Powell on Revisiting Public Opinion Polls From the 30s and 40s (PS: Political Science & Politics)

Abstract: Studies of mass political attitudes and behavior before the 1950s have been limited by a lack of high-quality, individual-level data. Fortunately, data from public opinion polls conducted during the late New Deal and World War II periods are available, although the many difficulties of working with these data have left them largely untouched for over 60 years. We compiled and produced readily usable computer files for over 400 public opinion polls undertaken between 1936 and 1945 by the four major survey organizations active during that period. We also developed a series of weights to ameliorate the problems introduced by the quota-sampling procedures employed at the time. The corrected data files and weights were released in May 2011. In this article, we briefly discuss the data and weighting procedures and then present selected time series determined using questions that were repeated on 10 or more surveys. The time series provide considerable leverage for understanding the dynamics of public opinion in one of the most volatile—and pivotal—eras in American history.