A Troubled Birth: The 1930s and American Public Opinion, Susan Herbst
Over the past decade, public opinion has become both a crutch and a scapegoat—simultaneously relied upon for its legitimacy and criticized for its elusiveness. In A Troubled Birth: The 1930s and American Public Opinion, Susan Herbst, an eminent thought leader on public opinion in American democracy, helps us grapple with these tensions by taking us back to the formidable shaping of public opinion in the 1930s and the trappings that have followed us since.
Through her self-proclaimed “archaeology of public opinion as an idea” (p. 6), Herbst makes the case that assumptions and biases established in the 1930s around what constitutes the “public” and “public opinion” have continued with us today and blinded us to the actual state of the American public. From her historical analysis, she contends that considering recent failures in public opinion polling, analysis, and coverage—citing surprising outcomes such as the election of Donald Trump in 2016, the COVID-19 pandemic and polarization, and the January 6 insurrection—scholars and practitioners would benefit from revisiting these assumptions and tapping into cultural touchstones to assess the public and public sentiment.
Central to the book's overall argument is the idea that the 1930s was the decade during which public opinion was enduri
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