Born: Eagle Pass, TX 1915
Died: Washington, DC 2005
Education: University of Texas, 1938
Joe Belden became interested in opinion sampling while working in the late 1930s as a student editor at the Daily Texan, the newspaper of the University of Texas at Austin. In an effort to learn as much as possible about the science of public opinion sampling, he wrote to George Gallup and received a response that included detailed instructions about conducting valid public opinion surveys.
Belden was born to Mexican-American parents in Texas and did not learn English until the age of nine. Because he knew that a young Mexican-American with only school-related experience would have trouble attracting clients, he took it upon himself to organize a survey of opinions related to the 1938 Democratic gubernatorial primary. He paid for the polling himself and had the results notarized and sealed, then took the results to the editor of the venerable Dallas Morning News after the election was over. The editor was impressed, and in 1940 the Dallas Morning News became the first client of Belden’s newly founded Texas Poll, the first statewide opinion survey and a model for others that followed. Some of Belden's fascinating early polling work (before enlisting after Pearl Harbor) can be viewed here in the Belden Collection.
During World War II, Belden served as a Navy officer in Panama and Washington. He continued work at Belden Associates, his survey research business based in Austin, after the war ended. Through a company he founded in Mexico in 1947, he devised the nation’s first radio and television ratings system. Belden moved to Dallas in 1952 to expand into commercial market research, specializing in readership surveys for various U.S. newspapers. He later sold his interest in Belden Associates and retired in 1980.
Belden passed away in 2005 due to Parkinson’s disease.