This episode is from the WNYC archives. It may contain language which is no longer politically or socially appropriate.
Irita Van Doren introduces Elmo Roper, a leader in the then-new field of market research. He discusses the "near-science" of public opinion research. He speaks on two themes - probability and sampling and semantics: asking the "right" sort of questions. He speaks on many issues that are informed by public opinion research - particularly political and social issues related to the Cold War.
Next, Van Doren, introduces Edna Ferber, novelist and playwright. She discusses her time spent in Alaska and her novel "Ice Palace." She goes on to talk about the "Angry Young Men." She goes on to share the thoughts of an "angry old woman," mentioning that while millions are spent in an effort to send man in to space, school teachers remain poorly paid. She speaks at length about the concept of being part of humankind.
Finally, Van Doren introduces John Gunther, author of the "Inside" series of continental surveys. For this Books and Authors Luncheon Gunther discusses his most recent work, "Inside Russia Today." Gunther speaks of some of the surprises he found in Russia - no golf courses! He then tells a short antidote about another writer, Walter Duranty, who thought he had seen Trotsky being sent into exile, but late learned that it was only an actor. He speaks of Kruschev's drinking and notes that he and his wife were no followed (to their knowledge) during their 51 days in the country.
Audio courtesy of the NYC Municipal Archives WNYC Collection
WNYC archives id: 71267
Municipal archives id: LT7933
This is a machine-generated transcript. Text is unformatted and may contain errors.
Lou the public probably think of Elmo role by our first speaker today as a public opinion researcher and analyst live and it's in that capacity that he makes his living but his time and effort in the extraordinary measure go also into things with which you probably are not so likely to associate him he is a member of the board of the National Urban League he worked on Connecticut's Civil Rights Commission as an appointee of Governor Chester bogles he succeeded Justice Roberts as president of the Atlantic union committee a group that is striving for greater cooperation along political economic and cultural lines among the Western democracies use a hard working chairman of the board of the front for the Republic and blabbering with his fellow members in that distinguished group to fulfill the purpose of the fund that is to walk home the fundamental freedoms granted to us under the Constitution whenever and wherever they may be threatened for twenty or more years however he and his associates have been engaged in finding out and recording the attitudes of the public toward issues and against the background of these public opinion analyses at one time conducted a weekly column in The Herald Tribune and for four years a weekly radio program called Why are the people standing in these and other articles and broadcast we discussed what the public on labor and business on world peace on political activity and in election years the problem is Americans regarded as most important and the personalities they favored and why. Now. On the basis of I'm given to skillfully and objective questions we have a record of the reactions of the public to the issues of the day and to the man preeminently identified with. The. Record twenty. Nine Man. And I somehow on this. Story have never had. It as a result Teligent use of a new to public opinion research developed by Apollo. A man who has seen its value not only for history but in the better functioning of the democratic process. Mrs Van Doren distinguished guests ladies and gentlemen. I'm not going to talk about my book today but I would like to talk about the science or if you prefer the near sign made that book possible and I'd like to start with a premise go directly to a hypothesis and from there into an argument and if I can get outside of all of that in the few minutes at my disposal as well as our distinguished guest Mr Gunn to get inside of everything I settle for that. I suppose that democracy is a philosophy of political organization that has always faced challenges from within and perils from without but I suspect that history will record that it's never faced more of a challenge to improve itself from within. And more of a peril from an avian antagonistic political philosophy without then it does not on their part seems to me important that anything that might contribute to the better functioning of a democracy should be better understood by all of us I'm I think in the key to better functioning of a democracy is more knowledge and I mean on the one hand more knowledge by all of our people about part of goes on in the world who lives in the world what their problems are how they think what they fear and on the other hand a greater nominees on the part of our own educators and other leaders as to the choir that lies behind man's behavior and I submit that public opinion research is an important tool for this improvement a little understood truth perhaps perhaps not yet quite a science but with definite possibilities in the about those that I want to talk. I'm not going to bore you with trying to tell you how public opinion research is conducted I'm sure you all know that basically it rests on two important legs one a statistical one having to do with the laws of probability and sampling and one a psychological one or if you prefer a semantic one having to do with how do you ask questions properly twenty six years ago when this field was just starting we found it very difficult to talk to anybody about the laws of probability except people who had been trained in one or another of the natural sciences now today I find that everybody is an authority on the laws of probability just the other day I heard about a woman and one that. Went into the hospital in Chicago to have a baby and she had instead of a baby triplets. And a week later her friends from the one that were down visiting her and they were property appreciative of these three babies the right number of zero. And the mother showed that she had a good deal of enthusiasm to pointing out that each one was a physically perfect specimen and one point in the conversation she said I just think girls this is the sort of thing that only happens once in every seventeen thousand six hundred twelve times upon one of our friends says Good heavens Mary how did you ever find time to get your housework done. I'm not. I'm not sure that the other part of our nearest science. I'm not sure the other part of our inner science is well on this does that's the art of question asking I might illustrate that with a story about public opinion or search for in a Latin American country you apparently got fed up with election predictions because they came rather frequently in this Latin American country and some of the political customs made predictions difficult there so he joined a monastery and he persuaded persuaded a good friend of his to go with him and they've been there about a week and the friend said. So you know what it's all right to smoke while you're praying here and the public defender search for being a newcomer and said Well I don't know we said want to go when I asked the head man he'll tell you so much you medicine man came back a very chastened individual and said Well was I definitely off base it is not alright to smoke while you're praying. Well so the public opinion researcher I'm not sure you phrased the question properly let me try. So he went over and phrased the question this way is it all right to pray how you're smoking. I think another illustration might be. A mechanical calculating machine might call I definitely the same statements in which I suspect most of you would for example suppose a man looked into his wife's face and said Darling when I gaze on your Face Time Stands Still Now this calculating machine might conclude that the other statement was the same but if it were face my yes I'm sure the wife might not think so that phrasing would be wife your face would stop a clock. And I don't want to talk about the intricacies of how this is done rather I'd like to talk about what I see as it should be in a democracy and I think that is free for. First it can make the common man articulate second it can explore the areas of ignorance and third it can I think provide material that will let historians write better histories in the future I'm not going to talk about the third one I'll let the book speak for that because that's what I have tried to do in the book now you might say why is it important to have the common man articulate what I think the three reasons in the first place the common man is frequently ahead of his elected leaders I want to quote part of a majority to give aid to Britain before Congress was willing to before we entered the war or the majority were willing to accept the draft as a fair means of dividing the load before Congress was and today the public is prepared to vote for foreign aid. Rather with more readiness than apparently some of the people who vote taxes they also indicate that they're willing to pay the taxes to have that I mean you know the reason why the common man should be articulate is that he's very frequently misrepresented as a result of the being assigned to him now in our purpose to society we hear frequently that the labor union man thinks this or thinks that I will vote this way or that way or that Catholics or that Methodists think this or think that or we'll both this or that way or that the American Legion thinks this or that when I research a sign no such thing as a Labor vote or a Catholic vote or a Methodist or an American Legion vote on any issue on which the general public is five fifty five forty five percent it's a rare thing to find any single group that will go above sixty forty percent or at most sixty five thirty five and that can hardly be called Box Voting Another thing I think it's important to articulate him is that he can correct any misapprehensions there might be on the part of any elected leaders as to what kind of a mandate they have after all the one of the polling booths we have a choice between candidate Jones and candidate Smith and on balance we decide in favor of JONES But we wish candidate Jones did not have plank in his platform and we have no way of writing a little P.S. after our ballot saying but please Mr Jones I voted for you on balance leave plank it alone I don't like it he can be articulated through public opinion research to say that we can find out for example the mandate that Eisenhower was given in one thousand nine hundred fifty two when he was elected not through the ballot box but through public opinion research what was that mandate one continually internationalist policies of the past ten years. To end the Korean War quickly three don't undo any of the social gains of the New Deal but don't press for any new ones for don't verify our present fear that the Republican Party is the party of depression and I mean Point and five do the best you can to reconstruct and liberalized the Republican Party that was the mandate obtainable only as I see it through public opinion research and I'm not trying to argue for director Mark or see I don't think the voice of man is necessarily the voice of God anymore than you are. The second use and I think more important is to explore the areas of ignorance among us if we're going to have a successful democracy it seems to me it's dependent on the constantly elevating intelligence quotient of the people I'm not just talking about areas of ignorance that rather we gasp back such as that in a recent survey one third of the voters in the state with a very high literacy rate could not name either of their senators or that about forty percent of the nation as a whole didn't know how many senators each state have now are about the fact that only thirty four percent of the people two years ago could name the man who delivered the sermon on the Mount I'm talking rather about some other things such as that of those people who are well informed about today's foreign aid bill sixty two percent want to pass I would those who are not well informed only forty six percent I'm talking about exploring where the areas of ignorance. Do lie in the direction for example of people believing in the essential difference in the US of men of different color as opposed to the essential sameness of men of different cultures or do they find the mistaken belief that we can have foreign trade by selling only and not by buying. Or do they lie in the mistaken belief that a college degree is important only to increase the paycheck and not important in making what we need so badly the truly learned math and I think through this tool we can do a lot of things to help the educators better educate we might even be able to find out ways of changing the folks status about the learned man. Maybe Sputnik as a spirit or maybe we can find a way somehow of making the learned man the truly rounded learned man as well respected in our folk status as a good baseball player or the winner of a quiz show or the maker of a missile maybe some time we can get people to realize that this no education is not just education in how to make missiles but education in you know how to run our democracy better through a better form of political science after all I think we would all agree that Chris shaft is probably a greater menace than that man who made who discovered the secret of the atomic bomb for Russia and it seems to me that now out of the physical sciences I found a way of destroying my completely and quickly it's up to the political scientists to find a way of trying to make man not want to do that and I think that in the process of this education towards this Learned Man this thing that we do call public opinion research. Can Lead us a little bit toward not just survival which is certainly a problem we're faced with but more important for them than survival and growth so it's a better form of democracy the riches of which will be apparent to everyone on the Earth thank you very much. When Edna was seventeen and just out of high school she got herself a three dollar a week job as a reporter on the Appleton Wisconsin Crescent. At the time she had reached the Chicago Tribune in her newspaper career she had published a short story and written a novel which I model rescued from the discard and sent to a publisher it sold ten thousand copies and Ms further was launched on a new career Edna Ferber has never written for prostrated intellectuals she hates snobbery she respects work she likes people Irish the Jews the thins the Hunkies all who have enriched our land in scrubs and culture her amateurs me a traveling salesman subject of a long series of stories has been an American folk character for more than a third of a century her showboat much loved on Broadway in the movies and on radio has become a folk classic. Her play is often written in collaboration with Judge Houseman then I ate the royal family stage door had been happy spirit inches both for her and for the delighted thousands who have seen her autobiography A peculiar treasure was an extraordinarily honest and revealing account of the growth of a Middle Western Democrat with a small Dean who became a spare fabulous later successful writer on novels have covered the whole panorama of America. The Midwest in so big the opening of Oklahoma in summer own Connecticut Valley in American Beauty common get it told the story of the lumber kings of the Northwest land the ANA and New York with the railroad was of the eighteen eighties form the basis for Saratoga truck great sun was a chronicle of four generations in a Seattle family and giant a picture of Texas stirred up a strawman that complacent state matched only by the hullabaloo around here when Mr by in a ship saw the interview describe New York as a disgustingly filthy safe as indeed over. Now in her new novel Ice Palace Mr has turned to Alaska to the task of depicting that great little known line and she has brought the keen eye of a reporter the star research of a conscientious workman and the vividness of first hand acquaintance through sue for long visits to Alaska including one trip over the North Pole. Add to these the sympathies arouse by a fifty year history of injustice and a genuine liking for the modern vigorous people of the territory who are still fighting for their status this no