206864 Surveying postwar America: The averaged American in the age of Gallup and Kinsey

Tuesday, November 10, 2009: 8:40 AM

Luis A. Aviles, PhD , Sociology Program, University of Puerto Rico, Mayaguez, Mayaguez, PR
Survey data telling Americans “what we think,” “how we vote,” and “who we are” became common currency only in the last century. This paper, drawn from the recent book, The Averaged American, examines the way opinion polls, sex surveys, and consumer research transformed the United States public in the postwar era. The paper argues that modern surveys projected new visions of the nation: authoritative accounts of majorities and minorities, the mainstream and the marginal. They also infiltrated the lives of those who opened their doors to pollsters, or measured their habits and beliefs against statistics culled from strangers. Survey data underwrote categories as abstract as “the average American” and as intimate as the sexual self—demonstrating the power of scientific surveys to shape Americans' sense of themselves as individuals, members of communities, and citizens of a nation. Tracing how ordinary people argued about and adapted to a public awash in aggregate data, the presentation will reveal how survey techniques and findings became the vocabulary of postwar mass society.

Learning Objectives:
Describe the effects of surveying techniques on understandings of the U.S. public Explain the historical rootedness of statistical representations

Keywords: History, Statistics

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Qualified on the content I am responsible for because: I am the author of the book, The Averaged American, under discussion.
Any relevant financial relationships? No

I agree to comply with the American Public Health Association Conflict of Interest and Commercial Support Guidelines, and to disclose to the participants any off-label or experimental uses of a commercial product or service discussed in my presentation.