Paper presented at the 63rd Annual Conference of World Association for Public Opinion Research (WAPOR), May 11-13, 2010, Chicago, IL, USA. The conference theme is “Opportunity through Diversity.”

Time to Go Beyond Demography in Reporting Public Opinion[1]

Hans L Zetterberg, ValueScope, Bromma, Sweden


Demographic Background Categories

To the first generation of pollsters, the categories of age, sex, and (in the United States) race became what latitude and longitude are to geographers: stable references into which researcher place new discoveries. These categories became the backbone of so-called quota sampling, this dominated opinion research for many years. In the more sophisticated so-called probability sampling, the quotas of age, sex, and race were retained and formed the grid for routine so-called “post-stratification,” a weighting procedure to make an achieved sample more like its population. The writers of polling questionnaires call the same categories “background questions.” In statistical analysis of public opinion, the same categories became standard table heads. In the reporting of opinions they were sometimes imbued with causal meanings; differences in opinions were “explained” by demographics. Demographics trapped the whole field of opinion research in its categories.

The pollsters’ use of statistical samples of discrete individuals and demographic units of analysis, rather than real communities, publics, and groups, was the most serious criticism leveled at the young polling enterprise in the middle of the Twentieth Century. Public opinion, said the critics, evolves in networks, sometimes with media input, but never in demographic categories of unconnected individuals. This critique, most effectively advanced by Chicago sociologist Herbert Blumer  (1948), is still valid. It gives opinion research in national samples limited relevance for a serious study of actual social and political opinion processes. A few demographic “background variables,” such as age, sex, education and residence, do not point to necessary links to relevant publics in society engaged in discussions. To talk of demographic variables as causes that can explain public opinions from informal discussions in networks are clearly misleading.

Merton´s Approximation: opinions in status-sequences, status-sets and role-sets

To some extent, Robert K Merton (1957, 224-230) redeemed the use of demographics in opinion research in his concepts of status-sequences, status-sets, and role-sets, one reason why he belatedly received his Helen Dinerman Award from WAPOR. These concepts are illustrated in Figure 1. The past and present positions and the current role-set may have drawn an individual into contacts with special opinions. The Mertonian approximation is familiar to pollsters: Persons with similar status-sets, status sequences, and role-sets tend to have similar opinions.

The notion of a status-set gives some theoretical relevance to the demographics included in every opinion poll. A rule of thumb in opinion research is that people with the same status-set (age, sex, occupation, education, marital status, urban-rural residence) have similar opinions. Pollsters sometimes add religion and ethnicity to this list. If some respondents, nevertheless, do have different opinions, we use a second Mertonian rule of thumb, namely that they have gone through different status-sequences. Here, among other factors, are parent’s class, ethnicity, religious affiliation, union membership, military service, showing an impact on current opinions. Merton's use of demography related opinion research to social theory.

In the study of opinion by demographic categories, education stands out as the main correlative to most opinions. Hyman and Wright (1979) were first to convincingly document this. According to some analysts, this finding shows the importance of class on opinion formation, thinking that education is a class variable. However, when survey researchers use individual income (or household income), a basic indication of class position, the correlations with a great variety of opinions are among the most subdued of all so-called background factors. A likely explanation is, that education, including its very milieu of high school and campus, enhances our ability to use symbols in thinking and acting. With this ability, our opinions depart from those with lower education.

If people with similar status-sets and status-sequences have, still, widely different opinions, pollsters may apply a third rule of thumb that says it is likely that they have different role-sets, that is, associates representing different views of the world influence them. In an election period, for example, they may ask questions of their respondents about opinion climates among friends and workmates.

While these steps go a bit on the way to accounting for variations in public opinion, they do not go all the way. Large variations of public opinions are not explained by the Mertonian concepts from the status and role theory. This residual may actually represent a most dynamic aspect of human living (Cicourel 1974). Here we deal with a remarkable quality of homo sapiens: a person’s scanning for clues in every encounter, defining and redefining situations, searching justifications of actions taken, all in an effort to elaborate his or her lifestyle and realize his or her cardinal and cultural values.

Old-fashioned network opinions recur as central in most modern theories of state, legitimacy, and democracy. They appear under various tags, for example, “participatory democracy” in several versions from de Tocqueville (1864-1866/1998-2001), “participatory principles” (Rawls 1971, 36-37), “deliberate democracy” (Benhabib 1996), and above all in so called “discourse theory.” The latter is a model of democracy presented by Habermas (1965). It assumes that communication flows through both the parliamentary bodies and the informal networks of the public sphere, arenas in which rational opinion formation and democratic decision-making can take place.

For all of these conceptions of democracy, the pollsters’ “public opinion by demography” is largely ignorable, while “public opinion by networks” is highly relevant. For the latter, sophisticated theories of democracy, the success since the 1930s of George Gallup's and Elmo Roper’s public opinion by demography appears as a problematic departure, with no or few arrivals at the current frontiers of knowledge.

To become more relevant pollsters should use background factors that go beyond demography. I will suggest three different ones and give informal indications of the kind of opinions they may capture. I will also use my knowledge of social theory to try to anticipate what kinds of opinions they may highlight and to provide a first aid in analyzing them.

First New Non-Demographic Background Category:
Societal Realms and their Lifestyles

Societal realms (or life areas) are categories such as art, religion, morality, science, economy, and the body politic. These categories are languge-dependent, and, unlike demographic categories they have no counterpart in the animal kingdom. The can often be approximately construed from demography by a careful coding of occupations and spare time activities, particularly with follow-up questions of the type “Just what do you do on your job?” However, we will probably get the best results by skipping demography and instead use a battery of questions on lifestyles. By cluster analyzes we can delineate the respondents who are learning buffs (and thus stand for the realm of science), money-centered (in thus stand firmly in the realm of economy), civic-minded (in the body politic), aesthetes, believers, and compassionates (in the realms of art, religion, and morality, respectively).
Such background variables cannot be measured by a single question but need a battery of interview questions. This will undoubtedly delay their introduction in polling practices. However, with the increasing use of Internet panels such variables will be manageable, since they have to be asked and scored only once for each panelists who then will be interviewed many times on numerous issues.

Opinions of the Learning Buffs

Learning buffs are drawn to education and science. You find them in libraries and as students in adult evening courses. Their opinions are of the type:

“We want know more about X.”

“We did it so that we would not to lose out about information about X.”

These opinions are typical among those who practice the life style of Learning Buffs. Thus, in everyday life they may justify our subscription to the weekly gossip, news or science magazine and they may justify a quick report of our change of address to the subscription office to ensure we keep receiving the magazine by referring to the search for knowledge. To learn a foreign language and to keep it usable is also justified in this manner.

Coding aid: Learning Buffs have developed the search for knowledge into a lifestyle. They have dedicated their lives to learning ever more. Their self-image is shaped by how much they know. We find them in libraries, in study groups, at the bookstore shelf for non-fiction, in archives, and in laboratories. For them, learning is not a phase in life: it is a life-long mission. They are exceptionally eager to uncover facts and connections are their discourses. They subscribe to journals such as Scientific American and National Geographic or their counterparts in other countries. On Internet they were the first to use and develop the Wikipedia. In their reading they prefer non-fiction to fiction, and in their viewing they prefer documentaries to plays. They are attracted to education and to the realm of science. (Zetterberg 2009, Vol 1, p 41)

The amount of knowledge available in the modern world is unprecedented. Curiosity instilled in formal schooling competes with inspirations from institutions outside the educational system, i.e. “the school of hard knocks,” and from “the school of social media,” as well as from conventional mass media.

The reputation of the source of information often enters into learned opinions. An appeal to a statement from a scholar or an intellectual who, within a field of knowledge, is well reputed for his or her competence is a better justification for a belief than an appeal to a controversial scholar or to an amateur scholar or to an intellectual with known biases.

Opinions of the Money-Centered

“We did it to increase our income and capital.”

“We did it to avoid losing money.”

Opinions typical among those who practice the life style of the Money-Centered are similar to the views that are attributed to Homo economicus, a creature of modern city life (Gesellschaft) rather than folk life (Gemeinschaft). In a Gemeinschaft economic transactions are more based on reciprocal duties than individual profits. In a Gesellschaft money-centered exchanges are legion.

Coding aid: The Money-Centered have a lifestyle focused on wealth. They pay attention on making money, saving money, investing money, and perhaps above all to spend money. Quick to spot their own needs or the needs of others, they scan the horizon for quality, novelty, value for money, or outright bargains. They may be quality consumers, or bargain consumers, pioneering consumers, or consumers of the tried and true. Producing or consuming, they know prices, and they can tell what is profitable or not. They may spend more time on the business pages and advertisements of their newspaper than on politics and culture. They are attracted to the realm of economy. (Zetterberg 2009, Vol 1 p. 42)

The use of the language of the economic man as justifications is so common in modern society that we have mostly ceased to analyze and contemplate it. It takes extreme cases to make us stop and wonder. For example, those Japanese workers who, in the new century, explain to the pollsters why they prefer to work nights rather than daytime: hourly pay is better at night. Then they spend long hours at their computers looking in the modern way for bargains on the Internet — while daytime work-places in the manufacturing and shopping areas may be undermanned.

Opinions of the Civic-Minded

“We want to achieve a better order of things.”

“We did it to avoid disorder and chaos.”

These are opinions typical among those practicing the life style of the Civic-Minded. They love order in their community and nation.

Coding aid: The Civic-Minded discuss politics, and they may turn up at demonstrations, for they believe it is important to manifest their views in order to try to influence events; on balance, however, discussions are more important to them than mere manifestations. Nor are they averse to working within their movement or party; they will readily plunge into committee work or act as chairperson. They prefer to associate with like-minded people engrossed in politics and community life, and many of them have little time for small talk. They are attracted to public administration and to the realm of body politic. (Zetterberg 2009, Vol 1, p 42-43)

Order is a general characteristic and should not be confused with any specific order, such as a dictatorship, a kingdom, or a presidential republic. At the height of the cold war Samuel Huntington wrote:

Communist totalitarian states and Western liberal states both belong generally in the category of effective rather than debile political systems. The United States, Great Britain, and the Soviet Union have different forms of government, but in all three systems the government governs. Each country is a political community with an overwhelming consensus among the people on the legitimacy of the political system. In each country the citizens and their leaders share a vision of the public interest of the society and of the traditions and principles upon which the political community is based. All three countries have strong, adaptable, coherent political institutions: effective bureaucracies, well-organized affairs, working systems of civilian control over the military, extensive activity by the government in the economy, and reasonably effective procedures for regulating succession and controlling political conflict. These governments command the loyalties of their citizens and thus have the capacity to tax resources, to conscript manpower, and to innovate and to execute policy. If the Politburo, the Cabinet, or the President makes a decision, the probability is high that it will be implemented through the government machinery. (Huntington 1968, 1)

All participants in the Cold War agreed that order is better than disorder. Nations with less order were called “soft states” by Gunnar Myrdal. Their governments cannot require much of their citizens and are nearly incapable to enforce its legal order and to collect authorized taxes. Soft states, Myrdal observed, are common in developing countries:

There is an unwillingness among the rulers to impose obligations on the governed and a corresponding unwillingness on their part to obey rules laid down by democratic procedures. The tendency is to use the carrot, not the stick. The level of social discipline is low compared with all Western countries — not to mention Communist countries. In India the "soft state" is often rationalized and even extolled by associating it with the Gandhian ideal that social reforms should be brought about by a change of heart, not by compulsion and violence. (Myrdal 1968, 277)

After World War II soft states emerged in Southern Europe. Italy, Spain, Greece, and Portugal transformed themselves from dictatorships to democracies. They were unable to eradicate nepotism and corruption. In Spain the democratic governments could not wipe out the Basque terrorists. In Italy they could not stamp out mafias. Softness marred tax collection and budgeting. It came to the fore as late as in the 2010s at the time of this conference as the Greek crisis for the Euro Zone.

Another variety of soft states emerged also in Eastern Europe after the dissolution of the Soviet Empire in 1991. The subjugated nations were reborn, and state enterprises were hastily privatized, but a large part of the large civil service remained intact. The ambitious among the surviving civil servants in the newborn nations no longer had to serve as controllers of people’s destinies and opinions. They teamed up with oligarchs, the new robber barons of private economic powers, and set examples for less ambitious colleagues in how run corrupt soft states that is capable of delivering an unpredictable and arbitrary order.

It is wrong, however, to assume that states are the only homes of order or softness. Some societies in Africa have apparently flourished successfully without a state altogether or, more probably, with an infinitesimal state by our standards. Villages and clans provide the order and ethnicity endows a common identity.

Inside a society, dietary norms in a religion are upheld by religious functionaries, not necessarily by civil servants and the courts of the state. Organizations in all societal realms – firms, religious congregations, voluntary associations, and criminal gangs – also enforce their own by-laws, i.e. version of internal order to prevent internal chaos. The opinions here concerns policies embedded in the organizations in “the civil society ” in Hegel’s original sense, i.e., nearly everything outside the state.

Opinions of the Aesthetes

“We want to make something or someone beautiful.”

“We did it to avoid the ugly.”

These opinions are typical among those who practice the life style of Aesthetes XE "lifestyle:aesthetes" .

The “someone” in the above model of justifications may also be oneself. Then we create narcissistic justifications to dress and to style hair in a fashionable way, to make dental and dermatological facial changes, and to celebrate body culture.

Coding aid: Aesthetes have a lifestyle that constantly makes them look for opportunities to stop and contemplate something beautiful or artistic. Aesthetes need art in order to feel good about themselves and life, to reveal and tolerate the drabness and imperfections of everyday living. In many ways it is true that anything — food, pots and pans, furniture, housing, sewing, boxing, sex, conversations, ice hockey, marching, military battles, and what have you — can be more or less artistic. An aesthetic lifestyle can permeate all aspect of living. The Aesthetes may themselves be performing artists, but need not at all be. If available, they visit art galleries and museums, frequent concerts, the theater, and the ballet. They are informed about dramas on TV and on video, or of recent pieces of fiction, have an eye for interesting architecture and for beauty in the home. When choosing a vacation destination they prefer Florence to a beach resort. They are attracted to the realm of art. (Zetterberg 2009, Vol 1, p 41)

With an aesthetic justification, the hours spent in the park, or in the street café seem more valuable than the hour spent earning overtime pay or, even the hours spent in volunteer civic work. Not only artists, but flâneurs and collectors use aesthetic justifications to transform the boring into something interesting worthy of our contemplation. Such a transformation was the vision of the Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard (1843/1987) when he wrote about aesthetes. He saw them as a first stage of personality development to be followed in maturing individuals by an ethic and a religious stage.

Opinions of the Believers

“We want to come closer to the sacred.”

“We did it to avoid a meaningless profane living.”

These are opinions typical among those who practice the life style of Believers.

Coding aid: The Believers want to walk through life in touch with a transcendental virtual reality of heavenly lights and messages. They have a lifestyle concerned with spirituality. They develop their courage to face ultimate issues such as the existence of suffering and death, and the final evaluation of a person’s life. They have well developed cults to cope with the memories of the dead. They are found not only around traditional religions but also among the followers of new belief systems that have gained ground in secularized parts of the world. They are attracted to the realm of religion (Zetterberg 2009, Vol 1, p 42).

To the extent that the sacred is seen as a product of the human symbolic environment, we can see closeness to the sacred in certain observances, our own and/or those of others. The sacred may be observances of holy days, attendance of holy cults, practices of sacrifices, pilgrimages to holy places, and visits to honor the deceased at their burial grounds. Religious justifications in social life take the form of excuses from normal, profane pursuits when participating in such acts.

Some religions maintain that their God has a plan for mankind and/or a plan for every individual. The perception of this plan may be used to justify suppressions of free will, of freedom of speech, of freedom of movement, and also of the free pursuit of both secular values and of biological spontaneities. I would not hesitate to call such opinions for the fallacies they are. They make humans less than they obviously are.

Opinions of the Compassionate

“We pursue our ideals and virtues.”

“We do not want to lose our authenticity and compassion.”

Coding aid: The Compassionate practice a lifestyle of doing welfare and doing good. Many are reformers with ethics and virtue as their lodestars. Or, they are Good Samaritans acting spontaneously or consistently to help when they see suffering. Their self-image is that of a person who aims to act decently in all situations, and who strives for a clear conscience. Humanitarian movements, social welfare agencies, voluntary organizations and religious or secular charities are the anvils for their good deeds, not to speak of the many sacrifices made to aid members of their own families. They are attracted to civil society and to the realm of morality. (Zetterberg 2009, Vol 1, p 43)

Among the general public, lists of virtues are usually the core of morality. Virtues are the “customs of the heart” of civilizations. The Chinese may want to start such a list with Confucian virtues. The Jews think first of Talmudic virtues, and others would place, still, other desirable qualities at the top of such a list. Personally, I would like to see honesty, authenticity, and compassion on top of my list of virtues. In the Western world, Aristotelian and Pauline virtues have been folk wisdom during the ages: justice, courage, temperance, prudence, hope, faith, and love. That list should be the first choice for Western pollsters attempting to measure the public’s involvement in morality. Its continued relevance for our contemporary commercial culture is demonstrated by McCloskey (2006).

Second New Non-Demographic Background Category:
Dominant Communication Structures and their Lifestyles

The communication structures that we will deal with here are organizations, networks, and media. They are familiar from the Chicago School of Sociology and its classical text book by Park and Burgess (1924) that denoted them as groups, publics and audiences. People may live in all three but they may be more or less involved in one or another, and this makes a difference to their opinions.

Opinions of Organization Loyalists

Turning to opinions based in organizations we encounter organization men who "have left home, spiritually as well as physically, to take the vows of organization life, and it is they who are the mind and soul of our great self-perpetuating institutions," to use the words by William H Whyte in a book from 1956. He sees the same trend in American organizations from every societal realm:

The [business] corporation man is the most conspicuous example, but he is only one, for the collectivization so visible in the corporation has affected almost every field of work. Blood brother to the business trainee off to join Du Pont is the seminary student who will end up in the church hierarchy, the doctor headed for the corporate clinic, the physics Ph.D. in a government laboratory, the intellectual on the foundation-sponsored team project, the engineering graduate in the huge drafting room at Lockheed, the young apprentice in a Wall Street law factory.--- Whatever the differences in their organization ties, it is the common problems of collective work that dominate their attentions, and when the Du Pont man talks to the research chemist or the chemist to the army man, it is these problems that are uppermost.--- They are wry about it, to be sure; they talk of the "treadmill," the "rat race," of the inability to control one's direction. But they have no great sense of plight; between themselves and organization they believe they see an ultimate harmony and, more than most elders recognize, they are building an ideology that will vouchsafe this trust. (Whyte 1956)

"Our bosses want this done" is a typical opinion in an organization. The rising business giant IBM in the post-World-War-II era came to symbolize the hierarchal home of organization men and their lifestyle, opinions and justifications.

Coding aid: The Organization Loyalists equate a large part of their self-image with the image of their associates and co-workers. They are always at the disposal of this group, even during leisure hours. Their clothing, be it jeans or a suit, is chosen to represent the collective image. They listen to their superiors and uphold the norms of this group. As employees of this unit, they readily accept transfers to other locations: home is wherever the units of their kind are. (Zetterberg 2010, 245)

Advanced organizations are staffed by both administrators and technicians. They have recourse to different justifications in their opinion formation. The administrative bureaucrats justify their opinions and actions by referring to instructions from their superiors or to resolutions of ruling congresses. “We have our rules,” say bureaucrats around the world.

The professional technocrats can use an additional justification; they can justify their opinions and actions by pointing to facts and reason. For example, a professional technocrat wants to be able to criticize that which he considers to be superstition, be it in regard to the dangers of the use of pesticides, the availability of investment capital, or the advisability of using prophylactics, etc. These technocrats are dependent on a certain kind of freedom of opinion, namely the freedom of appeal to rationality. With its help they can free themselves in their opinions to some extent from the powers-that-be and from the administrative bureaucracy.

The limiting of the freedom of technocrats has been fairly well established in modern states. In authoritarian or totalitarian states, however, the process has been regularly threatened by one of the characteristics of "Stalinism:" the subordination of the technocrats to administrative bureaucrats. You can actually assess the degree of Stalinism in modern organizations and states by assessing the degree of influence of the administrators over the technocrats.

For technocrats to wholly appeal to science would result in a weakened plea. When technocrats work in industry, trade, or finance their expert knowledge is relevant only if they also see to the economic justification of their scientifically grounded arguments. An impression from my experience in the field of market research is that even superb research training from the university is counterproductive without a business background or business training, or until the late day that a market researcher on the job has absorbed some business ethos.

If technocrats work with or consult with a government agency or a political party they must, to be effective, consider the legislative mission of the administration or the political mission of the party when applying scholarly justifications. The same is true about the scientific consultants who are engaged by the United Nations to give advice on poverty, climate, nuclear disarmament and other areas of UN policy. A body politic manned by pure "whiz kids" – such as President Kennedy’s intellectual advisors in the era of the Vietnam War – may prove to be a path to disaster (Halberstam 1972)

Both bureaucrats and technocrats can depart from these rigid patterns if they are allowed to guide their actions by the goals of the organization, in addition to its by-laws, or even over and above the rules of the organization. Then, skilled leadership can produce quicker and probably, also, more effective results.

Opinions of Gregarious Networkers

Whyte's basic observations are still generally valid. However, since he wrote The Organization Man numerous women have joined their ranks in the labor force, and a new study would have to be renamed as “The Organization Men and Women XE "organization men and women" .” Another major change is that the focus of many corporate organizations has changed from production to sales. Corporate headquarters are getting smaller, and more staff and authority has moved to those parts of the corporation that are close to the customers and more knowledgeable of their needs. Sales mean markets, and markets mean networks. The Loyalists thrive in formal organizations, the Gregarious in informal networks.

The Networking Men and Women of the Twenty-first Century compete successfully with the Organization Man of the Twentieth Century. Motivations are now less based on honor and more on self-interest, and goals are achieved less by courage and more by cooperativeness, tact, and politeness. This shift seems true in all societal realms, not only in business. This is one reason why a “deliberating democracy” is desirable in the body politic.

Coding aid: The Gregarious Networkers are people that swim among their associates like fish in water. They are friendly, and easily connect with others. Mingling in company seems to come naturally to them; they are constantly gathering contacts. Their cheerful, outgoing manner attracts people who seek out their companionship. This suits them perfectly; in informal encounters with others they are in their true element. (Zetterberg 2010, 245)

The opinions common in networks reflect the fact that networks contain more peer-to-peer relations than do organizations. This facilitates informal social contacts, the lifeline of networks.

"We have talked to everybody about it" is a common justification heard in networks: “The whole gang agreed,” “We touched all the bases.” Such justifications support the claim that networks are the main sources of public opinion, as the above-mentioned Lowell (1913) claimed a hundred years ago and the blogosphere and social media on the Internet claim today. Network opinions are most congenial to democracies of the deliberate model. Pollsters who learn to have a column of network opinion in their releases in addition to the demography columns keep up with the times.

Opinions of the Media Freaks

“We read it in the paper”, “It was on TV,” “I found it on the Internet”. The references to media as authorities and sources of opinions in everyday life are legion.

The media-mediated opinions compete with those provided in families, schools, peer groups, religious and civic organizations, work life, and all sorts of networks. One should not assume that published tales obtain supreme justification.

To obtain favorable publicity for actions, or for causes that are in need of public justification, is a mainstay of the modern PR-industry. This industry is, nowadays, so skilled that it takes a genuine effort to distinguish the opinions it plants from opinions emerging spontaneously in networks. The present methods of pollsters are unable to separate the two.

The Media Freaks who spend an extraordinary amount of time with dailies, weeklies, television and radio, movies, and/or the surfing on the Internet. They get upset when the papers they have subscribed to do not appear, they feel deprived when the TV-set or computer does not work. They are informed, be it about soap operas or popular music or news, but they rarely find much use for all their information. Mass media themselves need justifications for their own activities. An opinion commonly heard in mass media, speaking in their own cause, is "the public's right to know." This is not a justification to publish anything. It is generally agreed, however, that political democracy depends on the transparency of the state. The media in a democracy is to report all of the wrongdoing of the state and all that the state neglects to do, not just the new and beneficial actions of the state. Then, you will have an informed electorate, capable of deciding whether a government shall be awarded new mandate or is to be forced to leave office. But note that the reverse is not true; here is a drastic asymmetry. Citizens have the right to a private zone. A civilized government has no general right to enter the private zones and register the doings, opinions, and conversations of citizens. The duty of the government is rather to uphold the right to such a private zone.

Media Freaks have long been treated as one class of opinion leaders (Katz and Lazarsfeldt, Personal Influence 1955). To have information on their views in recording and reporting public opinion would be useful; they clearly qualify as a standard background category.

Third New Non-Demographic Background Category:
Opinions of Makers, Keepers, Brokers and Takers

I introduced Makers, Keepers, Brokers and Takers in a paper (2003) to WAPOR’s annual meeting in order to avoid using discredited terminologies of sociological functionalism in describing what goes on in societal realms, i.e. in art, religion, morality, science, polity, and economy. The Makers, Keepers, Brokers and Takers create, preserve, convey, and receive cardinal values. We deal here with a classification of occupations and hobbies that is amenable to social research and can be coded from records and interviews.

No Census Bureau keeps track of The Makers, Keepers, Brokers and Takers. If opinion pollsters would begin to do it, they would be pioneers. A skeleton for a coding is found in Table 1 below[2]. Note that a person may well be a Maker in Science (for example, a research professor), a Keeper in the realm of art (a collector), a Broker in the realm of Morality (a carer of children). And the defaults in all realms are Takers, i.e. customers, a citizens, et cetera.


Table 1. Illustrations of Makers, Keepers, Brokers, and Takers



VALUES/Societal Realms





Personnel (illustrative examples as aid to coding):





of cardinal values, i.e. knowledge, wealth, order, beauty, sacredness, and virtue.












Civic leaders

Lawyers Police

Officials Bureaucrats
Civic workers



Creative Artists
Poets, novelists,



Fans of culture
and entertainment




Preachers Missionaries
Miracle workers



Creators of high norms, charities etc


Carers of children,
the sick,
elders, etc. Moralists

Decent people
Aspirants to ethical



develop what is new and what is your own

merits are individual & separates high from low

give equal rights and equal opportunities to all

give equal rights and equivalent outcomes to all


Liberalism 1

Liberalism 2

Liberalism 3

Creed ,
Liberalism 4


The Makers of cardinal values be they researchers, entrepreneurs, prophets, or what have you, develop something new in their societal realm. The Makers generally take pride in their distinctiveness. They create new knowledge, new laws, new sources of wealth, new art, new morals, new forms of sacredness. If everything old were to be preserved, or were everyone to be or think alike, there would be little or no possibility of creating something new. Their justification is “I found it. It is mine.”

The Keepers are the guardians of the cardinal values XE "keepers of cardinal values" , people like librarians, database operators, bankers, judges, critics, clerics, and ethicists. They distinguish between knowledge and superstition, wealth and poverty, between that which is legal and that which is illegal, between the beautiful and the ugly, the sacred and the profane, the ethical and unethical. Their justifications center on “We did it. We have separated the good from the bad.”

The Brokers of cardinal values in the various societal realms: teachers, salesmen, bureaucrats, performers, preachers, and moralists perform tasks that need fairness. A teacher should not have favorites, but should treat all alike. A storekeeper should not have one price for locals and another for strangers. State functionaries should not discriminate between citizens, but should treat all the same. Theaters, concerts, art exhibits, and museums should be open to all, not just to elites. Most major religions offer salvation to all, not just to a chosen people. The moralist allows no one to be exempt from ethical principles. The motto of Brokers is: “We are fair.”

The Takers are the end users of the cardinal values of society. During the Twentieth Century, the ideology of the Takers made significant inroads. After 1968 they could for the first time on a large scale get acceptance of opinions and justifications that could successfully compete with the ideologies of the Makers, the Keepers, and the Brokers. The Takers of the cardinal values of knowledge, riches, power, etc. usually insist that everyone can and should partake of them. They follow a typical norm of a hunt of older eras, that everyone should share in the kill – the person who went along on the hunt as well as the person that brought down the game, those who participated in the hunt as well as those who stayed at home to keep and mend things in the village. In the end, everyone should benefit from the hunt. Equality in respect of life’s capriciousness in modern days brings this old norm to the fore. “We shared equally in the task.”


The second row from the bottom in Table 1 presents four familiar ideologies. In fact, the opinion and justifications by Makers, Keepers, Brokers, and Takers, respectively, shape very well-known ideologies: individualism, meritocracy, universalism, and egalitarianism. These ideological concerns are different from one another, but each one expresses an internally consistent justification from its perspective. One should not be misled by the circumstance that they all are called “liberalism” by their proponents. Let us review each in turn.

The need for individuality among the Makers can develop into a general ideology justifying that everyone should always be permitted to be different, rather than alike. In their school days, creativity, rather than memorization, promotes Makers. Individualists want self-regulation rather than centralized steering. They often prefer networks to organizations, markets rather than bureaucracy. The minimum of central authority (sometimes called “good institutions”) which they need should primarily protect ownership and copyright, uphold contracts and free trade. This ideology suits business and industry and is often promoted by their representatives as the best for the entire society. The congenial ideologies of the Makers are varieties of individualism. This vocabulary of individual uniqueness, usually unafraid of novelty, and not without some “Looking out for Number One,” is the main line of justifications used by Makers. What they promoted was liberalism in the first meaning of liberalism, i.e. what we now often call “libertarianism.” In historical economic contexts it is “Manchester liberalism,” or, simply, the teachings of Adam Smith.

Makers pass on the cardinal values they create to Keepers – librarians, bankers, judges, critics, clerics, and ethicists – who are accustomed to discriminating between high and low, new and old, civilized an uncivilized. The result is an ideology that the proponents continue to call liberalism, but it has also characteristics of a discriminating meritocracy typical of modern-day conservatism, a hierarchy preserving and honoring the best.

The Keepers’ desire for stability can develop their hierarchical view to a societal ideology that seeks to keep and stabilize those differences in society based on merits. A Keeper, such as the great Confucius in China, sees differences between men and woman, between young and older people, between those who are qualified and those who are unqualified, exemplary persons and ordinary persons. Proponents of this ideology often prefer an organization with stable ranks of which the top ones are open to the best of comers. They prefer this order to a market that can create disorder and troublesome new riche. However, truly consistent Keepers accept not only the hierarchy in organizations; they also accept networks in the form of markets, provided they clearly separate winners from losers. And markets are usually good at that. Keepers who in this way defend capitalism call themselves “liberal.” This is a second meaning of liberalism.

The Brokers incorporated fairness in their ideology. Equal rights and equal opportunities became their congenial ideologies. In the language of societal analysts, the Brokers in the various realms of society promote universalism. They themselves continued to call their version “liberalism.”This is a third meaning of liberalism.

A universalistic ideology, when fully developed, strives to eliminate arbitrariness from life. Young and old, men and women, immigrants and native-born, are to all receive the same treatment. All should also have the same external conditions at the start of life. But afterwards, talent and merits will decide one’s fate. He who invests more time and energy should also receive more when the results are distributed. Supporters of this ideology are amenable to interventions from a central authority that levels playing fields and gives everyone a chance to achieve results, in rural as well as urban areas, in rich and poor neighborhoods, and in countries with different levels of overall development.

A public school system for all students without tuition charges, and with no separate schools for the privileged, was introduced in many countries as part of transitions to democracy and transitions to socialism. Meritocracy with equal opportunities became a worthy goal. But this modernistic ideal of the Brokers has not ruled alone. Measures in favor of the Takers have taken over, at least temporarily.

An ideology that primarily appeals to modern Takers of cardinal values is based on a radical egalitarianism that demands equal or equivalent outcomes, not only an equal start for everybody. When equality in outcome becomes a common justification in society, the states and other authorities are called upon to minimize the differences due to fate. Solidarity means that the good and the bad turns in life be shared. There must be no class differences. Income should be redistributed between rich and poor. In the United States, this is also called “liberalism” This is the fourth meaning of liberalism; in Europe it is usually called “socialism.” This ideology, like that of conservatism, normally gives organizations priority over markets. Labor unions are typical organizations with egalitarian values. They set up cartels on the labor market to negotiate high wage levels, but equal wages for the many who have roughly equal jobs.

All of the above ideologies – individualism, meritocracy, universalism, and egalitarianism – flourish in City Life, in Gesellschafts. They are in opposition to the particularism or partiality that prevails in Folk Life, in Gemeinschafts[3]. In the latter, family members, neighbors, or clan members are viewed as more valuable than outsiders. Such partiality persists even in modern societies. Even a contemporary man values his family more than other men’s families, and so do women. Contemporary nationalism and chauvinism are replete with elements of partiality: my country, right or wrong! A milder form of partiality can be found in the esprit de corps in certain professions, even those where universalism is dominant in client relations, for example, among doctors, lawyers, and teachers.



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[1] This is my third paper to WAPOR meetings about prospects for making social theory and public opinion research mutually relevant and supportive. The first (Zetterberg 2003) introduced the problem, the second (Zetterberg 2007) dealt with use of auxiliary interview questions to bring contemporary opinion polling in line with classical conceptions of public opinion.

Parts of this paper contains copyrighted material from The Many-Splendored Society: Surrounded by Symbols 2009) and The Many-Splendored Society: An Edifice of Symbols 2010, and (The Many-Splendored Society: Fuelled by Symbols, forthcoming).

[2] The Table is adopted from my book The Many-Splendored Society: An Edifice of Symbols (Zetterberg 2010, 368). The interpretation of the table is taken from its sequel (Zetterberg, The Many-Splendored Society: Fuelled by Symbols, forthcoming)

[3] The far-reaching differences between Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft are reviewed in many places. I did it in Zetterberg (2010, 327-341).