The Gallup poll, democracy, and the vox populi: Ideologies of interviewing and the communicability of modern life

Charles L Briggs 1 , 1
  • 1 University of California, Berkeley.


One of Aaron Cicourel's most critical contributions to social science lies in his pioneering work on gaps between the complex pragmatics of research interviews and the ways that they are conceptualized by practitioners. This article argues for systematic attention to ideological constructions of interviewing, taking as its focus George Gallup's ‘civic model’ of polls and his efforts to transform them into a crucial foundation for democratic governance in the United States and beyond. Countering deep skepticism about polling among social scientists, politicians, and journalists in the 1930s and 1940s, Gallup fused ideologies of science, quantification, and democracy with a construction of the production, circulation, and reception of discourse about ‘public opinion’. This communicable cartography (or ideological map) shapes how the current Gallup ‘Editor-in-Chief ’ positions polling as the sine qua non for constructing subjects and states in a neoliberal age. An analysis of a Gallup poll suggests that this communicable cartography is inscribed in multiple ways in each presentation of polling data, thrusting readers into a textual universe that claims to know the ‘real vox populi’ and how it has connected US citizens and politicians for six decades.

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Text & Talk (founded as TEXT in 1981) is an internationally recognized forum for interdisciplinary research in language, discourse, and communication studies, focusing, among other things, on the situational and historical nature of text/talk production; the cognitive and sociocultural processes of language practice/action; and participant-based structures of meaning negotiation and multimodal alignment.