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Roosevelt Predicted to Win: Revisiting the 1936 Literary Digest Poll

Sharon L. Lohr
  • Corresponding author
  • Westat, 1600 Research Boulevard, Rockville, MD 20850, USA
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/ J. Michael Brick
  • Westat, 1600 Research Boulevard, Rockville, MD 20850, USA
Published Online: 2017-03-31 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/spp-2016-0006


The Literary Digest poll of 1936, which incorrectly predicted that Landon would defeat Roosevelt in the 1936 US presidential election, has long been held up as an example of how not to sample. The sampling frame was constructed from telephone directories and automobile registration lists, and the survey had a 24% response rate. But if information collected by the poll about votes cast in 1932 had been used to weight the results, the poll would have predicted a majority of electoral votes for Roosevelt in 1936, and thus would have correctly predicted the winner of the election. We explore alternative weighting methods for the 1936 poll and the models that support them. While weighting would have resulted in Roosevelt being projected as the winner, the bias in the estimates is still very large. We discuss implications of these results for today’s low-response-rate surveys and how the accuracy of the modeling might be reflected better than current practice.


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About the article

Published Online: 2017-03-31

Citation Information: Statistics, Politics and Policy, ISSN (Online) 2151-7509, ISSN (Print) 2194-6299, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/spp-2016-0006. Export Citation

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