Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann

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Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann
Noelle-Neumann and Otto Schlecht at the Ludwig Erhard Foundation in 1991
Born(1916-12-19)19 December 1916
Died25 March 2010(2010-03-25) (aged 93)
Allensbach, Germany
Alma materFriedrich-Wilhelms-Universität,
University of Missouri
Known forspiral of silence, Institut für Demoskopie Allensbach
AwardsGreat Cross of Merit (1976),
Alexander Rüstow Medal (1978),
Baden-Württemberg's Medal of Merit (1990),
Helen Dinerman Award (issued by WAPOR; 1990),
Gerhard Löwenthal Honor Award (issued by Junge Freiheit; 2006)
Scientific career
FieldsPolitical science
Doctoral advisorEmil Dovifat

Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann (19 December 1916 – 25 March 2010) was a German political scientist. Her most famous contribution is the model of the spiral of silence, detailed in The Spiral of Silence: Public Opinion – Our Social Skin. The model is an explanation of how perceived public opinion can influence individual opinions or actions.


Elisabeth Noelle was born to Ernst and Eve Noelle in 1916 in the Villa Noelle[1] in Grunewald, a suburb of Berlin.[2] First Elisabeth went to several schools in Berlin and then switched to the prestigious Salem Castle School, which she also left one year later. She earned her Abitur in 1935 in Göttingen and then studied philosophy, history, journalism, and American studies at the Friedrich Wilhelm University, and the Königsberg Albertina University. When she visited Obersalzberg on 13 June 1937 with 23 other students, she by chance had an encounter with Adolf Hitler, which she later called "one of the most intensive and strangest experiences in her life".[3] As can be read in a newspaper article in the National Socialist student newspaper "Die Bewegung",[4] a group of ANSt students travelled to the Obersalzberg to see Hitler and felt lucky when they were actually received and even invited for coffee. The doctoral student Petra Umlauf also came to this conclusion in her dissertation “Die Studentinnen der Universität München 1926 to 1945”.[5] The group photo shows an enthusiastic and friendly-looking Elisabeth Noelle directly behind Adolf Hitler.[1] She stayed in the US from 1937 to 1938 and studied at the University of Missouri. There she was registered as a "special student". Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann claimed countless times that she studied journalism for one year. But "special students" were not admitted to the Schools of Journalism, Law, or Medicine.[6]

In 1940 she received her Ph.D. in Berlin/Germany, concentrating on public opinion research in the USA.

In 1940 she briefly worked for the Nazi newspaper Das Reich. On 8 June 1941 Das Reich published Noelle-Neumann's article entitled "Who Informs America?" in which she propagated the idea that a Jewish syndicate ran the American media. She wrote, "Jews write in the papers, own them, have virtually monopolize the advertising agencies and can therefore open and shut the gates of advertising income as they wish." She was fired when she exchanged unfavourable photos of Franklin D. Roosevelt for better looking ones. She then worked for the Frankfurter Zeitung until it was banned in 1943.

In 1947 she and her first husband Erich Peter Neumann founded a public opinion research organization—the Institut für Demoskopie Allensbach, which today is one of the best known and most prestigious polling organizations in Germany. She, along with her husband, created the first German opinion-polling body.[2]

From 1964 to 1983 she held a professorate at the Johannes Gutenberg University of Mainz.

Noelle-Neumann was the president of the World Association for Public Opinion Research from 1978 to 1980 and worked as a guest professor at the University of Chicago from 1978 to 1991.

Important work[edit]

Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann coined the term spiral of silence.This theory explains how people's opinions change or go unspoken in order to fit in with popular ideologies and avoid being singled out for holding opposing Ideologies. Due to the lack of human agency and rationality, which the theory does not account for, this theory has received mixed reviews. The top of the spiral is those who express their opinions and thoughts, which is explained by the spiral of silence. In other words, exercise your right to free speech. Those who are unwilling to speak out for fear of being isolated or ostracised are at the bottom of the spiral.[7]

Spiral of Silence model
Spiral of Silence model

Allegations of anti-Semitism[edit]

In 1991, Leo Bogart criticized Noelle-Neumann, accusing her of anti-Semitic passages in her dissertation and articles she wrote for Nazi newspapers. As a young woman, she had "superb credentials as an activist and leader" of Nazi youth and students' organizations, he wrote.[8] In fact, when she published her 1940 dissertation in Germany, entitled "Opinion and mass research in the USA", having spent a year at the University of Missouri researching George Gallup's methodology, Joseph Goebbels called the 24-year-old woman as an adjutant and intended her to build up, for the ministry of propaganda, Germany's first public opinion research organization. She declined, having fallen ill, which angered Goebbels; she later became a newspaper journalist with Nazi publications where she wrote some articles on Jewish influence over U.S. news and elite opinion.

Bogart's article appeared just weeks before Noelle-Neumann took up a visiting position in the Political Science Department at the University of Chicago, where she had held similar appointments since 1978. Michael Kochin, then a graduate student at the university, noticed the article and circulated it on campus prior to her arrival,[9] igniting a vigorous debate on Noelle-Neumann's past.[10] While the administration and students at the university,[11] the local Jewish defense groups,[12] and Chicago newspapers[13] remained disengaged from the issue, John J. Mearsheimer, then chairman of the university's political science department, spoke with Bogart, met for over three hours with Noelle-Neumann,[14] and called a departmental meeting about her on 16 October.[15] Some at the university claimed Noelle-Neumann was being slandered, and Mearsheimer's colleagues were not of one opinion about the case. Mearsheimer, however, widely publicized his views concerning the allegations themselves and as they related to academic freedom and opposition to bigotry. "I believe Noelle-Neumann was an anti-Semite," Mearsheimer stated, "and was not forced to write the anti-Semitic words she published. Moreover, I believe that the anti-Semitic writers and publicists of Germany – to include Noelle-Neumann – jointly share some responsibility for the Holocaust. For this she owes an apology."[16] "The thing to remember about the killing of the Jews," he said, "is that it was not done by a handful of people. … It was also a result of the Reich of normal – or of average – German citizens. Like Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann."[17]

In private letters and in written responses, Noelle-Neumann acknowledged being in a Nazi student organization but denied being a Nazi. "I am anguished by the suffering of Jews in Nazi Germany," she wrote.[18] Bogart, Mearsheimer and others remained dissatisfied with her response.[19]

Noelle-Neumann completed her visiting position in Chicago in mid-December 1991 and returned to Germany. When some University of Chicago students learned that she was to return there on 13 March 1992, they called a rally to protest against her return.[20] Reached by telephone at her office in Allensbach am Bodensee, Germany, on 10 March, Noelle-Neumann told a reporter she was unaware of the proposed rally but intended on coming to the university as planned.[21] That day, her hosts at the National Opinion Research Center announced that she had cancelled her appearance "in light of serious threats".[22]

Several years later, Noelle-Neumann's Nazi connection came under scrutiny from another American academic,[23] but she never explicitly apologized for her past.[24] Interviewed on the subject in 1997, she said, "I did my duty and would do my duty again in a second life. I'd even say I was proud of what I did back then because I opposed the Nazis by working from within."[25]

John Mearsheimer, Professor of Political Science at the University of Chicago wrote in The New York Times on 16 December 1991:

"She has admitted she was not hostile to the Nazis before 1940. She says she was anti-Nazi after 1940, but has produced no evidence that she criticized the Nazis then. She wrote anti-Semitic words in 1938–41, and there is no evidence she was compelled to write them. Queried on her anti-Semitic writings, she told me: "I have never written anything in my life that I did not believe to be true."

Personal life[edit]

She was married to the Christian Democratic politician Erich Peter Neumann (1912–1973) from 1946 until his death. She was married to the physicist Heinz Maier-Leibnitz (1911–2000) from 1979 until his death.[26][27]

In an interview in the German newspaper Der Tagesspiegel, Noelle-Neumann said that while holding a scientific point of view, she also believed in angels and predestination.[28]



  1. ^ "Villa Noelle, Baudenkmal". 14 December 2016.
  2. ^ a b "Elisabeth Noelle Neumann: Pioneer of public-opinion polling and market". The Independent. 23 October 2011. Retrieved 5 December 2015.
  3. ^ Markus Clauer: Zwischen Prognose und Macht. Zum Tode von Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann. In: Die Rheinpfalz. 26 March 2010.
  4. ^ "24 Mädels beim Führer". Die Bewegung. München, Nr. 25, 1937 Sondernr. Beilage: 15. June 1937.
  5. ^ Umlauf, Petra (2016). Die Studentinnen an der Universität München 1926 bis 1945. Auslese, Beschränkung, Indienstnahme, Reaktionen. Berlin: de Gruyter. p. 549. ISBN 978-3-11-044478-0.
  6. ^ University of Missouri (1937). Elizabeth Noelle, Special Student and Student of Journalism?.
  7. ^ Noelle-Neumann, Elisabeth (2013), "Public Opinion and Social Control", The Spiral of Silence, Routledge, pp. 35–48, doi:10.4324/9780203125007-8, ISBN 978-0-203-12500-7, retrieved 28 February 2022
  8. ^ Leo Bogart, "The Pollster & the Nazis," Commentary, August 1991, pp. 47–49.
  9. ^ Douglas Wertheimer, "Noelle-Neumann cancels U of C talk," Chicago Jewish Star, 27 March 1992, p. 3.
  10. ^ Andrea Wood, "Professor rebuts Nazi charges," Chicago Maroon, 25 October 1991, p. 1; Andrea Wood, "Professors challenge Noelle-Neumann," Chicago Maroon, 1 November 1991, p. 1; "Chicago Professor Is Linked to Anti-Semitic Past," The New York Times, 28 November 1991; Associated Press, "U.C. prof’s Nazi-era writings bring call for a wider apology," Chicago Sun-Times, 30 November 1991, p. 14.
  11. ^ Ethan Putterman, "U of C silence a 'moral failure,'" Chicago Maroon, 3 December 1991; Jacob Dallal, "Noelle-Neumann’s explanations troubling," Chicago Maroon, 1 November 1991; Shoshannah Cohen, "Charges against professor draw little student response," Hyde Park Herald, 11 December 1991, p. 1; Douglas Wertheimer, "Controversy surrounds U of C prof. accused of denying Nazi past," Chicago Jewish Star, 15 November 1991, p. 1.
  12. ^ Douglas Wertheimer, "Jewish, university groups are silent on prof. at U of C with alleged Nazi past," Chicago Jewish Star, 20 December 1991, p. 1; students on campus could be engaged in Holocaust issues: Douglas Wertheimer, "'Maroon' rejects Holocaust denier's ad," Chicago Jewish Star, 27 March 1992, p. 2.
  13. ^ Letter, D. Wertheimer, "Old News," Chicago Reader, 10 January 1992, section 1, page 2; Michael Miner response, p. 34.
  14. ^ D. Wertheimer, Chicago Jewish Star, 15 November 1991, p. 2.
  15. ^ Douglas Wertheimer, "Jewish, university groups are silent on prof. at U of C with alleged Nazi past," Chicago Jewish Star, 20 December 1991, p. 19
  16. ^ John J. Mearsheimer, "Noelle-Neumann was a willing anti-Semite," Chicago Maroon, 12 November 1991, pp. 17–18.
  17. ^ John J. Mearsheimer, quoted in Chicago Jewish Star, 15 November 1991, p. 2.
  18. ^ Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann, "Accused Professor Was Not a Nazi," The New York Times, 14 December 1991, p. 14; Noelle-Neumann, letter, Commentary, January 1992, pp. 9–15; D. Wertheimer, "Noelle-Neumann and her critics spar in print," Chicago Jewish Star, 17 January 1992, p. 2.
  19. ^ John J. Mearsheimer, "Apology sought," The New York Times, 28 December 1991, p. 12; "The Noelle-Neumann Case," Commentary, April 1992, pp. 11–12 (a letter signed by Political Science Department faculty at the University of Chicago, including John J. Mearsheimer and Stephen M. Walt); Leo Bogart, "Professor's Own Nazi Past Accuses Her," The New York Times, 28 December 1991, p. 12; Bogart, letter, Commentary, January 1992, pp. 17–18; Editorial, "The Professor's Silence," Chicago Jewish Star, 15 November 1991, p. 4; Editorial, "Lest we remember," Chicago Jewish Star, 20 December 1991, p. 4.
  20. ^ Ethan Putterman and Michael Kochin, letter, "Noelle-Neumann rally," Chicago Maroon, 10 March 1992, p. 21; D. Wertheimer, "Student protest planned with return of Noelle-Neumann to the U of C," Chicago Jewish Star, 13 March 1992, p. 1.
  21. ^ Douglas Wertheimer, "Noelle-Neumann cancels U of C talk," Chicago Jewish Star, 27 March 1992, p. 3.
  22. ^ Julia Angwin, "Noelle-Neumann cancels planned visit," Chicago Maroon, 3 April 1992, p. 9.
  23. ^ William H. Honan, "U.S. Professor's Criticism of German Scholar's Work Stirs Controversy," The New York Times, 27 August 1997, p. A13. Christopher Simpson, the American professor, claimed that Noelle-Neumann's Spiral of Silence was riddled with totalitarian ideology.
  24. ^ Editorial, "Silent to the end," Chicago Jewish Star, 27 August 2010, p. 4.
  25. ^ William H. Honan, "U.S. Professor's Criticism of German Scholar's Work Stirs Controversy," The New York Times, 27 August 1997, p. A13.
  26. ^ "MEINUNGSFORSCHERIN DES ALLENSBACH-INSTITUTS: Noelle-Neumann mit 93 Jahren gestorben". Die Tageszeitung: Taz (in German). 26 March 2010. p. 02. Retrieved 7 April 2022.
  27. ^ "Klage eines Ehepaars: Verfassungsgericht bestätigt Verbot von Dreifachnamen". Der Spiegel (in German). 5 May 2009. Retrieved 7 April 2022.
  28. ^ „Ich habe die Engel gesehen" (i.e. "I beheld the angels.")
  29. ^ "Allensbach-Gründerin Noelle-Neumann ist tot". Die Zeit (in German). Retrieved 7 April 2022.
  30. ^ a b c "Dictionaries and Encyclopedias". A-Z Common Reference Questions for Academic Librarians: 93–94. 31 May 2019. doi:10.29085/9781783304134.028. ISBN 978-1-78330-413-4. S2CID 241995946.
  31. ^ Fricke, Dr. Thomas. "Findbuch Q 2/50: Fotojournalistisches Werk von Burghard Hüdig (* 1933 + 2020) - Strukturansicht". Landesarchiv Baden-Württemberg, Abt. Hauptstaatsarchiv Stuttgart (in German). Retrieved 7 April 2022.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

  • The Noelle-Neumann Archive (contemporary documents, newspaper clippings and other archive resources about Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann)