On August 14, 1968, Elmo Roper was interviewed by Bob Carlson, director of public opinion research for Standard Oil Company, as part of an intended series of AAPOR/Roper Center interviews with leading figures in polling. Over the course of nearly two hours, Roper spoke candidly about the origins of market and public opinion research, his work for Fortune magazine, the war years, the 1948 election fiasco, and much more. Rich with insight and anecdote, this conversation shed light on the factors that affected the development of public opinion research in its early years.
The recordings from that interview are now available below.
Roper discusses his beginnings at the Traub company and the founding of a new company with Richardson Wood and Paul T. Cherington. He describes the first time he heard the term “market research” from Wood.
Roper discusses the birth of “public opinion” work in a survey done for a water company in Savannah and the founding of the Fortune Survey under their auspices. The Fortune Survey and Gallup formed the first “scientific” attempts at sampling in 1935. In 1936, the third major polling outfit was born when Archibald Crossley was hired by Hearst Publications to conduct polls.
During the 1936 election, Roper’s success overcame newspapers’ skepticism of the new polling techniques and made the industry viable in the eyes of the public. Questions of survey design and question wording were already becoming an area of focus.
Roper describes the dissolution of Wood, Cherington and Roper, as well as his hopes for polling to be an educational guide and a tool for investment bankers to judge likely successes and failures in new products.
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