Association for Public Opinion Research
1999 Helen S. Dinerman Award
Hans L. Zetterberg
pollsters, policy experts, and the public generally owe much to Hans L.
Zetterberg. Over five decades he has shown how one person can combine many
roles to bring together social theory, method, and practice.
L. Zetterberg taught at Columbia University and at Ohio State University where
he was head of the Sociology Department. He also has been a publisher of
scholarly books (Bedminster Press), the chief executive of a major foundation
(The Tri-Centennial Fund of the Bank of Sweden), a long-time pollster and
market researcher (Sifo AB), and the editor-in-chief of a large newspaper (Svenska
Dagbladet). At present, he is in private practice at ValueScope AB, a
consultancy in social research.
baptism of fire for Zetterberg's survey research occurred in the 1960s with
the world's first nationwide probability sample of adults reporting on their
sexual behavior during in-home interviews with ordinary survey interviewers
for a Swedish Royal Commission on Sex Education.
the 1970s Zetterberg improved the accuracy of election forecasting by
re-interviewing samples taken around the time of the previous election.
Post-stratification could then be applied, based on past voting undistorted by
shifts in memory and opinion climates. In several successive elections, until
abandoned due to new data integrity legislation, this approach gave results
superior to ordinary sampling error.
the late 1970s Zetterberg began using measurements of values in surveys.
Valuegraphics proved as useful as demographics in Sifo's research on the 1980
nuclear referendum in Sweden.
the 1980s he was active in developing internationally used employee surveys
focused on "the invisible contracts" that translate the values of
loyalty from the civil society to the workplaces of corporations and
the 1990s he invented, on the basis of classical sociology, a standard
typology of values that can be used almost as easily as age and sex in a
the years Hans L. Zetterberg has published many books, articles and newspaper
columns, most of which bring together social theory, method, and practice. He
is a pollster, but also a professor and an editor. His deep concern for the
precariousness of the freedom of polling has lead him to find allies for
opinion pollsters in the professions that enjoy the more established freedoms
of the academy and the press.
appreciation of these many contributions, the World Association for Public
Opinion Research is pleased to present the 1999 Helen S. Dinerman Award.
Dinerman Award Committee
Maxwell E. McCombs
Philip E. Meyer Paris, France
Frederick C. Turner September 3, 1999
Hans L Zetterberg
heartily I thank the World Association for Public Opinion Research and its
president and jury for the 1999 Helen S. Dinerman Award.
cannot do public opinion research as a lone wolf or in an ivory tower. When
the movie industry gives its Oscar awards, the recipients thank not only the
jury, but also a whole army of coworkers and sometimes also parents, brothers
and sisters, and teachers, spouses, sons and daughters who have facilitated
the achievement. I could do likewise. Foremost in my mind is Karin Busch, a
great professional in our field, who is also Karin Busch Zetterberg, my
companion in life and social research.
inspiring periods shaped my entry into opinion research. Half a century ago,
in the summer of 1950, I and a dozen others from Europe and Asia traveled
around the United States to study recent advances in survey research. Our
sponsor, the Rockefeller Foundation, was proud of this new tool for
"social research and democracy" and wanted to promote it around the
world. Our trip started at National Opinion Research Center in Chicago, and
went to the Survey Research Center in Michigan. We also came to Louis
Guttman's office at Cornell University where we saw a mechanical device to
make one-dimensional scales for which (among other achievements) he got the
Dinerman Award posthumously in 1988. We saw Hadley Cantril's office at
Princeton University. We also visited several polling organizations in
Princeton and New York. We met the pioneer generation of pollsters. They did
survey research for editors of the newspapers, for businessmen, for government
of these pioneers were not professors. The were strong, flamboyant,
individualists working in the private sector and had names such as Crossley,
Gallup, Harris, Roper, Starch, Wilson. In this male-dominated crowd entered
also Helen Dinerman, bright as a button, knowledgeable, helpful, combining
order and creativity.
a later date George Gallup (or Ted as we called him) became my friend. I
learned much from him. His innovations and insights were never packaged as
"research products" and licensed to others. He gave them away to his
friends around the world. If there is such a thing as American intellectual
and the French are not alone in believing so ¾
it has a very kind face. To me American intellectual imperialism is the
Rockefeller tour and Dr. Gallup's generosity.
Rockefeller tour of 1950 had only a dozen participants. Its success can be
measured by the fact that two of us have become Dinerman laureates. Hélène
Riffault was a participant and received the prize in 1994. Perhaps WAPOR in
the next century could do for polling in the new democracies what Rockefeller
Foundation did for polling in the recovering countries after World War II,
that is, take new pollsters to the best of the established ones for hands-on
second inspiration to work with opinion research came with an appointment to
teach sociology at Columbia University in the City of New York. In retrospect
Columbia in the 1950s and 1960s appears as a Mecca of public opinion research.
Actually there was no formal teaching and research program in public opinion
and opinion journalism. As a department we preferred to train student in
theory and method of sociology, not in specialties such as social movements,
race relations, mass media, community studies, criminology, public opinion.
Instead we promoted methodology. Under the leadership of Paul F. Lazarsfeld,
we took the analysis of surveys as the most serious part of methodology. We
also took theory most seriously, and wanted to marry method and theory. It is
significant that Robert K. Merton, our great theorist, took time out to
co-author the first book on the use of focus interviews.
Columbia in the 1950s, we had an unabashed credo: if you know good methodology
and good theory you can treat any topic you may encounter as a social
scientist, and you can treat it well. For the field of public opinion research
this credo has worked wonders. The total population of Dinerman laureates is
19. Five were in Columbia sociology in this period: Herbert Hyman, Elihu Katz,
Juan Linz, S.M. Lipset and myself.
University is no longer a major academic center in this field. However, in
North America, University of Michigan and also Chicago University have
maintained long-term leadership in the field of survey research. In Europe we
now have some universities with high visibility in survey and opinion
research. For example, Mainz where Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann, a Dinerman
laureate, has shaped the tradition. The universities of Amsterdam, Essex,
Gothenburg, and Grenoble also come to mind. They might all keep in mind that a
concentration on theory and methodology, as at Columbia in the 1950s, is a
the 50 years that I have been in polling or close to polling in some capacity
or another, the nature of the enterprise has changed. We have had much more
than technical changes.
the beginning the pollsters were driven by an ambition to bring the views of
the public to the attention of everybody, particularly the politicians. Of
course, Gallup did not think that the politicians were constitutionally bound
to follow public opinion as revealed in his polls. But he felt that they were
morally obliged to do so.
first generation of pollsters used the rhetoric of the French and American
Revolutions. In democracy the people is the ruling class. In democracy
politicians are the servants of people, not their lords. The source
of political actions and programs were found in the general public. Gallup and
his generation of pollsters believed that the public's views were loaded with
political wisdom, and that a poll was the key to unlock it.
critical task for the pollster was to ask questions revealing the public's
concerns rather than the pollster's concern. Gallup solved this in the late
1930s by regularly asking "What is the most important problem facing the
country today?" He did not define the problem, his respondents did.
this approach it was natural that newspapers became sponsors of the polls. The
freedom of polling had a tentative protective umbrella in the academic freedom
of the universities but found its main umbrella in the freedom of the press.
early pollsters' view of democracy was challenged from many quarters as too
simple-minded. The Austrian-American economist Joseph Schumpeter had
formulated a serious alternative. The sources or initiatives of political
actions are normally found, not in the general public, but in the various
elites or parties that compete for the driver's seat of the state. This notion
fitted particularly the European scene where we had the landed aristocracy
defending privileges, the clergy guarding moral values, the agrarians with
protectionism on their agenda, the industrial and business elites promoting
free trade, and strong labor movements demanding welfare rights and a greater
share of the national patrimony. When a country becomes democratic the public
becomes the jury in these struggles, and the public decides which elite or
party is to rule. The pollsters give a voice to this jury of the public.
However, it is not the jury's ideas that are polled and voted on, but the
ideas of the various elites.
many countries the elites in the form of pressure groups have become major
sponsors of published polls. In this situation the independence of the polls
and the integrity of the pollster become crucial. Our integrity as pollsters
will be judged, not by the numbers we produce although they seem so
interesting on the day of publication. Our integrity will be judged by our
professionalism of sampling and interviewing, and above all by the wording of
the questions we ask. A few years ago WAPOR was worried about some polls in
some Latin American countries. This year we are concerned that some Russian
polls sit in the laps of the competing oligarchies that dominate and weave
together business, politics and media in Moscow.
the Schumpeterian view of democracy is in the process of being amended. In
recent decades it has became ever more apparent that the government itself
invents most political initiatives. Politicians and civil servants have more
ideas for political actions than have the elites outside the body politic. The
state nowadays generates most political ideas and tests some of them with the
help of our profession. The ministers and the state bureaucracies have begun
to sponsor polls and focus groups on a massive scale, particularly in Britain
and the United States.
in London claim that the government of Great Britain at present pays one
million pound a month on opinion research, only a quarter of which gets
published. This is a more profound change than in the mere funding of the
polling industry. It goes into the heart and meaning of democracy. We have
gone from giving political initiative to the people, to give it to competing
elites, and now to give the initiative to the governments themselves. In this
process, the idea that polls exist to turn the public into a ruling class
changes into the idea that polls exist to help the rulers exercise power and
stay in power.
need to be more aware of this new development that makes the polls megaphones
of government rather than of the people. In this emerging situation the
integrity of the polling community will be measured not only by its sampling,
interviewing and question wording. It might rather be measured by the
questions we do not ask. We must
make sure we give full coverage also to other topics than those promoted by
the government of the day. In this way we stay true to our traditions.
might also help us back to tradition, i.e. to make ideas originating among the
grassroots visible as published statistics. Webmasters put polls on their
pages. The question wordings are not always professional, and the samples are
as bad as those of the Literary Digest in the 1930s. But they provide a fast
dialog with the surfers, and they give visibility to the views of those wired
and interested. Do not ever say that our field is old and stale!