Quantifying the American mood through opinion polls appears to be an unbiased means for finding out what people want. But in Numbered Voices, Susan Herbst demonstrates that the way public opinion is measured affects the use that voters, legislators, and journalists make of it.
Exploring the history of public opinion in the United States from the mid-nineteenth century to the present day, Herbst shows how numbers served both instrumental and symbolic functions, not only conveying neutral information but creating a basis authority. Addressing how the quantification of public opinion has affected contemporary politics and the democratic process, Herbst asks difficult but fundamental questions about the workings of American politics.
"An original and thought-provoking analysis of why we have polls, what they accomplish, and how they affect the current political scene. Herbst's scholarship is impeccable, her writing is clear and crisp, and her findings are original. . . . Every reader will benefit by carefully weighing the issues she raises and the conclusions she draws."—Doris A. Graber, Political Science Quarterly
"An intelligent, theoretically rich, and historically broad account of public opinion over several millennia. . . . The historical accounts are interesting and her interpretations are thought-provoking."—Paul Brace, Journal of American History