This is both a history book and a book on public opinion. George Gallup, who pioneered survey sampling methods and whose name in fact became synonymous with public opinion polls, conducted his first survey in 1936. The main part of this book starts there as well. Dedicating a chapter to each decade from the 1930s to the present, Seltzer discusses historical events of the period and what the U.S. public thought of those events according to Gallup polls and other public opinion surveys. Each chapter is divided into the following categories: world events; U.S. politics; race; sex and gender; the economy; science, technology and the environment; and popular trends. Within each chapter, approximately 40 survey questions were chosen for more extended analysis: breaking down the results by race, age, gender, education, region, and political party.
Richard Seltzer is professor of political science at Howard University.
1. 1930s: The Great Depression and the Start of World War II
2. 1940s: World War II and the Onset of the Cold War
3. 1950s: Anti-Communism, Relative Economic Prosperity at Home and a Growing Cold War Abroad
4. 1960s: Era of Protest: Civil rights, Vietnam, and Counterculture
5. 1970s: Watergate, Normalization of Relations with China, Continuing Social and Political Protest, the Growth of International Terrorism, and Stagflation
6. 1980s: Ronald Reagan, the Fall of the Berlin Wall, the Soviet War in Afghanistan and AIDS
7. 1990s: The Collapse of the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia, the First Gulf War, the Genocide in Rwanda, Bill Clinton, and the Rise of the Internet
8. 2000s: Decade of 9/11, the Iraqi War, The Great Recession, and the Election of Barack Obama
9. 2010s: War against ISIS, the Tea Party, Black Lives Matter, Brexit, and the Election of Donald Trump
10. 2020: Covid-19, the Killing of George Floyd and Protests, An Attempt to Overthrow an Election
Appendix 1: Preamble to Gallup History
About the Author
Those political scientists who subscribe to Max Weber’s position that “politics is a strong and slow boring of hard boards" know how refreshing it is when an author undertakes a study because they "simply want to have fun" (p. 7). Through his study of public opinion surveys from the 1930s to today on world events, US politics, economics, science, technology, the environment, and popular trends, Seltzer has created an interesting and frequently surprising tour of Americans' thinking over time. The constants are a suspicion bordering on paranoia of communist influence, ambivalence toward labor unions, distrust of the media, and a reluctance to move quickly on racial progress. Americans have, however, dramatically altered their views on LGBTQ+ issues, women’s rights, and environmentalism in response to contextual changes. Seltzer does not take a position on whether the public is “rational." He writes, "Some members of the public are relatively rational, others not so much" (p. 222). He focuses his analysis on teasing out what Americans have believed, not why they believed it. Recommended. All readership levels.
The social sciences owe Richard Seltzer a huge debt of gratitude for US Public Opinion since the 1930s: Galluping through History. His thoughtful filtering of public issues and careful analysis of what appears to be millions of data points has produced an intriguing and politically exhaustive picture of how the practice of survey research, the range of public voices on vital issues, and the most prominent historical events come together to explain the nuances of American democracy and public policy. This book sheds new light on many of the shelved issues in America’s past, and it is friendly reading for both academics and non-scholars alike. From anti-lynching bills in the 1930s to the insurrection at the US Capitol on January 6th, 2021, this book asks what America was thinking at various points in our past and questions whether we are thinking enough about our future.
The Great Depression, World War II, McCarthyism, the Civil Rights Movement, women’s rights, sexuality, the Vietnam War; US Public Opinion Since the 1930s is a reference work everyone interested in public opinion’s place in recent American history should have in their library. Seltzer intersects survey research and history, offering a creative contribution to historical studies and public opinion research.
Seltzer has written a delightful book reviewing Gallup polls from the dawn of modern polling in the 1930s to the present day. This work is comprehensive with examples from all decades as well as analysis of the significance of several public policy cases. The examples include pre-World War II foreign policy, the Vietnam War, sports, cultural issues, the coronavirus, and more. The book is well worth reading for a perspective of American public opinion as seen through many years of polling.
Measuring public opinion has been an earnest if at times elusive pursuit. In US Public Opinion since the 1930s, Seltzer offers an impressively thorough and detail-rich examination of that pursuit, in what is a far-reaching and revealing account of the extensive history of survey research in America.
Online supplemental texts available to view for US Public Opinion since the 1930s: Galluping through History by Richard Seltzer.
Appendix 2: Crosstabs and Discussion
Appendix 3: List of Questions Used in Crosstabs