The Average American

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Once upon a time, what Americans knew about themselves came from family and friends, legends and literature. Then came the pollster. Never mind Davy Crockett and Honest Abe and Betsy Ross. Now we had public opinion polls to introduce to the "average" American.

The public ate it up. First, in the 1920s, to learn the basics of life in Middletown, America... What we ate and earned and longed for. Then, with Gallup polls and the Kinsey report, why we voted the way we did and the innermost details of even our sex lives.

Today, there seems to be a new poll every five seconds. They teach us, and they define us.

This hour On Point: the poll-driven nation, and our understanding of ourselves.


Sarah Igo, author of "The Averaged American," assistant professor of history at the University of Pennsylvania

Frank Newport, Editor in Chief, Gallup Poll

Nate Persily, Professor of Law and Political Science at the University of Pennsylvania

Jack Beatty, On Point Senior News Analyst and Senior Editor of the Atlantic Monthly

This program aired on January 30, 2007.


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