The Literary Digest
Cover of the 19 February 1921 edition of The Literary Digest
|Founder||Isaac Kaufmann Funk|
|Company||Funk & Wagnalls|
|Based in||New York City|
The Literary Digest was an influential American general interest weekly magazine published by Funk & Wagnalls. Founded by Isaac Kaufmann Funk in 1890, it eventually merged with two similar weekly magazines, Public Opinion and Current Opinion.
Beginning with early issues, the emphasis was on opinion articles and an analysis of news events. Established as a weekly newsmagazine, it offered condensations of articles from American, Canadian and European publications. Type-only covers gave way to illustrated covers during the early 1900s. After Isaac Funk's death in 1912, Robert Joseph Cuddihy became the editor. In the 1920s, the covers carried full-color reproductions of famous paintings. By 1927, The Literary Digest climbed to a circulation of over one million. Covers of the final issues displayed various photographic and photo-montage techniques. In 1938, it merged with the Review of Reviews, only to fail soon after. Its subscriber list was bought by Time.
The Literary Digest is best-remembered today for the circumstances surrounding its demise.
Despite the popularity of the incumbent Franklin D. Roosevelt, a Landon victory seemed plausible as at the time, Maine's congressional and gubernatorial elections were held in September - with the Republicans winning the Governorship, both houses in the state legislature, and all of the state's congressional delegation - as opposed to the rest of the nation that held elections in November along with the presidential election (as they are today).
The conventional wisdom at that time, "As Maine goes, so goes the nation", reflected the fact that Maine's September election of a governor correctly predicted the party outcome of the November presidential election in 22 out of the 29 presidential election years from 1820 to 1932 (or 76% of the time): 1820–1844, 1852, 1860–1880, 1888, 1896–1908 and 1920–1932.
Maine was a Republican state, and from 1860 to 1932, with the exception of 1912, Maine voted for the Republican candidate for president. Thus, Maine did not vote for Grover Cleveland in 1884 or 1892, Woodrow Wilson in 1916, or for Franklin Roosevelt in 1932, when they, as Democrats, won those elections. In 1912, Maine cast its electoral votes for Wilson, but that year, Republicans split their votes between William Howard Taft, the Republican, and Theodore Roosevelt, the Bull Moose candidate.
In November, Landon only won Maine and Vermont, as President Franklin Delano Roosevelt won the other 46 states. Landon's electoral vote total of eight is an equal-record low for any major-party nominee since the American political paradigm of the Democratic and Republican parties began in 1854.
The Democrats joked "As goes Maine, so goes Vermont," while the magnitude of the error (19.6% in the popular vote for Landon v Roosevelt) destroyed the magazine's credibility, and it folded within 18 months of the election.
In retrospect, the polling techniques employed by the magazine were to blame. Although it had polled ten million individuals (of whom 2.27 million responded, an astronomical total for any opinion poll), it had surveyed its own readers first, a group with disposable incomes well above the national average of the time (shown in part by their ability to afford a magazine subscription during the depths of the Great Depression), and those two other readily available lists, those of registered automobile owners and that of telephone users, both of which were also wealthier than the average American at the time.
Research published in 1972 and 1988 concluded that as expected this sampling bias was a factor, but non-response bias was the primary source of the error - that is, people who disliked Roosevelt had strong feelings and were more willing to take the time to mail back a response.
George Gallup's American Institute of Public Opinion achieved national recognition by correctly predicting the result of the 1936 election, while Gallup also correctly predicted the (quite different) results of the Literary Digest poll to within 1.1%, using a much smaller sample size of just 50,000. Gallup's final poll before the election also predicted Roosevelt would receive 56% of the popular vote: the official tally gave Roosevelt 60.8%.
This debacle led to a considerable refinement of public opinion polling techniques, and later came to be regarded as ushering in the era of modern scientific public opinion research.
- Freedman, David; Pisani, Robert; Purves, Roger (2007). Statistics (4th ed.). New York: Norton. ISBN 0-393-92972-8.
- "Press: Digest Digested". Time. 23 May 1938. Retrieved 8 March 2010.
- "A word a day Man: a biography". Biographical essay. Centre d'études du 19e siècle français Joseph Sablé. Archived from the original on 6 August 2010. Retrieved 18 October 2010.
- "Ewing Galloway Collection of Photographs". Special Collections Research Center. Syracuse University Library. Retrieved 4 June 2013.
- Straw Vote Fight Arouses Interest The Pittsburgh Press; November 2, 1936
- Freedman, et al.: 335-336
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