World Association for Public Opinion Research
presents the
1999 Helen S. Dinerman Award
Hans L. Zetterberg


Scholars, 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.

Hans 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.

The 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.

In 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.

In 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.

In 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 government agencies.

In 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 survey questionnaire.

Through 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.

In appreciation of these many contributions, the World Association for Public Opinion Research is pleased to present the 1999 Helen S. Dinerman Award.


Miguel Basáñez, President

The Dinerman Award Committee
Maxwell E. McCombs
Wolfgang Donsbach
Philip E. Meyer                                                        Paris, France
Frederick C. Turner                                                       September 3, 1999



By Hans L Zetterberg

Most heartily I thank the World Association for Public Opinion Research and its president and jury for the 1999 Helen S. Dinerman Award.

You 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.

Two formative experiences

Two 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 officials.

Most 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.

At 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 imperialism ¾ 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.

The 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 coaching.

My 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.

At 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.

Columbia 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 winning strategy.

Three eras of polling: focus on publics, elites, and governments

In 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.

In 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.

The 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.

A 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.

With 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.

The 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.

In 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.

Today 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.

Newspapers 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.

Pollsters 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.

Internet 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!