OPINION: The Black & White Beans

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Since 1939, Gallup's Audience Research Inc. (TIME, Oct. 13) has been pre-testing movie titles, scripts and casts for Hollywood producers, can now predict for nervous movie magnates the final box-office draw within 3%. Last fall a similar setup was organized to measure the pulling power of radio stars (top draw in both by the Gallup yardstick: Bing Crosby). The full Gallup empire takes an annual operating budget of around $750,000 a year, maintains offices in Princeton, Manhattan and Los Angeles, requires a staff of 1,200 part-time interviewers for the Gallup Poll alone.

"What the People Desire." Pollster Gallup is not unaware of the impact which all these rulers, yardsticks and thermometers have had on the workings of democracy. In his own defense, he likes to quote a phrase of Lincoln's: "What I want to get done is what the people desire to have done, and the question for me is how to find that out exactly."

But finding that out exactly presupposes that the people know exactly—and will say so. Can his supposedly unweighted questions draw sufficiently weighty answers? Gallup can cite example after example to indicate that they can and do. On his own ratings the people were three months ahead of Congress on the draft in 1940, nine months ahead on repeal of the neutrality embargo, two years ahead on spreading the income-tax burden from 4 to 40 million U.S. citizens. They advocated revision of the Wagner Act long before Congress passed the Taft-Hartley law. If Congress were legislating according to Gallup Poll preferences, the U.S. would now have universal military training, price control, rationing, direct election of the President and a 49th state (Hawaii).

The commonest criticism of Gallup's political polls has been that they start a bandwagon for the candidate who happens to be leading in the poll. Gallup's answer to that is to point to Harold Stassen, who did not reach the top of the poll until after he won in Wisconsin.

The argument over whether public-opinion polls are good or bad for a democracy has become somewhat academic —they are obviously here to stay. They can find out what the people, who rule a democracy, think and want. But a democracy also needs leadership by men who must frequently tell the people why a popular notion—no matter how widely held—can be wrong.

* For those people who wonder why they have never been interviewed by a Gallup pollster, Gallup has worked out a mathematical answer: at 3,000 interviews a fortnight, it would take him 450 years to get around to everybody.

** Britain, France, Australia, Canada, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Norway, Brazil, The Netherlands and Italy (where the Doxa pollsters called the Communist vote within 4% a fortnight ago).

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