Sunday, March 19, 1944: The first Minnesota Poll

Posted on June 12th, 2007 – 2:44 AM
By Ben Welter

The Minnesota Poll, introduced in March 1944, is one of the nation’s oldest public opinion polls. In its early years, the poll covered a range of political, economic, religious and social topics. Here’s a taste of the questions, as reported in the Star Tribune on the 50th anniversary of the poll:

1944: Two-thirds of men said they preferred cuffed suit pants.
1944: 87 percent of Minnesotans reported eating breakfast every day.
1945: 19 percent said children should not be taught to believe in Santa.
1947: 10 percent thought the Upper Midwest was called the land of the sky-blue waters.
1950: As the Korean War raged, more than half said they believed World War III was underway.
1958: 58 percent said they didn’t believe in leaving tips.

1944 MN poll logo

The poll has weathered its share of criticism, most recently when it showed John Kerry with an 8-point lead over George Bush in Minnesota in the closing days of the 2004 presidential campaign. The final result was much closer, and some Republicans called for Rob Daves, the poll’s director, to resign.

The poll’s future is unclear. Daves has left the paper, along with scores of other newsroom employees swept away in two rounds of buyouts in the wake of Avista Capital Partners’ purchase of the paper this spring. No Minnesota Poll has been published since the 2006 elections.

The very first Minnesota Poll, sporting a headline that would not be out of place in 2007, made a relatively quiet splash. It appeared on the front of the “Minnesota Section,” not on Page One.

3 Out of 4 in Minnesota Say
They Can’t Cut Use of Gasoline

Nearly 50 per cent of Minnesota people believe their communities can reduce consumption of gasoline, but almost three out of four said “no” when asked whether their families could get along with less gasoline.

This was brought out in the first report of THE MINNESOTA POLL, inaugurated to measure opinion on questions of timely interest.

The poll, on the question of gasoline usage, is of particular interest and importance, because of the reduction in “A” gasoline coupon value which goes into effect March 22.

1944 poll graphic

Tapping a cross section of Minnesotans, the poll revealed 48 per cent believe their communities could get along on less gasoline while 42 per cent said their communities couldn’t reduce the amount used. Ten per cent offered no opinion.

This was the overall response to this question;

“The OPA announced the war effort will suffer unless Minnesota reduces its consumption of gasoline. Generally speaking, do you think the people in your community could get along on less gasoline?”

Breaking the totals down, it was revealed opinion varied between different groups and different communities. Defining a city to be anything over 2,500 population, a town to be any settlement under 2,500 population, and a farm to consists of at least three acres of ground and a $250 crop, for instance, the city group appeared more optimistic concerning a cut in rations.

To the above question, 52 per cent of city people said “yes,” 37 per cent said “no” and 11 per cent had no opinion.

Of town people, 53 per cent said “yes,” 37 per cent “no” and 10 percent had no opinion.

Of farmers, 38 per cent said yes, 54 per cent “no” and 8 per cent had no views in the matter.

When the question is narrowed from the community to the family, which is to say the individual, however, the picture is different. This is the result when respondents were asked if their families could be were asked if their families could reduce consumption of gasoline:

No …………. 70 per cent
Yes …………. 28 per cent
No answer ….. 2 per cent

Of this group, farmers were most positive in their aggregate answer. Seventy-nine per cent of farmers said they could not individually reduce gasoline consumption. Only 19 per cent agreed they could. Two per cent had no opinion.

Thirty-three per cent of each of the city and town groups, however, believed they could reduce consumption. Of city people, 66 per cent said they could not; of town people, 67 per cent said they could not get along on less gas.

Of the 28 per cent who said that they could reduce the consumption of gasoline, the following question was asked:

“How much less gasoline could you get along on?”

Here are the results by city, town and farm:

City Town Farm
Could reduce half 21% 11% 0
Could reduce quarter 22% 28% 21%
Could reduce 10 per cent 33% 45% 55%
Don’t know 24% 16% 24%

Most results of the poll appeared, on the surface at least, to correspond to accessibility of public transportation. Farmers, located away from public centers, were most reluctant to agree to allotments, and then plumbed for the smallest reduction possible.

Town and city people ran neck and neck on most divisions of the subject, agreeing closely on community and individual reduction. In the amount of reduction, however, they split, the city dweller believing he could effect a more drastic saving.

Further interesting results of the Minnesota Poll will appear each Sunday in the Sunday Tribune.

Eight prominent Minnesotans pass upon the policies and the phrasing of questions submitted to the cross-section of Minnesota.

Members of this Advisory committee include:

W.C. Coffey, president, University of Minnesota.

Donald J. Cowling, president, Carleton College, Northfield.

Mrs. George W. Sugden, Mankato, president, Minnesota Federation of Women’s clubs.

Robert A. Olson, Duluth, president, Minnesota Federation of Labor.

John S. Pillsbury, chairman of the board, Pillsbury Flour Mills, company, Minneapolis.

Randolph Hugan, general manager, Augsburg Publishing House, Minneapolis.

Einar Kulvinen, New York Mills, president, Minnesota Farmers Union.

Mrs. Phillip S. Duff, Wayzata, president, Minnesota League of Women Voters.

Pierce Butler, Jr., St. Paul, attorney.

Frank W. White, Marshall, president, Minnesota Farm Bureau federation.

Rabbi Albert G. Minda, Minneapolis.

O.J. Jerde, St. Cloud, president, Minnesota Education association.

The Rev. James H. Moynihan, Minneapolis.

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