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Josef Korbel School of International StudiesCrossley Center for Public Opinion Research

Crossley Center

Archibald Crossley

Pioneer in the Field of Public Opinion Research

Few names have had as great an impact on the world of public opinion research as Archibald Crossley's. Despite little formal training, Archibald helped advance the field into the highly utilized resource it is today, and he is widely considered one of the fathers of modern public opinion research. Throughout the course of his career, Archibald Crossley helped develop polling techniques used by public opinion pollsters and advocated tireless for standards and ethics within the discipline.

Market research lead to radio survey report

Archibald Crossley started in opinion research in December 1918 upon leaving Princeton University after only one year. Hoping to pursue a career in copywriting, he was offered a job creating and managing a research department at J.H. Cross Company, a mid-sized advertising firm in Philadelphia. Archibald knew very little about research, but neither did Mr. Cross. Acrhibald set about touring leading advertising firms in New York City in order to better understand his new industry. He was so successful in setting up the research department at J.H. Cross that four years later he received an offer from the staff at Literary Digest to serve as their director of research.

In 1926, Archibald left the Literary Digest to establish his own commercial research firm, Crossley Inc. The company quickly established itself as a leader in radio broadcast market research. At the time, radio was a new form of mass communication. Crossley Inc. conducted research to determine the size of radio audiences. However, the firm's most notable contribution at the time was the monthly Crossley Radio Survey reports in the firm conducted telephone interviews to find out what shows people listened to and which interested them most. In 1930, Crossley Inc. received a Harvard University award for the year's most outstanding example of commercial research.

Predicting the 1936 presidential election

Around this time social scientists began adopting many of the techniques developed by market research firms, including Crossley Inc., and applying them to gauge public views regarding issues related to governance. In the lead up to the 1936 presidential election, Hearst Publications hired Crossley and his associates to conduct polls regarding the contest between incumbent President Roosevelt and Albert Landon. Crossley's former employer, the Literary Digest, was the leading publication for political polls at the time. Using a straw poll method that involved providing postcards that readers could send in, the Literary Digest correctly predicted the three presidential elections between 1920 and 1932. Prior to the '36 election, the Digest predicted that Landon would win 32 states and carry 370 of the 531 electoral votes.

Crossley, on the other hand, utilized a quota sampling technique that allowed him to quickly measure public opinion in comparatively short intervals. Along with contemporary pollsters Elmo Roper and George Gallup, Crossley predicted that Roosevelt would win — and win big. The final result of the 1936 election was Roosevelt winning all but eight electoral votes; it was one of the biggest landslide victories in U.S. presidential election history. Having correctly predicting the election, the "Trio of '36" as they came to be known, stimulated interest in usingpublic opinion as a tool to address genuine social concerns. Crossley stated:

Scientific polling makes it possible within two or three days at moderate expense for the entire nation to work hand in hand with its legislative representatives on laws which affect our daily lives. Here is the long sought key to Government by the People.

Establishment of the AAPOR and industry standards

Believing that the market would not support three separate public polls, Crossley largely continued to work in the commercial market research sector, yet he continued to play an active role in the field of public opinion, including running a presidential poll every four years.  In 1944, Crossley, along with Roper and Gallup, was invited to join the board of editors of Public Opinion Quarterly in an effort to bring the academic and commercial wings of survey research together in three primary areas: publication, technical methods and professional association. These efforts ultimately culminated in the establishment of the American Association of Public Opinion Research (AAPOR) in 1947, for which Crossley, Roper and Gallup served on the "nucleuscommittee" to help determine minimum data disclosure in publishing polls.

The efforts of the pollsters were nearly derailed in 1948 when Crossley, Roper and Gallup all incorrectly predicted a Thomas Dewey victory over incumbent President Truman. In the aftermath, Crossley and other AAPOR colleagues met in Iowa City to discuss what went wrong and how they could improve their techniques. Ultimately, they decided that polling needed to adopt probability sampling over quota sampling as the best practice.

Crossley remained active in AAPOR and served as president of the association in 1952. Two years later Crossley Inc. merged with the marketing research firm Steward, Dougall & Associates to form Crossley Surveys. While primarily focused on market research, which Crossley believed to be an essential element of the free market, Crossley was still active in furthering the science of survey research.

In 1962, Crossley retired, yet still devoted his efforts towards advancing the field of public opinion research, even taking on a few political polling jobs from time to time. In 1967 supporters of President Lyndon Johnson commissioned Crossley to conduct a confidential poll in selected states across the country, including Stratford County, New Hampshire, where Johnson was still popular. With his ratings in national polls dropping as the situation in Vietnam worsened, President Johnson leaked the results of the New Hampshire county poll to the press. The results in Stratford County were not indicative of the findings of the overall poll, thus the leak events were misleading. In response, Crossley released the rest of the poll's results to the press and made a public corrective statement. Ultimately AAPOR officially mandated that all of its members go public if their surveys are misrepresented.

Expanding internationally

Archibald Crossley was honored in 1970 with a lifetime achievement award from AAPOR as he continued his efforts to advance the field of public opinion research. In his later years he focused his work on how public opinion could help reduce international tensions — a long, sought-after ideal. His interest in this area led him to conduct workshops at the International Peace Academy, and his research contributed to Praeger and Davidson's book, Resolving Nationality Conflicts: The Role of Public Opinion Research.

Archibald Crossley passed away on May 1, 1985, after making an enormous impact in his field. A pioneer in both market and public opinion research, Crossley devoted his life to improving the world's understanding of public preferences and to developing the best practices in determining those preferences. With the founding of the Crossley Center in the Josef Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver, Archibald Crossley's legacy of dedication to the field of public opinion research lives on.

Archibald Crossley's Career Timeline

Overview: Participant in formation of American public opinion research, founder of professional survey research associations and advocate for high-quality standards.

  • 1896: Born in Fieldsboro, New Jersey
  • 1917:  Attended Princeton University. Returned and graduated in 1950.
  • 1918: Left Princeton to pursue work as a copywriter; hired by J.H. Cross Company to start a research department.
  • 1922: Hired by Literary Digest as Director of Research.
  • 1926: Established own market research company, Crossley Inc., with a commercial research emphasis. Became known for Crossley Political Polls and Cooperative Analysis of Broadcasting (CAB) — the latter of which measured radio broadcast shows' popularity via telephone interviews.
  • 1930: Crossley Inc./CAB recognized with Harvard award for year's most outstanding example of commercial research.
  • 1936: George Gallup, Elmo Roper and Crossley each conducted media-sponsored newspaper polling during 1936 presidential election. Crossley worked with Hearst newspapers. Each correctly predicted Roosevelt's win, while Literary Digest's poll, the most famous of the time, had Alfred Landon winning with 370 of the possible 531 votes in the Electoral College. The three became known as the "Trio of '36."
  • 1944: Gallup, Roper and Crossley, called the Trio of '36 after the 1936 presidential election, invited to join the Public Opinion Quarterly board in a pre-AAPOR effort to bring together academic and commercial wings of survey research.
  • 1946: Served on Committee for the Measurement of Opinion, Attitudes. Most of committees' work was establishing best practices for survey research.
  • 1947: Crossley, with colleagues, started American Association of Public Opinion Research (AAPOR); examined survey methodology and developed professional standards for published polls. AAPOR formed as consortium of commercial, academic, government and other research organizations.
  • Crossley chaired committee on practice for minimum disclosure of public polls — criteria for including size of sample, dates conducted and other relevant information. Crossley, along with Roper and Gallup, known as the "Nucleus Committee."
  • 1948: Dewey "victory"; Gallup, Crossley and Roper polls missed 1948 presidential winner, Harry Truman.
  • 1949: Crossley joined with colleagues to recommend greater integration between academics and pollsters. Near unanimous agreement to move away from quota sampling and adopt probability sampling techniques.
  • 1952: Assumed role as president of AAPOR.
  • 1954: Merged with marketing research firm Steward, Dougall & Associates to form Crossley Survey; experts on psychology of questionnaire construction and intensity of response. Crossley remained heavily involved in commercial research, believing it was essential to free market and consumer sovereignty, yet still conducted polls on public policy and political issues.
  • 1962: Crossley retired from Crossley Inc., but did not stop working.
  • 1967: Democratic National Committee leaked Crossley poll: Crossley reacted by insisting all data be released, not just selected parts. AAPOR adopted standards for reporting public opinion polls.
  • 1968: National Committee on Published Polls established; Crossley named chairmen and executive secretary. (Reorganized and renamed National Council on Public Polls in 1969.) Crossley advocated for ethical and professional rules governing public polls.
  • 1969: An article, "Polling in 1968," by Archibald Crossley and his daughter, Helen Crossley, published in Public Opinion Quarterly.
  • 1970: Received AAPOR Award for lifetime achievement.
  • 1978: Organized conferences and symposium on reducing international tension. Published report, "Resolving Nationality Conflicts" (Praeger, 1980).
  • 1980: Conducted workshops for International Peace Academy.
  • 1985: Died at home in Princeton, N.J. at 88 years old.