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Why the 1936 Literary Digest Poll Failed

Peverill Squire
The Public Opinion Quarterly
Vol. 52, No. 1 (Spring, 1988), pp. 125-133
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2749114
Page Count: 9
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Why the 1936 Literary Digest Poll Failed
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Abstract

The Literary Digest poll of 1936 holds an infamous place in the history of survey research. Despite its importance, no empirical research has been conducted to determine why the poll failed. Using data from a 1937 Gallup survey which asked about participation in the Literary Digest poll I conclude that the magazine's sample and the response were both biased and jointly produced the widly incorrect estimate of the vote. But, if all of those who were polled had responded, the magazine would have, at least, correctly predicted Roosevelt the winner. The current relevance of these findings is discussed.

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