped
What Is Public Opinion?
by the effort to give personal interests the added prestige of defini-
tional exclusiveness. What is political science? All too often the
scope of the field as a whole is imprisoned within the walls of
interest of the person defining the term. The same is true with such
expressions as "public interest," "democracy," and "justice," and
many, many others. The public interest is all too frequently defined
in terms of the individual and group interest. Democracy refers to
what we would like to have it be. Social scientists have no more
reason for defining the term "public opinion" in terms of their own
special interests, I believe, than the author of a dictionary would
have in defining the word "dog" so that his own pet proves to be the
only exemplar of the concept.
All students of public opinion can meet on one common ground,
a general interest in collections of individual opinions. Some will
focus attention upon some collections, others on different ones. Some
will be interested in what the opinions are about, others in the
degree of uniformity expressed, how the opinions were formed, who
holds the opinions, how intensely they hold them. The multiplicity
of definitions of public opinion is really due to the effort of students
to restrict the meaning of the term to some aspect of public opinion
in which they are especially interested. ,\,uw C-'e' ci .-' <-
f t--th "public opinion" and "public relations" have this in common
S-that they are very broad in meaning and become intereinl onr y
as they're related to particular publics.\D)iscussions of public opinion
in general or public relations in general suffer because there is com-
paratively little that can be convincingly said about collections of
individual opinions in general or the relations between all types of
publics. Each of us, however, is vitally interested in certain publics
and our relations with specific groups. As employers we wish to
know all that we can know about the labor public. I have read many
articles and attended many conferences dealing with public relations,
and out of them emerges the fact that for business men employees
are the public. In a majority of instances public relations signifies
labor relations. As teachers we are especially interested in our student
publics. As Americans we are concerned about the attitudes and
opinions of other nationals regarding us. This audience in this room
is a public of tremendous concern to me! But how can I know the
specific publics in which its members are interested, and is there any
An Introduction to Public Opinion
common denominator of this interest? Is there one public in which
all of them are interested? Is there one public, relations with which
are of major concern to each of you?
If this audience consisted solely of employers, or bankers, or
protestants, or teachers, the task of public-opinion analysis would be
easier. What are the common attributes of this group? All are Amer-
iCan citizens, presumably. All live on the West Coast of the United
States. Beyond that it is difficult to go. Doubtless there are consid-
erable differences in tastes, habits, problems, hopes, possessions, age.
cultural background, and the rest. Certainly the publics in which
you as individuals are interested are very different.
But are there not propositions that can be made about public
opinion and public relations in general that will be applicable re-
gardless of this lack of homogeneity? Are there not certain state-
ments that can validly be made about public opinion regardless of
the individual composition of the particular collection of individuals,
statements regarding the sort of opinions that all people hold, or at
least all persons with whom we are likely to come in contact, state-
ments regarding the way in which public opinion is formed, the
influence of particular factors, the techniques that may be used for
molding opinions generally? In other words, are there not certain
principles of public opinion and public relations applicable under all
The answer is disappointing. All principles hold true only under
certain conditions. Given the conditions, the principles will apply.
But the conditions must be stated. This is what makes the study of
public opinion and public relations so difficult. Conditions vary;
publics differ; the relations between groups are always changing.
Generalizations regarding human behavior and human relations are
peculiarly hazardous to make. We note that t opinions :of a public
clhange. Why? Until we know all the conditions accompanying the
change we are not in a position to answer the question. Too often
we are deceived by mirages, by fortuitous coincidences. We know,
for example, that in the years from 1918 to 1932 there occurred a
decided change in the attitudes and opinions of Americans regard-
ing prohibition. Coincident with that change we find that various
groups were carrying on a vigorous propaganda campaign in this
country. The relationship exists, but to what extent was it a causal
What Is Public Opinion?
relationship ? A corporation adopts a new plan of employee relations.
An improvement in these relations is noted at once. But the extent of
the causal relationship is unknown.
Although it is impossible to identify the publics in which this
audience is interested and therefore relate the discussion to matters
which are most meaningful, there are some aspects of public opinion,
certain questions, which are generally interesting. We all wish to
know the degree of uniformity of opinion on the subjects that in-
terestus. In a democracy the actions and policies of government
officials are presumed to reflect the opinions of a majority of the
citizens. This is not always true, however, partly because of the diffi-
culty of ascertaining precisely what public opinion is regarding a
particular policy or candidate. Any state of public opinion is con-
tinually changing, and election machinery can give only periodic
and rather crude information regarding these changes. Nevertheless,
it is important to find out, if possible, the degree of uniformity exist-
ing at any given time, for election figures which reveal a majority
opinion are usually acted upon.
Because-oLfthe importance of collections of individual opinions
tat reveal a substantial degree of agreement, many students of gov-
ernment and public opinion would narrow the meaning of the term
to include only those collections of opinion having a specific degree
of uniformity. James Bryce, for example, defines public opinion as
any view, or set of views, "when held by an apparent majority of
citizens."'2 And Professor Dicey expressed much the same viewpoint
when he stated that public opinion comprises the "wishes and ideas
as to legislation held by the people of England, or to speak with
more precision, by the majority of those citizens at a given moment
taking an effective part in public life.""2
Although mainly interested in the degree of uniformity, some
writers narrow the term even further to include only those collec-
tions of opinions revealing complete or substantial unanimity. Pro-
fessor Gault expresses this point of view when he states: "Gradually
there emerges, as a result of a slow but more spontaneous than de- L/
liberate analysis, a certain apprehension of common and fundamental
interests by all members of the group. This is public opinion."23
Similarly, Professor Maxey interprets public opinion as "the coming
together in common agreement on the same definite conclusion or
An Introduction to Public Opinion
body of conclusions."" Needless to say, such common agreement is
seldom if ever found, especially in a public as large as that comprising
all citizens or voters in the United States. None of the Gallup poll,
for example, have revealed 1oo per cent agreement on the questions
Clearly, any given collection of individual opinions with respect to
the matter under consideration may reveal degrees of unanimity
varying all the way from complete unanimity to a considerable de-
gree of diversity. The degree of unanimity is not a condition of the
existence of public opinion, but an aspect to be investigated. If an
investigator starts out to find a state of public opinion which reprc-
sents a definite degree of agreement such as complete unanimity or
majority agreement, or such vague aspects as the "normative aspects
of collective consciousness," "fairly uniform collective expressions of
mental or inner behavior reactions," or "uniform mental reactions
to stimuli," his focus of attention is not only restricted to a single
aspect of public opinion, but the search will be fruitless.
The. point I wish to underscore is simply this: Public opinion is
any collection of indliMlual opinins, regardless of the degree of
Agreement or uniformity. The degree of uniformity is a matter to be
in .tig.ited, not o:metlIng to be arbitrarily set up as a co:ndliti:in fir
the existence of public opinion.
Even though the term public opinion may refer to any collection
of individual opinions, however, the significant plhenlmen-,n of our
times is the increasing importance of large publics. For reasons th.l
have been listed earlier, the area of human contacts and social inter-
course has expanded tremendously. It is because of this that public
relations have become so important. Our personal and corporate
behavior affect increasingly large publics. Our public-relations prob-
lems involve not only our employees, our stockholders, and our
customers, but extend far beyond to include the masses. Public
t/ opinion is not necessarily restricted in meaning to mass publics, but
mass publics really give our problem its new dimension.
W RITING in 1893 Lord Bryce asked: "How is the drift of public
opinion to be ascertained?" and went on to say: "The me-
chanical difficulties, as one may call them, of working such a method
of government are obvious. How is the will of the majority to be
ascertained except by counting votes? How, without the greatest in-
convenience, can votes be frequently taken on all the chief questions
that arise ? . But what I desire to point out, is that even where the
machinery for weighing or measuring the popular will from week to
week or month to month has not been and is not likely to be in-
vented, there may nevertheless be a disposition on the part of rulers,
whether ministers or legislators, to act as if it existed; that is to say,
to look incessantly for manifestations of current popular opinion,
and to shape their course in accordance with their reading of those
In view of the interest which is now displayed in public-opinion
polls, the question arises: What progress has been made since Bryce
wrote in ascertaining the state of public opinion ? Have the mechani-
cal difficulties to which he referred been resolved? Is it now possible
for public officials to know from week to week and month to month
precisely what public opinion is?
Nearly fifty years have elapsed since Bryce posed his question, and
it is interesting to note the answer he gave long before the advent of
"scientific polls" and before the existence of refined methods of
public-opinion measurement. He wrote:
The best way in which the tendencies at work in any com-
munity can be discovered and estimated is by moving freely
about among all sorts and conditions of men and noting how
they are affected by the news or the arguments brought from
day to day to their knowledge. In every neighborhood there are
unbiased persons with good opportunities for observing, and
plenty of skill in "sizing up" the attitude and proclivities of their
fellow citizens. Such men are invaluable guides. Talk is the best
An Introduction to Public Opinion
way of reading the truth, because in talk one gets directly at the
facts, whereas reading gives not so much the facts as what the
writer believes, or wishes to have others believe. Whoever, hav-
ing himself a considerable experience of politics, takes the
trouble to investigate in this way will seldom go astray. There
is a flair which long practice and "sympathetic touch" bestow.
The trained observer learns how to profit by small indications,
as an old seaman discerns, sooner than the landsman, the signs
of coming storms.
The upshot of Bryce's statement is that the task of identifying pub-
lic opinion is essentially an art; that only those gifted with the "flair"
which "long practice and a sympathetic touch bestow" can hope to
succeed in practice. The Bryce method is still the method used by a
great many politicians and business executives with a "flair" and a
skill for finding out the state of public opinion by means of talk and
discussion. The same method is often followed by travelers and tour-
ists who return from far-distant lands to report on the state of public
opinion as they have found it. Some of their observations are un-
usually shrewd, but more often their findings are colored by the
types of people with whom they speak. One of the criticisms of
Bryce's own observations regarding the state of public opinion in
the United States is that they were based upon contacts with very
In the minds of many the press is one of the best indices of public
opinion that we have. In fact, the expressions "press" and "public
opinion" are often used synonymously. Many studies of public opin-
ion prove to be studies of public opinion as revealed in the news and
editorial columns of newspapers. The newspapers of a country do
undoubtedly reflect the opinions of a large number of persons. The
difficulty is that we do not know what persons. We do not know just
how positive the correlation is between the editorial opinions of
particular newspapers and given publics. A well-known research
agency recently published a study entitled "A Statistical Survey of
Public Opinion."27 Public opinion in this case proved to be the opin-
ions of some 5,000 newspaper editors throughout the country. Such
a group is, of course, a very significant and a fairly definite public.
One criticism is that the author implies that the results represented
the opinions of a much larger public.
The press not only reflects but also influences public opinion. The
presidential election of 1936 demonstrated dramatically how wide a
chasm may exist, however, between editorial opinion and public
opinion, when, in spite of the opposition of a majority of the news-
papers in the country, public opinion swept Roosevelt into office for
a second term.28
Newspapers undoubtedly do reflect the opinions of important
publics and at times indicate the state of opinion of large majorities
of the American people. Some believe that by more careful news-
paper analysis a way can be found for using the press, particularly
the newspaper press, as a fairly reliable index of the American public
mind. Professor Julian L. Woodward has advanced this thesis."9 The
problem, as he sees it, would be to construct two time series: one for
newspaper content, another for reader attitudes; one an index of
newspaper opinion, the other an index of public opinion; and then
correlate the two. Evidences of a lead or lag would suggest inferences
regarding the causal relations between the two. Moreover, if they
fluctuate in unison the newspaper-content variable could be used as
an index for charting changes in public opinion.
This suggestion offers interesting possibilities, but also some diffi-
culties. The American Institute of Public Opinion, for example, is in
a position to furnish public-opinion data on selected issues. The
more difficult problem is to provide equally satisfactory indices for
charting newspaper-opinion trends. If this can be done, as Professor
Woodward thinks it can, then students of public opinion would be
well on their way toward formulating more precise and significant
propositions with respect to the reliability of newspapers as indices
of public opinion.
Within the past two decades, and more especially during the last
five years, the possibilities of devising techniques for accurately as-
certaining the state of public opinion have been explored by nu-
merous institutions and private agencies. Dr. Robinson has pointed
out that the development of polling techniques may be divided into
five phases."3 The first was the era of newspaper polls. The sampling
techniques employed were crude, owing to lack of statistical training
on the part of sponsors. Some newspapers like the Columbus Dis-
patch, the Cincinnati Enquirer, and the Chicago Journal achieved
creditable results, but on the whole these straw polls were of more
An Introduction to Public Opinion
value as circulation builders than as instruments for ascertaining the
true state of public opinion.
The second phase was the Golden Age of the Literary Digest. In
1916 this magazine discovered the possibilities of straw polls as ve-
hicles for circulation drives. Subsequently it conducted nine nation-
wide polls on such subjects as prohibition, the presidential primary,
the New Deal, and candidates for the presidency. In these polls mil-
lions of ballots were distributed over the country, and the returns
were liberally reported in the press and over the radio. "The Literary
Digest made America conscious of the validity of straw samples as
gauges of public opinion."
Dr. Robinson distinguishes a third phase marked by studies of
straw-poll technique by research students, notably Professor W. L.
Crum of Harvard and Dr. Robinson himself.
Then came the fourth phase and the use of marketing-research
techniques previously applied in the fields of advertising, marketing,
and corporate relations. Dr. Gallup began experiments with nation-
wide polls on political and social issues in February, 1934. The Amer-
ican Institute of Public Opinion was organized the following year.
The Fortune polls were inaugurated in 1935 by Paul T. Cherington
and Elmo B. Roper, Jr. The Crossley poll was launched during the
1936 presidential campaign, and since then numerous other agencies
specializing in opinion census-taking have appeared.
We are now in what Robinson calls the fifth phase in the develop-
ment of "scientific" public-opinion polls. It is a phase in which stu-
dents of public opinion not only are concerned with questions of
method, but also are raising questions regarding the social and
political significance of these techniques. The polling agencies them-
selves are seeking to refine and improve their methods. Business ex-
ecutives and others are displaying an extraordinary interest in public
opinion, and are eager to find out what it is in order that they may
bring their conduct into conformity with it. And students of public
affairs are trying to evaluate present trends and determine what, if
anything, needs to be done in order to enhance the social usefulness
of polling procedures.
"Scientific" polls of public opinion such as those conducted by
Gallup, Crossley, and Fortune differ from others in that the sponsors
seek to apply well-established principles of statistical sampling. In-
stead of collecting opinions indiscriminately they try to obtain a
small sample of the opinions of the public as a whole which will be
truly representative. There is nothing mysterious or particularly
novel about the technique. In buying and selling commodities sam-
pling is a familiar practice. The quality of a carload of oranges is
judged by opening a few boxes taken from different parts of the
shipment. The effect of allowing the sewage of New York City to
flow into the surrounding waters is tested by an examination of many
small samples of river and harbor water taken from different areas
and at varying depths. If it is possible to test the quality of a supply
of oranges, or water, in this fashion, why is it not possible to do the
same with public opinion? Proceeding on the assumption that it is
possible, "scientific" polls of public opinion have emerged.
The principal problem of sampling is to find a formula of selection
that will give the results desired. With a barrel of apples, it is a prob-
lem of finding a method for selecting a few apples which will indi-
cate what the real contents of the barrel are. In respect to public
opinion, it is a problem of selecting a few opinions truly representa-
tive of the opinions of the public as a whole.
One method of selecting a sample is the random method. No at-
tempt is made to analyze or classify the contents of the barrel or the
opinions of the public as a whole. The sample is selected in such a
way that pure chance determines the result. Every item in the whole
collection is given an equal chance to appear in the sample. One
common method is to select every tenth or every twentieth apple or
How large should a random sample be? That depends, of course,
upon how homogeneous the material is. If the material is not
homogeneous a larger sample will be required than if it is. Great care
must be exercised to ensure the absence of bias in selection. Condi-
tions which make it easier for some apples or some opinions to appear
in the sample vitiate it. If, as the size of a pure random sample is
increased, no appreciable change in the character of the results is
noted, the sample is probably large enough. Obviously the adequacy
of the size of a sample depends upon the nature of the subject
The polling agencies to which reference has already been made,
the American Institute of Public Opinion, Crossley, Inc., and the
An Introduction to Public Opinion
magazine Fortune, do not rely on the method of random sampling.
They proceed on the theory that a person's opinions are what they
are because of the influence of certain factors: age, sex, income, place
of residence, etc. They try to find a sample of persons who, with re-
spect to age, sex, income, etc., are truly representative of the people
of the country as a whole. From available statistics they determine
the proportion of people in the country in different age, sex, and
income groups and then select a small group of several thousands
representative of the people of the country as a whole as far as these
factors are concerned.
The obvious difficulty with this method is that we have no proof
that the factors used in selecting the sample are the most important
in the opinion-forming process. Nor do we know the relative influ-
ence of the factors in this process. Instead of assuming that all per-
sons in the same sex, age, income, and residence categories think
alike it would seem more reasonable to assume that the relative
influence of these factors depends upon the type of question at issue.
Evidence so far accumulated indicates that persons in particular
categories tend to think alike on certain types of questions, but not
How then are we to account for the alleged success of some of the
polls in predicting the outcome of elections? In the first place the
measure of success is much less than generally supposed.3 Thus far
we have had only a few opportunities to check the accuracy of these
polls, and the experience with the Literary Digest poll showed that
a few successes were by no means a positive proof of the reliability
of the methods employed. Moreover, except for polls on candidates
where the sampling techniques can be checked against the official
election returns, there exists no infallible method for checking the
reliability of the results.
There are, to be sure, some indications that point in the direction
of reliability. In the 1936 presidential election a few of the polls were
reasonably successful in predicting the outcome. In some cases the
agencies have undertaken to test reliability by increasing the size of
the sample and noting changes in results. Often these tests suggested
that the formula used for selecting the sample was fairly satisfac-
tory. But we need to know much more than we do at present before
we can affirm that "scientific" polls are absolutely reliable. There are
some reasons suggesting the contrary.
It is improbable that the factors which influence the formation of
opinion in one instance are the same in all. If a reliable formula had
been found there would be no need for further experimentation, and
no reason why different agencies should employ different formulas.
Much is made of the point that the samples used are representative,
true cross sections. The question arises, however, of what are they
representative ? Even assuming that the samples are truly representa-
tive of the population in terms of age, race, religion, income, resi-
dence, etc., it does not necessarily follow that they are representative
of the opinions of the people of the country as a whole unless it is
established that only these factors are significant in the opinion-
On February 14, 1935, a bill was introduced in the House of Rep-
resentatives to prohibit the use of the mails for the taking of straw
votes. And on January 8, 1937, a resolution was introduced in the
House of Representatives providing for the creation of a committee
to investigate polls purporting to measure public opinion on ques-
tions or issues which have "a bearing upon any election held to fill
any office under the Government of the United States." Neither
measure was passed, nor even acted upon. Meanwhile these polls are
assuming an increasing importance in the social and political life of
the country. The weekly results of the American Institute polls are
published widely throughout the country in more than seventy-five
Immediately after the election of 1936 the New York Times pub-
lished an editorial on straw ballots. Among other things it stated:
This is an appropriate time to raise the question whether the
public interest is actually well served by unofficial polls which
attempt to reflect the shift of American opinion on matters of
great political importance. A fundamental objection to such
polls is that they so frequently tend to develop a "bandwagon"
rush on the part of the electorate. . The risks are even greater
when a poll is aimed not at attempting to predict how the
public will vote but at attempting to interpret its will on com-
plex and controversial issues. For in this case the poll tends to
intensify the "bandwagon" instinct present in all legislators.
56 An Introduction to Public Opinion
. The American form of government is not really built to
function successfully on this pattern. Ours is a "representative"
democracy, in which it is properly assumed that those who are
chosen to be "representatives" will think for themselves.
Since then the New York Times has become a client of the Ameri-
can Institute of Public Opinion and publishes its weekly reports on
the state of public opinion throughout the country.
Assuming the infallibility of polls, which, as we have seen is
hazardous, the Times editorial raises two important questions. Wha:
is the effect of the public-opinion polls upon the public at large?
What is their effect upon our official representatives, and is this
effect desirable ?
No study has been made, to my knowledge, of how extensively
these public-opinion reports are read and what effect they have upon
the opinions of those reading them. It would appear that they were
read widely in view of the fact that they are carried by a large num-
ber of newspapers with wide circulations and in view of the atten-
tion given to them by magazines, books, and papers generally. It is
improbable that such a paper as the New York Times would pay
several thousand dollars a year for these reports if they did not have
wide reader interest. Many of the leading magazines have published
articles about them.
The Times refers to the "bandwagon" effect of these pronounce-
ments. The assumption is that a great many people like to be on the
winning side of an issue. Politicians believe this and try assiduously
to create the impression that their candidate and their point of view
are bound to win. The psychologists have a name for it. They call it
the impression of universality. As students of war propaganda have
pointed out, military leaders likewise try to create the impression
that they- are bound to win. Such an impression strengthens the
morale of their own troops and tends to discourage the enemy.
As yet there is no concrete evidence to show precisely how much
influence a release of the Gallup, Crossley, or Fortune type has on
the opinions of citizens generally. There is some reason to suppose
that the influence is considerable. To be able to state as convincingly
as some of these polling agencies do what the state of public opinion
is, places in their hands a tremendous power. The agencies of govern-
ment purport to reflect public opinion in their actions. Suppose that
their interpretations of the state of public opinion conflict with those
of the private polling agencies. The consequences may be serious.
For various reasons Congress has persistently refused to pass a law
providing for a war referendum. And yet the possibility exists that
these agencies may conduct just such a referendum, thereby embar-
rassing the national government in the conduct of foreign policy.
I am not taking a position against such referenda. I merely wish to
point out the importance of the problem.
For a long time pressure groups have followed the practice of
trying to convince the government and the public that they voice
the will of the people, or, if not the will of the people as a whole, at
least a large section of it. Phrases like the "voice of agriculture" and
the "voice of business" have been frequently used. The claims of
such groups are often suspect. But now we have private institutions
purporting to speak the voice of all the people and rapidly con-
vincing us that they do. It is important, therefore, that these polling
agencies be subjected to social control; that the accuracy of their
reports be assured; and that they be used in the public rather than the
The second question raised by the New York Times is even more
perplexing. Assuming that the voices of Gallup and the magazine
Fortune are the voices of the people, the question arises whether
they are also the voices of God and should govern the acts of legis-
lators. Are we prepared to have public opinion not only reign but
also govern ? Our government is a representative democracy and not
a direct democracy. The Times editorial emphasizes this fact. The
problem we are facing goes to the very heart of the whole problem
of democracy. Are the masses of citizens competent to express their
opinions on all matters of social and public policy? They are doubt-
less more competent than they were in years past, but there are
grave doubts concerning the wisdom of the masses to pass upon all
questions regardless of their technicality and complexity. Even in
those states where the initiative and referendum are used most fre-
quently and extensively, restrictions have been placed upon the num-
ber and types of questions that may be submitted.
The attempts now being made to improve methods for ascertain-
ing the state of public opinion on social and political questions are,
in many respects, socially useful. In the first place they emphasize
An Introduction to Public Opinion
the shortcomings of the cruder indices and manifestations of the
American public mind. Periodic elections are cumbersome, slow, and
have come to be devices primarily used for selecting public officials,
rather than instruments for bringing to light the precise state of
public opinion on specific issues. Moreover, public-opinion polls serve
as useful checks on the state of public opinion as indicated by the
press, the claims of pressure groups, and the assertions of politicians.
In the second place, these newer experiments will probably pro-
duce a more critical attitude on the part of the public generally
toward claims of groups and individuals purporting to speak the
voice of the people. A public that reads discussions of the technical
accuracy of the Gallup or Fortune polls, and begins to think in terms
of the adequacy of a sample, probable errors, and coefficients of cor-
relation, is certain to become more skeptical of statements by inJi-
viduals and interested minorities that public opinion is thus and so.
In the third place, these mechanisms of opinion identification may
encourage a more widespread and intelligent discussion of public
questions. In framing their questionnaires these polling agencies
have to clarify and define issues. Political leaders and group leaders
are often quite as interested in confusing as in clarifying issues.
Whatever the reaction of the voter may be to the questionnaires he
received, he has before him as a rule a list of questions which not
only focus his attention upon important public problems, but may
even stimulate a little more thought, and help him to clarify the
And finally, it should be noted that these experiments result in the
accumulation of a wealth of data of considerable scientific value.
The files of the American Institute of Public Opinion and the For-
tune magazine contain a mass of data concerning the expressed
opinions of people throughout the United States regarding innumer-
able questions of significance. These opinions have been collected in
such a way that they can be classified by age, sex, income, residence,
and sectional groupings. This fact enables the investigator to draw
conclusions regarding the opinion-forming habits of different groups,
their patterns of thinking, and the relative influence of different
factors in the opinion-forming process. Already the accumulation of
these data has suggested some rather interesting hypotheses. Dr.
Gallup believes, on the basis of his findings, that a poll of the opin-
ions of a group of university faculty members on a general political
question will reveal substantially the same cleavages as a poll of the
citizens of the United States as a whole. In other words, he finds
little ground for the popular assumption that the masses are less cer-
tain of their opinions than the intelligentsia.
He also finds that, so far as political and most economic questions
are concerned, party affiliation seems to be the deciding factor. The
degree of unanimity on such questions is greater among members of
a political party than among those of the same age, sex, or income
group. By classifying opinions according to different age, sex, income,
and sectional groupings it is possible to throw a good deal of light
upon the problem of how public opinion is formed. If over and over
again it is found that 90 per cent of the members of a party think
alike, whereas repeatedly there is a 50 to 50 split within a given age
group or income group, there are strong grounds for believing that
the influence of the party factor is greater than the influence of the
age or income factor. Whatever other values these experiments may
have, the scientific usefulness is clearly indicated.
"Scientific" polls do give rise to problems. One of these is the fact
that they are so generally accepted as reliable. It is very difficult if not
impossible to establish their accuracy, especially on questions of po-
litical and social significance. No one, I believe, can fairly question
the honesty of purpose and painstaking care that go into the polling
efforts of most of the agencies. They have taken every effort to avoid
the danger of ballot stuffing and manipulation. They desire to find
the truth, if for no other reason than a commercial one. But they are
dealing with instruments of power. And in other hands our rever-
ence for statistics might be used against us.
The dangers are not those of crass fraud, merely. There are an
infinite number of ways, some of them very subtle, for using these
techniques for private rather than public advantage. The selection of
questions, their phrasing, the timing of polls, as well as the statistical
treatment of results, are phases of the problem that present difficul-
ties. In polls on candidates the results can be checked against official
election returns. But in polls on issues there exists no obvious check,
not even the check of competition. For it would be only the most
extraordinary coincidence that would enable the public validly to
check one poll against another.
60 An Introduction to Public Opinion
All the nationwide polling agencies are commercial enterprises.
They are financed by the sale of their surveys to private interests.
They must cater to some extent to these interests, and this fact
affects the list of questions used and the publication of results. The
financial supporters exercise both a negative and a positive influence.
Positively, they influence the choice of questions. Negatively the\
often prevent the polling of public opinion on questions which ha'.c
great social significance. The problem is to turn these efforts at "sci-
entific" polling into channels that will be of the greatest social use-
fulness. If a method has been found for accurately sampling public
opinion then it should be socially controlled. Polling public opinion
may well be regarded as an activity vested with a public interest.
Formation of Opinion
STEMPTS to find reliable indices of public-opinion trends and to
measure states of public opinion have been accompanied by
equally searching inquiries into the nature of the public-opinion-
forming process. The purpose of this lecture will be to chart the
progress which has been made in studies of this kind, call attention
to some of the hypotheses advanced, and indicate the nature of the
problem as it faces us today. In the preceding lecture we noted that
such polling agencies as the American Institute of Public Opinion
and the magazine Fortune based their procedures on certain as-
sumptions regarding the role of such factors as age, sex, income, etc.,
in the public-opinion-forming process. Are these assumptions valid?
What, after all, do we really know about this process?
In the first place, it is important to re-emphasize that public opin-
ion is merely a collection of individual opinions. If we can find out
how personal opinions are formed we will know how public opinion
is formed. Opinions are always individual expressions of attitude.
The notion that there exists a group mind, an entity disassociated
from individual human beings, has been thoroughly discredited.
In the second place it is necessary to refer again to our definition
of opinion. It is merely an expression, one expression of attitude in
words. It always takes the form of words, either written or spoken.
But do all the words we speak or write constitute expressions of
opinion? Should we distinguish between statements of fact and ex-
pressions of opinion?
Dr. A. Lawrence Lowell believes that we should, and he defines
opinion as the "acceptance of one among two or more inconsistent
views which are capable of being accepted by a rational mind as
true.""2 This definition raises two perplexing questions. What is a
fact? And what is a rational mind? Personally, I see no valid reason
for restricting the word "opinion" to verbal expressions of attitude, to
views "which may be rationally held," because of the difficulty of
defining what we mean by rational. Irrational views and opinions
An Introduction to Public Opinion
may have as much political significance as the purely rational. I do
think, however, there is value in distinguishing facts from opinions,
although it is very difficult to do.
But what is an attitude? Professor Gordon Allport has given this
question careful consideration. After pointing out that the word has
a wide range of application, and is used by writers in many different
senses, he gives the following definition: "An attitude is a mental
and neutral state of readiness, organized through experience, exert-
ing a directive or dynamic influence upon the individual's response
to all objects and situations with which it is related."33 In this sense
the term is distinguishable from such words as reflexes, habits, in-
stincts, wishes, sentiments, and traits. Professor Thurstone defines it
as "the sum total of man's inclinations and feelings, prejudice or
bias, preconceived notions, ideas, fears, threats, and convictions
about any specific topic.""3 In general, therefore, we may think of an
attitude as a disposition on the part of an individual to act or react
in a certain way, usually favorably or unfavorably, toward a par-
ticular issue or object.
The third point I wish to stress is that a thorough understanding
of the process of opinion formation presupposes a knowledge of how
attitudes are formed, which in turn presumes a knowledge of how
personality itself develops. The problem is not simple but extremely
complex. Biologists and psychologists have given more attention to
it than any other group of specialists. But it is by no means a prob-
lem exclusively interesting to them. The very fact that so much
political philosophy and so much social and political engineering are
based on theories of personality emphasizes the importance of keep-
ing abreast with psychological researches. Whether or not the study
of public relations is merely a branch of psychology, the important
thing is to bring to bear upon our major political and social prob-
lems the best-informed opinion available.
Why do people express the opinions they do? Why do people,
supposedly well informed and reasonably objective, have different
opinions regarding the same question? Why do some people express
opinions whereas others do not? Why do we find considerable agree-
ment on some questions, and little or no agreement on others? Why
are some opinions more intense than others? How may we account
for sudden changes in opinion on some issues, and pronounced
Formation of Opinion
stability on others? What factors are most important in the opinion-
forming process? Are there any general propositions regarding these
matters that are valid?
At least one statement or proposition can be made with assurance:
that our opinions are what they are because of the influence of a
multiplicity of factors. Beyond this it is hazardous to venture. In
attempting to explain why reasonable, unprejudiced men reach dif-
ferent opinions, even though they have the same information, Dr.
Lowell stresses the effect of ascribing different weights to the evi-
dence presented; the varying degrees of attention people bestow on
a problem; and the influence of emotion. But why do men experi-
ence different emotional reactions to an issue or a question? Why do
some attend to the matter in hand more carefully than others? And
why, therefore, do they ascribe different weights to the evidence
Walter Lippmann emphasizes the role played by stereotypes in the
opinion-forming process, images of things created in our minds as a
result of what we actually see, hear, and experience." What these
images are depends, of course, not only upon our access to facts, but
also upon the impact of these facts upon our constantly changing
personality. And so we could go on through the literature to find
different, even contradictory, explanations of the opinion-forming
Again we come to the proposition that the problem of determin-
ing why our opinions are what they are can be solved only by finding
out why we are what we are. No one knows the complete answer.
But we do know some things. We know that our opinions as well
as our personalities are what they are because of the interacting in-
fluence of heredity and environment. Students of biology and psy-
chology have listed and described many of these hereditary and
environmental factors, particularly those of an organic nature. Stu-
dents of sociology and the social sciences have done the same for
The question may be asked: Why is it necessary to trace the genesis
of opinions in such a comprehensive fashion ? Why is it not sufficient
to confine our consideration simply to important influences? But
which are the important? Undoubtedly what we read has a good
deal to do with our opinions on certain subjects. But two persons
An Introduction to Public Opinion
may read the same book or newspaper and arrive at diametrically
Various attempts have been made to enumerate and classify the
influences which make our opinions what they are. The starting
point is usually a distinction between hereditary and environmental
factors. From this point on, there is considerable variation. So far as
heredity is concerned the notion that persons have specific instincts
at birth has been largely discredited. It may be that we come into
this world with certain proponentt reflexes," as Professor Allport
calls them, but recent psychological studies emphasize the plastic and
malleable nature of our hereditary equipment. We do possess certain
potentialities which take different forms according to the environ-
ment in which they develop. Opinions are certainly not inherited,
nor are attitudes. Men are not born radicals or conservatives, much
less adherents of the New Deal or Communism. At birth they are
merely bundles of potentialities. This does not mean that we cannot
predict to some extent the color of skin, the texture of hair, and
some other traits. And yet, even with respect to such physical traits,
our predictions may miscarry. So much depends upon the influence
This is not to say that environmental influences are determinative.
Man's potentialities, even at birth, vary from person to person. En-
vironment may serve to equalize differences in some respects and
magnify them in others. We are confronted with a growing, devel-
opmental process in which both hereditary and environmental fac-
tors are acting and reacting upon each other. Out of this interacting
process emerges an individual personality with certain habits, atti-
tudes, and traits which are common to many, with others that are
On the environmental side it is customary to classify factors as
physical, biological, psychological, and social. From this point on,
the categories are divided and subdivided indefinitely. There seems
to be no generally accepted basis of subclassification. Physical factors
comprise geography, climate, mineral resources, topography, and
many other aspects of our material surroundings. Undoubtedly the
place where we live and work has a great deal to do with our opin-
ions. But how much we do not know. Many students have even
undertaken to explain differences and also uniformities of opinion
Formation of Opinion
largely in terms of one of these factors. Our biological surroundings,
the presence or absence of specific forms of animal and vegetable
life, and the racial character of the people with whom we associate
have much to do with our attitudes and opinions. Our psychological
surroundings are also important-the attitudes and opinions of our
associates, the ideas they hold and express. Moreover, we must take
account of patterns of social organization and institutional life. Our
opinions and beliefs are constantly being affected by the character of
the political, social, economic, and religious institutions which sur-
round us. The problem of merely listing all these factors making our
opinions what they are is a baffling one, to say nothing of the prob-
lem of weighing their relative influence.
As previously noted, the American Institute of Public Opinion,
the magazine Fortune, and other polling agencies proceed on the
theory that sex, age, place of residence, income, and possibly race,
religion, and party affiliation are the more important influences mak-
ing our opinions what they are. They base this theory on their ex-
perience, which seems to show that a comparatively small sample of
the population which mirrors the whole population in these respects
will also mirror its opinions. If this is true, it is an unusually sig-
nificant discovery. If, by knowing where a person lives, how old he
is, what his sex is, whether he has a large or small income, and
whether he belongs to a particular race or party, we can predict what
his opinions will be, much of the mystery surrounding the problem
of opinion formation disappears. But there are some difficulties with
An examination of the polling experience of the American Insti-
tute of Public Opinion from October, 1935, to May 15, 1938, shows
a considerable variation in the extent of agreement on the questions
submitted. On a number of questions, as previously pointed out,
more than 85 per cent of the respondents expressed the same opinion.
Of course, on most of the questions there was less agreement, and in
a great many instances the state of opinion was evenly divided, or
If, however, such factors as age, sex, place of residence, and income
are the factors which make our opinions what they are, how may
we explain the fact that on many questions we all think so nearly
alike in spite of these differences?
An Introduction to Public Opinion
Furthermore, we find, after examining the returns, that on some
questions the extent of agreement is very great when the returns are
classified according to age levels, but not when classified on the
basis of income, sex, etc. This suggests that the influence of these
factors varies from question to question.
These observations indicate the difficulty of ascertaining empiri-
cally what factors are important and what their relative influence is.
On some questions apparently, none of the factors employed by the
polling agencies in their sampling formulas were important. Other-
wise, how can we explain the high degree of agreement on certain
questions in spite of differences in age, sex, income, etc.? On others,
certain factors, such as income or age, seem especially important
because of the unanimity of opinion expressed by those in a particu-
Another important point should be noted. The fact of a high
degree of correlation between the age of a person and the opinions
he holds does not necessarily establish a causal relationship. It may
be that his age determines what he reads and hears, and that the
content of his reading and hearing is actually the decisive factor in
determining his opinions. This in no way minimizes the significance
of a high degree of correlation between age and opinion. It merely
shows that some influence other than age may be the proximate and
direct cause of his views on issues.
After all, the proximate factors affecting our opinions are prac-
tically the most important. Without knowing what they are we shall
be at a loss to explain sudden and far-flung changes in public opinion
at times when such factors as age, sex, income, and place of resi-
dence remain virtually constant.
I think it fair to assume that the proximate causes of our opinions
are the things we read, hear, or see. The influence of these factors
may be, and probably is to a considerable extent, determined by
where we live, how old we are, and how prosperous we are. And
these in turn may be conditioned by our biological, physical, social,
and psychological heritage. We may call these secondary factors
latent, in contrast to the primary factors, which are active. They
condition our personalities and predispose us to act in specific ways.
In many instances, however, they are poor indicators of what our
opinions will be on specific issues. They do not explain rapid and
Formation of Opinion
widespread changes in states of public opinion when they in turn
The immediate determinants of opinion are the channels of com-
munication and what comes through them-the ideas, reports, news,
representations that constitute our world of verbal symbols. By con-
centrating our attention upon conflicts of ideas, and the groups that
are propagating them, we shall obtain a much better understanding
of why our ideas and opinions are what they are than by studying
the remote influence of climate, human biology and psychology, or
even social institutions as such. Within the limits set by these rather
firmly fixed conditioning factors the opinion-forming process goes
on with lightning-like speed.
A few experiments have been made to measure the influence of
specific factors in the opinion-forming process. The size of the factors
ranges all the way from a small magazine advertisement to institu-
tions such as the press, the radio, or a pressure group. Advertisers
wish to know what effect a specific advertisement has upon public
opinion. Corporation executives wish to measure the success of a
public-relations campaign. Politicians wish to know whether news-
papers are more effective than radio broadcasts in an election cam-
paign. We speak glibly of the influence of this and that pressure
group, but usually we have only the vaguest notion of what that
influence is. In many cases no special attempt is made to isolate the
factor and determine its influence. It is enough for many business
concerns to know that after they have spent a million dollars on an
advertising campaign their sales increase, or, for politicians, that a
propaganda campaign resulted in the election of their candidate to
office. They are not concerned about the question of the precise
extent to which the advertisement or the particular medium used
was responsible for the result. Motion-picture producers judge the
public's reaction to a motion picture by box-office receipts; broad-
casters, by fan mail; newspaper publishers, by the circulation of their
papers. An infinite number of manifestations of public opinion may
be used as rough indices.
Why is it desirable to determine more precisely, therefore, the
effects or influence of particular factors? One reason is financial. To
know what factors are most important is a saving of money.
Throughout the business world efforts are constantly being made to
An Introduction to Public Opinion
test the influence of particular kinds of advertisements, the effective-
ness of various types of appeal, the usefulness of particular media,
the responses to different kinds of programs, products, services, etc.
But knowledge of this sort has a propaganda as well as a commercial
value. Knowing which factors are of greatest significance in the
opinion-forming process, campaign managers can plan with greater
In every problem of this kind the experiment begins with a public-
opinion poll to determine the state of public opinion before the
experiment, and ends with a poll after the experiment to determine
the extent of the change. But how can all factors affecting the change
be held constant so that the precise influence of the one in which we
are interested can be measured?
Professor Gosnell attempted an experiment of this kind to ascer-
tain the effect of a non-partisan mail canvass to get out the citizen
vote in selected districts in Chicago.3" He selected twelve districts
known to be typical as far as the economic and racial characteristics
of the population of the city as a whole were concerned. The voters
in each district were divided into two groups in such a way that they
did not differ fundamentally with respect to racial, economic, and
other important characteristics. One group was subjected to a bar-
rage of non-partisan appeals through the mails. The other group was
not. In this way the effect of other influences was kept constant, so
that whatever differences appeared in the voting of the two groups
might fairly be attributed to these non-partisan appeals. By means of
this method of controlled groups it is possible to test rather carefully
the precise influence of some factors in the opinion-forming process.
The crux of the problem is to select two groups which are subject to
the same influences except for the one to be measured.
A common device for testing the relative influence of different
factors in the opinion-forming press is the method of classification.
Such classifications do not necessarily establish causal relationships,
nor do they always indicate even the relative influence of the factors.
Referring again to the work of polling agencies we find that they
segregate their returns according to age, sex, race, income, residence,
and other classifications. If all within a certain age group have the
same opinions on selected issues there is a strong presumption that
the age factor has a great deal to do with the expressions of opinion.
Formation of Opinion
If the returns show a ioo per cent agreement in terms of age groups,
a 75 per cent agreement in terms of sex groups, and only a 50 per
cent agreement so far as income groups are concerned this suggests
that the age factor is more important than the sex factor, and that
the income factor is of almost no significance.
The fact that the extent of agreement on a given question varies
so much for different factors indicates that they do not always have
the same weight. Moreover, the fact that the distribution of per-
centages varies with a change in question suggests that the phrasing
of the question affects the relative influence of different factors. Nev-
ertheless, such classifications have value and can be used to describe
what may be called patterns of opinion for different groups. As pre-
viously indicated, however, the attempt to set up a particular formula
for selecting samples of public opinion on the basis of these factors
is not likely to be successful. If, for example, tests show that sex is a
determining factor in the formation of opinion, the effect of using
with it a number of insignificant factors in constructing our formula
may distort rather than improve the results.
Classification techniques have been used to compare the votes of
men and women at elections; differences in the political attitudes of
those living in urban, village, and open-country communities; and
political alignments according to religion, nationality, race, and many
other factors.3' Students of government have given more attention
to election statistics than to any other type of opinion data. These
statistics are classified by states, counties, and in many cases by wards,
precincts, and election districts. Treated in this way they can be used
to chart the voting behavior of particular sections of the country; to
compare trends in voters' opinions with other trends; and arranged
in time series, as Dr. Stuart A. Rice has used them, to ascertain the
existence and character of cycles of party turnover, or to study what
he called the "amplitude" of electoral swings in recent as compared
to past times.
Perhaps a word should be added regarding the significance of time
series. As Dr. Rice states:
The invention and improvement of precise statistical methods
for analyzing time series has been one of the. more important
developments of recent years for the whole domain of social
science. The use of these methods has been almost confined,
An Introduction to Public Opinion
however, to the special field of economics. There they have come
to be of invaluable aid in charting those myriad fluctuations of
business activity in which practical men are interested. . As
illustrations might be mentioned such studies as those between
the production and the prices of various agricultural commodi-
ties, or between the prices of stocks and bonds.
Dr. Rice was one of the first to apply similar methods to the study
of political phenomena and public opinion. His studies show that
types of variation familiar in economics are to be found also in
public opinion such as secular trends, cyclical variations, seasonal
influences, and fortuitous changes.
In one case, for example, he attempted to find out whether
changes in public opinion as reflected in election statistics accom-
panied selected economic variations. He thought that changing per-
centages of Republican votes might be an index of what is often
called the pendulum of politics, and that changing percentages in
minor party votes might give some measure of the growth or sub-
sidence of dissent from both of the major party organizations. His
conclusion, based on election statistics in New Jersey, was that "cycles
are present, although they do not seem to occur so frequently as the
business cycles," suggesting that "cycles of party turnover in New
Jersey are to be attributed to some factor or factors of changing atti-
tude which are not closely related to changes in business prosperity."
Whether this is true or not, the point to be underscored is that
public-opinion time series are very useful for testing hypotheses re-
garding opinion formation, as well as the influence of different
factors in the process.
One other illustration of the application of time series to the
analysis of opinion data may be noted. Dr. Rice wished to test the
proposition that a mass tendency by the electorate to favor one can-
didate over others would carry its influence farther today than
formerly. The question was whether the "amplitude" of the electoral
swing has tended to increase during the past century. It occurred to
Dr. Rice that "more fundamental causes than were suggested by
factors in the immediate political situation might be operating to
account in part for the striking reversals of attitude that were indi-
cated by election landslides. Increasingly throughout the past century
the people in this country have been placed in closer contact with
Formation of Opinion 71
each other, and hence more certainly subjected to whatever currents
of opinion or emotion might arise in any part of the group." As con-
tributing factors to this phenomenon he mentioned urbanization,
universal education, developments in transportation, communication,
newspapers, moving pictures, radio, etc. Since he wrote we have wit-
nessed a series of landslide elections in 1928, 1932, and 1936. This
raises the interesting question whether large publics because of the
developments just mentioned are progressively assuming the charac-
ter of mobs, tending to move in one direction or another with greater
force and intensity.
In order to test this hypothesis several tables of election statistics
were used to show variations in the "swing" toward the winning
candidate. Indices of "landslide tendency" were then determined.
The presence of cyclical swings, especially after the Civil War, was
manifest. From 1867 to 1921 an upward trend and five completed
cycles were noticeable. These cycles were compared with cyclical
trends in business, and the comparison suggested a definite relation-
ship between business cycles and swings of political majorities. Al-
though the data presented some rather perplexing questions, Dr.
Rice states, "Perhaps the best evidence that the data mean something
is to be found in the comparative regularity of the cycles of landslide
These illustrations suggest only a few ways in which election
statistics may be used to study the opinion-forming process. Such
figures have considerable value as indices of attitudes and opinions
and have been used more extensively than any other. They are com-
prehensive and have been regularly reported for a long period of
time. They are official and reliable as far as they go. And they have
been broken down for various geographical districts. Unfortunately,
because of the secrecy of the ballot, it is impossible to classify them
according to age, sex, race, religious preferences, and other categories
extremely useful to the student of public opinion. Until the advent
of nationwide polling agencies election statistics were the most im-
portant opinion data available. Recently, however, these agencies
have been collecting a mass of data in such form that innumerable
classifications and correlations can be made. These opinion data can
now be used to test various theses regarding the opinion-forming
72 An Introduction to Public Opinion
Professor Clark of the University of Pennsylvania has recently
undertaken a study to determine what correlations exist between
President Roosevelt's popularity, as shown by the Gallup and For-
tune polls, and various economic indices. Although high degrees of
correlation would not indicate necessarily a causal relationship, the
comparisons would be of value in indicating trends, and possibly in
Professor Clark is interested primarily in four types of relation-
ships: (i) the President and agricultural economics; (2) the Presi-
dent and industrial economics; (3) the President and labor eco-
nomics; (4) the President and federal spending. In each type, trends
in the President's popularity are compared with indices of the re-
spective economic trends. In the field of agricultural economics.
trends in the President's popularity are correlated with variations in
wheat prices, dairy prices, corn prices, wheat, corn, and farm pro-
duction. In the field of industrial economics such indices as industrial
production, stock-market quotations, interest and discount rates, nev.
building construction, cost of living, retail prices, and wholesale
prices are used. In the field of labor economics such indices as em-
ployment and unemployment, earnings, strikes and lockouts, wage
rates, and union membership are used. And in the field of federal
spending, WPA expenditures, PWA expenditures, other federal ex-
penditures, employment by federal agencies, and relief expenditures
By noting the degree of correlation in each case, as well as the
character of lags, if any, information may be obtained regarding the
relative influence on President Roosevelt's popularity of his agricul-
tural, industrial, labor, and spending policies; the probable character
of his policies in the immediate future; causes for changes in thb
degree of his popularity, and many others.
The availability now of such opinion data as the polling agencies
are collecting opens up a whole new field of public-opinion and
statistical research. Too much emphasis has probably been given to
the forecasting activities of the polling agencies, and too little to the
A recent device for determining the relative influence of factors in
the opinion-forming process is the statistical technique of partial
correlations, which has been simplified and called the method of
Formation of Opinion
multiple-factor analysis. It seeks to accomplish by means of available
statistical data the same end result obtained by the method of the
controlled experiment. It undertakes to hold constant, simply by
neutralizing their effect statistically, important factors in the opinion-
forming process and to determine the effect of one.
Professor Gosnell has recently applied this technique to a study of
the influence of the press on public opinion.38 He stated his problem
as follows: "There are many difficulties confronting any attempt to
estimate the role of the press in the democratic process. Are the
newspapers molders or followers of public opinion? How can the
incidence of the policies of the press be separated from the many
other complex variables which are woven together in a complicated
Without attempting to explain the statistical techniques used, the
procedure employed may be summarized as follows. It was possible
to obtain information for 47 selected areas in the city of Chicago
regarding the circulation of four leading daily newspapers. For these
same areas the votes received by candidates at primary or general
elections during a given period were obtained and expressed as per-
centages of the total vote cast. The attitude of the newspapers toward
these candidates was determined by estimating the number of col-
umn inches in each devoted to editorial and cartoon endorsements
of a given candidate. Eight other variables were then selected, each
of which was assumed to have some relation to the election results.
A master table expressing each of the 21 variables in percentage
form (except median rental) was then prepared for the 47 areas.
Product-moment coefficients of correlation were then calculated
for all possible combinations of the 21 variables and presented in
symmetrical form, providing what is commonly known as a correla-
tion matrix. The question was: Did these intercorrelations show pat-
terns of behavior which could be interpreted in the light of the
Factorial methods assume that there are primary tendencies which
are to be estimated in terms of the variables given. The aim of factor
analysis is to ascertain how many general and independent factors
must be postulated to account for a whole table of intercorrelations.
It seeks to reduce a complicated set of relationships to a relatively
small number of factors. In the problem at hand it was discovered
74 An Introduction to Public Opinion
that the 2TO intercorrelations could be satisfactorily explained in
terms of four general factors: (i) traditional Republican vote in
national elections; (2) Thompsonism in local and Republican pri-
mary elections; (3) wet Democrats in national and local elections;
and (4) Republican vote in state and local elections.
These illustrations of current activities in the field of public-opinion
research suggest the complexity of the problem of analyzing the
process of public-opinion change. It is not enough to list and classify
the numerous factors involved. We need to know more precisely
what their specific and relative influence is. Public opinion is not only
a criterion for evaluating our public relations; it is also a force over
which we have some control. The more intelligent our participation
in the process of its formation, the more capable it will be in exercis-
ing its function of social control.
The Concept "Propaganda"
P ROPAGANDA is a noun. It refers to the material being propagan-
dized. To propagandize is to propagate-not human beings,
animals, or plants-but ideas, principles, and doctrines. To propagate
ideas is to advance, further, spread, transmit, disseminate, promote,
and increase them.
The word "propaganda" has a long history. It is found in the
name of that department of the Catholic Church charged with the
responsibility for spreading Catholicism and regulating ecclesiastical
affairs in non-Catholic countries-the Sacred Congregation for the
Propagation of the Faith-whose official title is Sacra Congregatio
christiano nomini propaganda. There have been various accounts of
the origin of this institution. In reality it is the result of slow
Sometime between 1572 and i585 while Gregory XIII was Pope
a Commission of Cardinals for the Propagation of the Faith (Car-
diaiial Commission de propaganda fide) was established under
the presidency nf Cardinal Santorio for the purpose of founding
foreign seminaries and printing catechisms and similar works in
many languages Under Clement VIII (1592-1603) weekly meetings
were held, and every fifteen days the decisions and recommendations
of the Commission were referred to the Pontiff. On June 22, 1622, the
Papal Bull Inscrutabili Divinae finally instituted the Sacred Congre-
gation for the Propagation of the Faith, composed of thirteen car-
dinals and two prelates, to whom were added a secretary and a
consultor. Its formal organization dates from 1650.
I refer to the Sacred Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith
because for centuries and even today this institution is one of the
best examples of what the word "propaganda" signifies. In earlier
times religious organizations were the principal disseminators of
This description of the evolution of propaganda is based on an article by
the author in the Dictionary of American History published by Charles Scrib-
ner's Sons. Grateful acknowledgment is hereby expressed for permission to
use this material.
An Introduction to Public Opinion
ideas. The clergy were the scholars. Often they were the only per-
sons able to read and write. Because of this they were frequently
vested with important clerical and other responsibilities by secular
rulers as the western state system developed. Students of English
history are aware of the role they played in the constitutional devel-
opment of England, in the evolution of its judicial system, Parlia-
ment, and other institutions.
The advent of printing during the middle of the fifteenth century,
the Protestant Reformation, the Renaissance, the rise of merchant
and business classes, the discovery of new continents, and the Indus-
trial Revolution tended, however, to undermine the monopoly of
the Roman Church over the propagation of ideas. Economic, plit-
ical, social, and non-Catholic organizations of all kinds began to
enter the propaganda arena. Educational facilities were_ ade-aail-
able to an increasing niinmber of people. Propaganda wjas no longer
the~peculiar prerogative of the clerics, but described the activities of
all sorts of organizations. The history of propaganda is the history of
the dissemination and propagation of ideas. As a subject of scientific
study it is as comprehensive and difficult as it is important.
The spread of democracy and the extension of the suffrage; the
expansion of educational facilities and the increase of literacy; tech-
nological changes and improvements in the field of communications;
economic transformations in the production, distribution, and con-
sumption of wealth; as well as an accelerating tempo of social change
and an increasing need for social cooperation have greatly affected
the role of propaganda in society. Propaganda assumes greatest his-
torical significance when carried on systematically over long periods
of time by large and well-organized groups.
During the colonial period in America extensive propaganda ac-
tivities were carried on by religious institutions, such as church
denominations and the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel; by
trading companies, chambers of commerce, groups of workers, and
political associations. Political propaganda assumed large propor-
tions during the years immediately preceding the Revolutionary
War under the astute direction of Samuel Adams, using the chan-
nels of Committees of Correspondence. The propagandistic writings
of Thomas Paine were also very effective. The struggle for the rati-
The Concept "Propaganda" 77
fiction of the Constitution of 1787 produced the classic compilation
of arguments known as the Federalist papers.
The development of political propaganda in the United States is
largely the story of the development of political parties. The presi-
dential campaign of 1828, in which Andrew Jackson won, was a
landmark. Since then political propaganda has been affected by the
increasing size of the electorate, the deepening of sectional, class,
and economic cleavages, the growing importance of economic
issues, and improvements in means of communication and contact.
The advent of radio broadcasting, and its use in political campaigns
since i2-.- iia3e altered .trchrniq ue and ircl -1any influlced [ie
t'ir po of PLubl I;-,- pin i-r clian -gce. The e,:r'anion il Iif gil'.:rnnen fl
actij itie,. incre. 4e, in public ecxpenditure the ri .ing Cu:ts uf puliric.l
cnmpaigning, and refinements in propaganda techniqueCs ha. al-
tered the character of political campaigns jnd given decided advan-
tages to the party in power.
The rise of largc aggrcg.ations of labor and capital has greatly
intensified the competition of propagandists. The two most compre-
hensive and active propagandists for American business are the Na-
tional Association of Manufacturers (1895) and the Chamber of
Commerce of the United States (1912). In 1938 these two organiza-
tions launched one of their most comprehensive campaigns with the
slogan "What Helps Business Helps You." The practice of lobby-
ing-the attempt to influence public officials directly-has been
supplemented and in some cases supplanted by propaganda activities
designed to influence government indirectly through public opinion.
The American Federation of Labor (1886) and more recently the
Committee for Industrial Organization (1935) have been pre-
eminent propagandists of labor doctrines. In general their methods
are similar to those of business groups, except that they take a more
active part in elections and political contests.
The National Grange (1867) and the American Farm Bureau
Federation (1919) have been active propagandists of agricultural
policies. There are approximately 10,000 commercial and industrial
organizations in the United States of which 1,5oo or more are inter-
state, national, or international in scope. Most of these organizations
carry on propaganda activities to a greater or less extent.
There is scarcely a field of human activity in which propaganda
An Introduction to Public Opinion
organizations have not arisen. In addition to political and economic
formations there are racial, religious, professional, age, ird .eclon.l
groups, as as a multiplicity of special-purpose orgjmizatic'ns.
More tman 500 national associations have headquarters in Washing-
ton and seek directly or indirectly to mold public opinion and public
policy. In some cases their propaganda activities cancel one another.
In others, log-rolling is practiced, and the influence of small but
active minority groups is large. The American Anti-Slavery Society
(1833) was one of the most active and influential propagandist or-
ganizations in pre-Civil War days. The American Peace Society
(1828) is one of the oldest of numerous organizations seeking to
further the cause of peace, and is active today. The Anti-Saloon
League of America, the American Legion, the American Civil Lib-
erties Union, the National Civil Service Reform League, and the
National Council for the Prevention of War are examples of persist-
ent special-purpose propaganda organizations.
The World War injected the national government into the propa-
ganda arena on an unprecedented scale. Since then the role of
propaganda in the United States has been markedly affected by
(I) the increasing use of propaganda by governmental agencies,
national, state, and local; (2) the availability of new instruments of
mass impression such as the radio and motion pictures; (3) refine-
ments in technique accompanied by greater 1,'ecialization. a.; illus-
trated by the rise of public-relations counselors and the use of more
precise methods for charting changes in public opinion; (4) in-
creased attention of business executives to problems of public rela-
tions and propaganda as distinct from those of advertising; (5) the
rise of dictatorial propaganda machines and a more intensive com-
petition of propaganda in the field of international relations; and
(6) an increasing emphasis upon the specialized sLuIld of propa-
ganda as a social phenomenon.
There have been many studies of the history of ideas: hisitricJl
treatises describing the work of those who have propounded great
philosophies and analyzing the nature of their doictrine4. Their stu-
dent of propaganda is interested in this work, but more [particularlv
in the questions: Why do these ideas spread? How may w\ account
for the far-flung acceptance of some ideas and not of others? To
The Concept "Propaganda"
answer these questions will bring us closer to an understanding of
why public opinion is what it is.
In some respects the task of the student of propaganda and public
opinion is like that of the biologist or the horticulturist. He is a
student of societal solution. He deals, however, with ideas and
opinions rather than plants and animals. He wishes to find out, if
he can, why ideas grow, multiply, and spread. One method of ap-
proach is to study the activities of individuals and organizations
actively engaged in the propagation of ideas and doctrines.
There are many different approaches to the problem. We might
study the genesis, growth, and spread of selected doctrines in terms
of the activities of those engaged in their propagation. We might
take as our starting point specific individuals or organizations and
study the doctrines they are spreading. Or we could try to chart the
course and spread of selected doctrines through the centuries or even
focus attention upon the dominant pattern of ideas in particular
places at particular times. What we are really interested in as stu-
dents of propaganda and public opinion are the reasons why ideas
and doctrines spread, and more especially the role played by human,
active forces in the process.
Since the World War the word "propaganda" has acquired an
invidious connotation, less frequently in the writings of serious stu-
dents than in discussions by popular commentators. Professor Fred-
erick E. Lumley, for example, in his book The Propaganda Menace,
states that "Propaganda is promotion which isveiled in one way or
another as to (i) its origin or sources, (2) the interests involved,
(3) the methods employed, (4) the content spread, and (5) the
results accruing to the victims-any one, any two, any three, any
four, or all fie.""' From his point of view all prop.aganda.is.bad.
It is unsocial because it "dwarfs the critical faculties, engenders fear
and suspicion, andproduces intellectual slaery." He writes: "I[n
sumtIe-esults of propaganda correspond in many particulars with
the results of a stalwart belief in the omnipresence of innumerable
disembodied spirits. Indeed, propaganda may appropriately be de-
scribed as the modern substitute for these powerful, mostly ma-
lignant and potently devastating powers. Or perhaps it would be
more correct to say that propaganda makes the social order spooky,
and thus makes society a vast, many-roomed, haunted house."
An Introduction to Public Opinion
If the word "propaganda" is to be restricted in meaning to the
propagation of ideas and doctrines which are veiled as to origin,
interests, methods, content, and results it may be that such propa-
ganda produces the consequences Professor Lumley enumerates.
The only way to test this conclusion is to investigate propaganda
which does employ such methods. Personally, I am willing to admit
that the consequences listed are bad, although to do so presupposes
the existence of objective and absolute standards of goodness. No
one can reasonably object if Professor Lumley wishes to confine his
own studies to veiled propaganda, but forceful objections may be
mat tn rectrrftlng the meaning of the word propaganda itself to.
ideas propagated by veiled methods. It is a question of perspective,
a question whether students of propaganda wish to limit the scope
of their interest to disseminators of ideas and doctrines which in
their opinion are bad or prefer to focus attention upon the broader
area of idea dissemination.
Obviously the morals of propaganda are prescribed by the stand-
ards of goodness and badness which we use to evaluate it. Are there
such standards? To answer this question satisfactorily we would-
have to delve into philosophical discussions of exceptional perplex-
ity. We would ultimately have to answer the question: What is the
Within recent years we have witnessed the rise of authoritarian
states with definitions of the good life so different from our own
that it would be difficult for most of us to stamp their propaganda
good. And yet who can say with assurance what is good and what is
bad? We live in a world of conflicting ideologies and philo,uhic.l
systems. All of them start with certain assumptions, certain premises
incapable of absolute proof. The only certainty is that every listing
of human values takes us back ultimately to a premise, an assump-
tion, a mere opinion. The starting point for a pure science of propa-
ganda is not a definition of moral values, but the selection of an
object to study. After the study is completed, not before, is the appro-
priate time to evaluate in terms of moral, ethical, and :ocial criteria.
In the fall of 1937 an Institute for Propaganda Analysis was or-
ganized as a "non-profit corporation for scientific research in meth-
ods used by propagandists in influencing public opinion."40 The
The Concept "Propaganda"
charter of the Institute contains the following statement of its
To assist the public in detecting and analyzing propaganda
by conducting scientific research and education in the methods
by which public opinion is influenced, by the analysis of propa-
ganda methods and devices, and by the distribution of reports
It shall not be within the purposes or powers of the corpora-
tion to engage in propaganda or otherwise attempt to influence
legislation and the corporation shall not, either as one of its
purposes or as a means of furthering any of its purposes, engage
in propaganda or otherwise attempt to influence legislation.
The Institute defines propaganda as an "expression of opinion or
action by in!diiduals or groups delibcracl\ designed to influence
opinions or actions of other individuals or groups with reference to
predeterminLd ends." So far as this definition is concerned there is
no implication th.-t proplganda i bad, no attempt to distinguish
bet een good and bad pruoa.ianda.i To the definition itself there is
no- ground for objection. It is simply another way of stating that the
word propaganda refers to ideas, doctrines, and opinions which are
propagated for a purpose. It is only when the Institute proceeds to
identify, analyze, and appraise propaganda that it departs from its
announced objectives. In reality the Institute confines its investiga-
tions to propaganda which it considers bad.
According to what standards does the Institute select the propa-
ganda it wishes to study, propaganda which it considers bad?
"Propaganda which concerns us most," it states, "is that which alters
public opinion on matters of large social consequence often to the
detriment of the majority of the people." And elsewhere it asserts
that, "Socially desirable propaganda will not suffer from such exam-
ination, but the opposite type will be detected and revealed for what
The principal basis used for selecting and distinguishing various
types of propaganda is the Institute's conception of democracy.
Propaganda which conforms to democratic principles is good. Other
Types are bad. The Institute lists four principles of democracy:
(i) Political-freedom to vote on public issues; freedom to discuss
those issues in public gatherings, in the press, radio, motion pictures,
An Introduction to Public Opinion
etc. (2) Economic-freedom to work and to participate in organiza-
tions and discussions in order to promote better working standards
and higher living conditions for the people. (3) Social-freedom
from oppression based on theories of superiority or inferiority. (4)
Religious-freedom of worship, with separation of church and state.
There is no valid objection from the scientific point of view to ;hc
Institute's selection of certain types of propaganda for special studv.
All scientists have to select some subjects and exclude others. Vari-
ous bases of selection will be used, such as the importance of tlhe
subject, whether or not it is interesting, and the feasibility of stud\-
ing it. No one may reasonably object if the Institute arbitrarily selects
for purposes of study propaganda which it considers undemocratic.
The principal difficulty with the Institute's approach to the stud\
of propaganda is not that it has exercised its privilege of selection
but that it has failed to proceed from that point without precon-
ceived notions regarding what it wishes and expects to find. Instead
of attempting to find out precisely why certain types of propaganda
spread it merely tries to show that propagandists use certain device'
or methods. It ignores the possibility that other and, from its point
of view, good propagandists also use these devices, and the possibil-
ity that the propagandists selected may use other techniques equally
important. In other words, instead of coming to grips with the phe-
nomenon of propaganda the Institute simply tries to prove that
"bad" propagandists use certain methods, thereby implying that only
"subversive" advocates use them. Instead of trying to find out some-
thing the Institute is merely trying to prove something.
The Institute began its researches with the assumption that propa-
gandists, especially "undemocratic" propagandists, used seven prin-
cipal devices for propagating their ideas: name calling, glittering
generalities, the transfer device, testimonials, plain folks device, card
stacking, and the band-wagon technique. Instead of making a real
contribution to our understanding of propaganda techniques its
studies merely show that some propagandists do use these devices.
My criticism of the Institute's work is that it has too limited a
perspective of the problem of propaganda. Instead of starting out to
find why particular ideas spread, and exactly what methods are used
to propagate them, the Institute seeks to bring the phenomenon of
The Concept "Propaganda"
propaganda within the limits of a few devices which have caught
Both Professor Lumley and the Institute for Propaganda Analysis
focus attention on certain methods used to propagate ideas-methods
which they regard as bad. Because some propagandists have used dis-
tortion, fabrication, name calling, and tricks of various sorts the word
propaganda has acquired an invidious connotation in some circles.
This has even led to definitions solely in terms of techniques. From
this point of view a propagandist is a person who uses these "bad"
techniques to propagate his ideas and doctrines. Even if the student
avoids the use of ethical labels he may try to restrict the meaning of
propaganda to ideas which are propagated in a specific manner.
Professor Doob defines propaganda as "the employment of non-
logical, or affective appeals in the public dissemination and modifica-
tion of ideas, attitudes, and beliefs."" He excludes from considera-
tion propaganda that is "factually accurate and logically adequate."
His perspective is broader than that of Professor Lumley and the
Institute. But it is still restricted to the dissemination of ideas that
are illogical and not factual. The business of propagating ideas, even
from this broader perspective, retains an unsavory, unsocial conno-
tation. The principal methods of the propagandist are said to be
emotional and illogical.
With this limited perspective Professor Doob classifies propaganda
methods under seven major headings. In the first category he lists
, devices sometimes employed to make ideas stand out so that they
will e perceived. These include a careful selection and use of all
a jiljbl~ l channels of communication; the placing of ideas in as
alluring and attractive surroundings as possible; repetition; and sim-
plicity of expression.
In the second category he lists meriho'nd of direct .rnd indirect sug-
gstion. In some instances the propagandist reveals his aim; in others
he conceals both his own identity and his goal. He may even use
indirect suggestion for a time and then finally reveal his motives.
In the third category he cites a number of methods used to adapt
appeals to the interests, attitudes, and beliefs which people already
havewhich are momentarily active, and which play a significant
role in the life of the person. One common device is to vary the
An Introduction to Public Opinion
In the fourth category he considers various techniques for com-
batting antagonistic doctrines and ideas. One method is. to ignore
the-5anagonist and his opposing ideas, and attempt to create fi.or-
able attitudes by positive suggestion. Another is to use th l mnthi.jd
of-direct frontal attack, employing the technique of neg-iti, rug-
gestiojn t avercome unfavorable attitudes.
A fifth category comprises various devices for reducing th: climiLL
of failure. The propagandist may seek to enhance the prestige of his
cause by having prominent people endorse his ideas or by creating
the impression that large numbers of people approve them. He may
even distort, suppress, or even fabricate to accomplish his purpuce.
Furthermore, he mentions a number of techniques used to trans-
form momentary approval into firm conviction, such as repetition
varying the ppe, an reinForcing the initial acceptance of the idea
with new arguments and new emotional appeals. First impressions
are often lasting, and the propagandist exploits this principle.
Finally, to induce action, the propagandist often specifies clearly
the course of action which he wishes to have taken. Sometimes he
finds that mass appeals are not successful, and confines his efforts
at first to personal appeals, often directed at group leaders lwho may
be better disseminators of ideas than he is.
What Professor Doob is really doing is breaking down the propa-
gandist's methods into a sequence of immediate objectives and clas-
sifying propaganda techniques accordingly. He emphasizes, there-
fore, the necessity for attracting attention, alda i-'Z -I i ~. lic
interests of different groups, combatting unfavorable attitudes,
strengthening favorable attitudes, and inducing action.
This approach is essentially psychological, and follows the tradi-
tional procedure of advertisers. Emphasis is placed upon the use of
suggestion and emotional appeals. It is limited in perspective because
itignoresappeals to reason, and te efi cacylof-logicaLandj-actual
techniques. Although Professor Doob does call attention to a con-
siderable number of techniques customarily employed to mold pub-
lic opinion, his set of principles is an inadequate tool for use in
exploring the broad field of idea di.,emination.
Another well-known student of propaganda, Harold D. Lasswell,
also defines propaganda largely in terms of method.42 For him
propaganda is not simply the propagation of ideas and doctrines, but
The Concept "Propaganda"
propagation of them by certain methods. He writes, "Not bombs
nor bread, but words, pictures, songs, parades, and many similar de-
vices are the typical means of making propaganda. Not the purpose
but the method distinguishes propaganda from the management of
men by violence, bo cot rir and simil means of social con-
trol. Propagan da relics o:n symbol to aLtln i; ,n.- the m.nipub-
tion of c tive attitudes." He goes on to state that."Anybody who
uses representations' to influence collective responses is a propa-
Professor Lasswell's conception is, of course, much broader than
that of Professor Lumley, who restricts the word "propaganda" to
veiled promotion; more inclusive than that of the Institute for Prop-
aganda Analysis, which limits its meaning to undemocratic doc-
trines propagated by means of seven "devices"; and broader even
than the definition of Professor Doob who confines it to the propa-
gation of ideas by means of illogical and emotional appeals. Lass-
well restricts the meaning of the word to the propagation of ideas
by one method, the "manipulation of significant symbols."
Every student of public opinion and propaganda ordinarily limits
his field of investigation. It is not unscientific, for example, to select
for purposes of scientific study propaganda the investigator con-
siders "bad." Nor is there anything scientifically objectionable to
focusing attention upon one or more specific methods of propa-
ganda, such as the manipulation of symbols. Whether it is desirable
to restrict the meaning of propaganda itself, however, to doctrines
propagated by selected methods is another question. As students of
public opinion we wish to know how opinions are formed, and we
can never obtain a complete answer if we start out by defining pub-
lic opinion in terms of selected methods of formation. Similarly, in
the case of propaganda, our problem is to find out how and why
certain ideas spread. Undoubtedlysymbols and representations play
an important role in the process, but not the whole role. Definitions
should not be used to obstruct the vision of social scientists. It is
preferable to select some particular propagandists or propagandistic
organization and study comprehensively and objectively what is ac-
tually done to propagate ideas. Such a procedure is more realistic
and probably more fruitful than simply selecting a particular method
and then trying to find out who uses it, why they do, how, and
An Introduction to Public Opinion
under what circumstances. If the latter course is followed the inves-
tigator will discover a great deal about the particular method and
its application, that is all.
To repeat, to propagandize is merely to propagatr idea and doc-
trines. Objectives, motives, and methods employed are numerous.
Objectives may be specific as in an advertising campaign or general
as in a worldwide philosophical, political, social, or religious reform
movement. They may be socially commendable or rcprehenibleac-/'
cording to the standards by which they are evaluated. Motives may
be concealed or expressed, publicly approved or condemned..Methods
used include the most refined techniques of logical argument, statis-
tical presentation, and citing of authorities; as well as stunts, overt
acts, and subtle types of suggestion designed to arouse the emotions.
Is education propaganda 1 Pr fe .r Lsalsays no. "Education,"
he states, is a process of transmitting skills and acce.ted.aitudes.
Propaganda is the transmission of attitudes tht s rngnie
controversial within a given community." Question! Accpte y
whom? Such a distinction is obviously futile. If ideas are accepted
it is difficult to see why there is any necessity for transmiing the
fopro eating them. Education is something vastly more impor-
tant than the propagation of accepted ideas. It is because certa
have not been accepted that we have our great educational systems.
over, it is by no means clear at allropaganda stems from
controversy. Its genesis would seem to be the urge on the part of
some individual or group to propagate ideas. One significant line of
inquiry is to discover, if possible, the reason for this urge.
Everett Dean Martin undertakes to distinguish education and
propaganda as follows:43
Although the educator and the propagandist are both con-
cerned with the dissemination of information, they have noth-
ing else in common. They use contrary methods and they strive
for opposite goals. The propagandist is interested in what people
think; the educator in how they think. The propagandist has a
definite aim. He strives to convert, to sell, to secure consent, to
prove a case, to support one side of an issue. He is striving for
an effect. He wishes people to come to a conclusion; to accept
his case and to close their minds and act. The educator strives.
for the open mind. He has no case to prove which may not later .
The Concept "Propaganda"
be reversed. He is willing to reconsider, to be experimental, to
hold his conclusion tentatively.
But is this a distinction with a real difference? Is it not true that
the person who is instructing us how to think as well as he who tells
us what to think is propagating ideas, doctrines, principles? In the
one case the ideas propagated may be the tenets of Fascism or Com-
munism; in the other the principles of logic, the open mind, liber-
alism. Moreover, do educators and propagandists use contrary
methods? In propagating the "art of straight thinking" the teacher
frequently uses many of the devices and tricks of the propagandist.
He uses suggestion, authorities, emotional appeals, visual appeals,
devices to gain our attention and inspire us to act. The teacher, the
real educator, has quite as definite an aim as any other type of
propagandist. He strives to convert, to sell, to secure consent, to
prove a case, to gain an effect, to induce us to conclude that the
way to truth is not revelation, nor faith, but reason, the use of one's
mind, the weighing of evidence, the suppression of emotions;
straight thinking. What really distinguishes the educator er
types of propagandists is the mntP- t chis propaganda.
Professor Carl Friedrich virtually comes to this conclusion, al-
though he hesitates to state definitely that education is simply one
type of propaganda.4 He admits that education and propaganda are
closely related, that both undertake to bring about a change in
human attitudes. But, he states: "Propaganda always aims at getting
people either to do or not to do some '.cr particular thing. Educa-
tion, on the other hand, is fuindamentallv concerned \ ith molding.
and developing a human being in terms of an ideal, as far a-s his
nature allows it." And g.in, "All these efforts to mold human
beings according to ,.cone ideal, according -o ,.omre %randard of what
is good, beautiful, and just, constitute genuine education."
Professor Friedrich has really narrowed the distinction to this: the
propagation of a comprehensive philosophy of life is education; the
propagation of less inclusive ideas, doctrines, and principles is propa,
ganda. But how may we distinguish between the propagation of a
world view and the propagation of segments of it? It would seem
that Professor Friedrich's argument really leads to the conclusion
that education is one type of propaganda. And this result is not so
An Introduction to Public Opinion
alarming after all. We may summarize the relationship between
the two asfplnlows:
I. To proLpagandize is to propagate ideas and doctrines to at-
tempt deliberately to influence the minds of other people
2. Education is merely one type of propaganda. To educate is
toinstill certain attitudes into the mitIo ot hers, a philosophy .
ift ou \ ill, of man's mind and hlo\ to use it.
To say that the educator is not attempting to influence "the opin-
ions and actions of other people toward a predetermined end" is a
statement contrary to fact. Every educator is a philosopher of educa-
tion itself, advocating educational ideals which he is deliberately and
dogmatically seeking to inculcate in the minds of students. In order
to emphasize the propagandistic character of education we need only
review some of these ideals.
i. Social progress is essentially a matter of individual growth,
development, and improvement. It is not so much a question of
"what is good for society" as "what is good for the individual."
2. Individual, and therewith social, progress depends upon man's
capacity to use his mind-upon his reasoning process, rather than
upon blind faith or revelation.
3. The educator advocates, among other things, training in log-
ical process of thought; careful testing of assumptions; respect for
scholarship and objectivity; modesty and tolerance.
The educator need not cringe when confronted with the label
propaganda. His objective approach to the study of current social
problems is merely another evidence that he practices what he
The Art of Propaganda
W ITH the possible exception of the San Francisco World's Fair
the New York World's Fair of 1939 is probably the master-
piece of the modern art of propaganda. Not one propagandist, but
thousands, are cooperating to promote "the greatest show on earth."
They are using every technique and strategy available to capture and
captivate public opinion. Incidentally this gigantic propaganda en-
terprise gives us a glimpse of the art of propaganda in the World of
The Fair corporation, operating under the legal status of an edu-
cational institution, made its official debut on September 23, i935.45
Broadly speaking, the objectives of its propaganda campaign are
twofold: (i) to induce people to attend the fair and pay their admis-
sion fees; (2) to propagate the doctrine of the American Way of
Life as of 1939. For the sake of convenience we may consider the
propaganda techniques of the New York World's Fair of 1939 under
four headings: (i) the strati ,f .plpliit., () th -rgy nf or-
ganization, (3) the stratc-v of iruarncumeint,a ( i) thi rr rcy.
Pro.pa.ianda. if it i: ro ir o -,\ l ['read. must bc pcjcciv.Li Re_-
gardless 0f it ci.onten it imut be brouie, t to the attcnitior, -F rhe
public. Hence the emphasis which is placed upon the'strategy of
publicity-thlc e fort to: u.cl t:,j adajntfe all a\ailablle instrument: ',
opinion dissemination. The facilities for doing this are much more
numerous a'iid -ffetive today than ever before. They include the
press, the radio, motion pictures, theatres, the edlratinnnl system nit,
exhibits, the pulpit, and countless others. The World's Fair corpora-
tion has been exceptionally successful in exploiting the channels of
communication and doing it free of charge for the most part.
Assisting Grover Whalen the corporation has a large staff of spe-
cialists directing the more important phases of its publicity cam-
paign. To this number should be added many specialists employed
by various groups and organizations participating in the Fair. Every
An Introduction to Public Opinion
conceivable medium is employed to transmit the Fair's message.
There is a department of the press organized along the lines of a
newspaper city desk with an expert staff of editors and subeditors.
A special foreign editor services the great national press organs of
five continents. Press releases are translated into the leading lan-
guages of the world. The department has a paid clipping service in
practically every country. And it has been estimated that the grand
total of international newspaper publicity alone will fill an entire
24-page newspaper every weekday for a year.
All in all, the press department serves directly some 2,000 daily
papers in the United States, 3,000 biweeklies, 300 foreign-language
papers, and 1,500 papers abroad. A squad of photographic editors
have disseminated thousands of different pictures of the Fair. Tele-
type machines are used to broadcast publicity in the New York area.
Probably no press bureau in the country has a more efficient mat and
plate service than this dynamic department of the World's Fair.
A feature publicity bureau services more than 1,700 magazines of
every description and prepares articles which serve as speeches for
members of national and local advisory committees. A radio division
sponsors international and domestic broadcasts, including the "Salute
of Nations" program which links together several hundred broad-
casting stations throughout the world. The bureau of newsreels pro-
jects and distributes hundreds of subjects over the newsreel circuits
of the country, a number exceeding that of any other project in the
history of newsreels. A speakers' bureau provides speakers and lec-
turers for all sorts of occasions.
These illustrations suffice to give some indication of the scope and
nature of World's Fair publicity via the more familiar channels of
communication. Except for salaries, office expenses, and a few inci-
dentals, this parade of publicity is obtained free of charge. These
media by no means exhaust the possibilities, however, as the experi-
ence of the Fair shows. Special mention should be made of the use
of "collateral" advertising, supplementary publicity donated by in-
dividuals and groups cooperating directly or indirectly in the enter-
The American Sales Book Company prints from 12,000,000 to
15,000,000 business forms daily, stamped with the Fair emblem. The
American Sugar Refining Company publicizes the Fair on the wrap-