Archiv für Sozialgeschichte
Band XLIII/ 2003 - Summaries

Anja Kruke,

The Struggle for Opinion Leadership. Public Opinion Polling as an Instrument of Parties and the Media in the 1970s

In this essay, the analysis of opinion polls serves as the key to understanding the relationship between politics and the public in the 1970s. To this end, the work of pollsters for the two large parties, the CDU and the SPD, as well as the mass media is at the heart of the investigation. As early as the late 1960s, political public opinion research became a common political instrument. Both parties understood opinion research as a tool for mapping and for directing public opinion, and they made ample use of public opinion polling. Whereas, in the 1970's, the SPD increasingly turned to Infratest, an institute that concentrated on consumer and media research, the CDU at first observed its surroundings through the lens of the Sozialwissenschaftliche Forschungsinstitut of the Konrad Adenauer Foundation. By the middle of the decade, however, the CDU began to seek advise mostly from the Institut für Demoskopie Allensbach. Both parties attempted to influence their potential voters by selectively publishing data from their public opinion polls. In the course of the decade, they were forced to realise that the media themselves had discovered public opinion research. The media developed, in the course of the years, an own interest in the techniques of public opinion research, which they increasingly used for their own opinion polls and interpretations. In this way, the media increasingly became political actors themselves. There arose a struggle for political interpretative power, not merely between the political parties themselves, but now also between the parties and the mass media. The latter employed the objectified data of public opinion research in order to present themselves as the "actual sovereign of the people". Between the late 1960s and late 1970s, politics thus became increasingly dominated by the media, a process, which could be observed in the public opinion polls themselves. With that, the relationship between politics and the public sphere shifted. The media's public opinion research became the epitome of definitional power over the political sphere.


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