Friday, December 21, 2007

Polls, polls, Every day we hear about polls. Here is one you never hear about. The worst poll ever taken!!!!

Alf Landon 1887-1987. Ran for President in 1936 against Franklin D. Roosevelt.

This was one of the most highly respected magazines of the time. Known for its polls for President. They had polled every election since shortly before World War One and were always right.

How could it have happened? A great magazine that was highly regarded for its accuracy and quality announced in 1936 that Alf Landon was going to beat FDR in the race for President.
Roosevelt was not liked by many......
In fact I will always will remember a cartoon I saw from a magazine of the 1930's. It had a kid writing on a sidewalk the name Roosevelt in chalk, and a boy yelling inside to his father..."Pa, Someone just wrote a dirty word on the sidewalk"...

So in 1936 many were very upset about the New Deal, The Supreme Court, The alphabet programs, Social Security and FDR in general. So when Landon tossed his hat into the ring many thought the days of Roosevelt were numbered. That is when The Literary Digest started their polling of people around the USA.

They took polls, and more polls. In fact they had polled more people than one would imagine. They had polled nearly 2 million people!!!
They used subscribers,telephone listings and Auto registrations as a way to contact people. Most of their polling was done on the phone. They would call people and get their ideas on the two candidates.

By doing this they saw there was a massive swing towards Landon.

So it proclaimed that Landon would indeed be the next President of the United States and defeat Franklin D. Roosevelt. They had done that since 1916, and were always right.

Roosevelt won of course with a great landslide. In fact Roosevelt's electoral votes were the greatest since when James Monroe had run for President in 1820 unopposed! Landon won 2 states Maine and Vermont and received 8 electoral votes.

This let to a fun twist on an old saying that went..."As Maine goes, so goes the nation"...James Farley the head of the 1936 Democratic convention changed the saying to "As Maine goes, so goes Vermont."

How could the Literary Digest have gotten it so wrong?????

There is an easy answer, that is not so well understood today. As you recall I mentioned that most of the polling was done by telephone, and also subscribers to the magazine. Also to a lesser extent as I mentioned they used auto registration info to contact people. So you may say...So what? What was odd about that and how could they have been so wrong?

The answer is we were in the grips of a great depression, massive unemployment, banks failing, companies going out of business and the like.

Most people were not well off at that time and did not have phones, cars, or subscribed to fancy magazines.

In fact that was a major part of the population at the time. These people tended to vote Democratic, while many of the more affluent tended to vote Republican.

What the Literary Digest did was just basically poll Republicans! Therefore, in their very unfortunate and narrow view they saw Landon a winner. It was a defeat for Landon, but death to the Literary Digest. It lost all credibility and folded within 2 years.

An interesting sideline to this is that while the election of 1936 destroyed the Literary Digest and its polls, it gave a new polling group called The American Institute of Public Opinion and their Gallup poll a start.
As George Gallup correctly predicted the correct results of the race by polling only 5,000 people, and not by phone.