Hurja, Emil (d. 1953)
Iron County, Mich. Delegate to
Democratic National Convention from Michigan,
candidate in Republican primary for
U.S. Representative from Michigan
12th District, 1946, 1948.
1953. Interment at
Arlington National Cemetery,
of Sir Emil Hurja (1892-1953),
- newspaper editor
- financial analyst
- assistant to Jim Farley and executive director of the
Democratic National Committee
and collector of
Andrew Jackson manuscripts
- editor of Pathfinder magazine
Tennessee Historical Society by Mr.
P. G. Bigler, New York, New York; Mr. Rosser J. Coke, Dallas, Texas; Mr.
R. A. Hummel, New York, New York; Mr. Robert G. Stone, Boston,
Massachusetts; Mrs. Margaret S. Weeks, Woodbury, Connecticut; and Mr.
Henry J. Wolff, New York, New York, in 1954
The collection occupies 6.30 cubic feet of shelf space, and numbers
approximately 550 items and 3 volumes
Single photocopies of unpublished writings in the Sir Emil Hurja Collection
may be made for purposes of scholarly research
Emil Hurja, a native of Michigan's
Upper Peninsula, was the pioneer of political polling, and was instrumental
in the success of the presidency of
Franklin Delano Roosevelt and his
political program, "The
New Deal" Later, a disillusioned Hurja
over policy and lost a run for Congress. Known as "the Crystal Gazer
Crystal Falls," Hurja was a local boy
with a national impact.
you name one person born in Michigan's Upper Peninsula who has made the
cover of Time magazine? How about Emil Hurja (1892-1953) of
Crystal Falls, whose picture graced the
cover of Time magazine in March of 1936?
Hurja was Franklin
Roosevelt's private pollster, the first
man to systematically gather data on political behavior and use them to win
elections. More to the point, Hurja helped transform American politics:
He paved the way for
power in Washington, and use patronage to sway voters
Hurja (pronounced Hur-ya), the son of
Finnish immigrants, grew up in mining country in
Crystal Falls and graduated from high
school there. Attracted to politics, Hurja became a newspaper reporter
after graduating from college, and worked for the Democratic Party during
Roosevelt's campaign for the presidency
Political polling was almost unknown then, and Hurja studied samples of
voters to decipher trends in the campaign and help
FDR win votes. Assaying politics,
Hurja explained, was like assaying ore back in
Crystal Falls: "You take sections of
voters, check new trends against past performances, establish percentage
shift among different voting strata ... and you can accurately predict an
When Hurja predicted—almost precisely—Roosevelt's
popular and electoral vote in 1932, the novice pollster found a place in the
new president's administration. He worked closely with
strengthen the spoils system and shift power to the executive branch with
the launching of the
Just as Hurja's polling of different groups was changing the analysis of
politics, so the flood of new government programs under
changing the conduct of politics. Fresh subsidies for diverse groups, from
farmers to silver miners, showed Hurja how transfer payments influenced
voting behavior. He did regular polling and briefed
on how his use of taxpayer dollars was winning voters to the
The 1934 off-year elections were the first test of how thoroughly government
largess was changing political loyalties
Hurja's polls showed a swing to the Democrats among the groups winning
subsidies from Washington. Therefore, he broke down federal aid by
congressional district and sent bulletins to Democratic candidates: "You
can use this [information on the inflow of government money] any way you
like," Hurja wrote them, "in speeches, radio talks, or interviews." When
the Democrats surprisingly won substantial gains in Congress,
claimed that Hurja's predictions and the Democrats' success were "the
most remarkable thing" he had ever seen.
Roosevelt's popularity, and the regular
flow of new federal money, increased the president's power even more. With
Hurja taking his regular polls and sending the news to the president,
had the upper hand in his relationship with Congress. His programs
and his endorsements shifted funds in and out of districts, and left
senators and House members coming to
with hats in hand.
The climax of Hurja's career was his active role in
Roosevelt's landslide re-election in
Hurja was quoted in many major magazines and his notoriety reached a peak
when he made the cover of Time. In his polls, he studied trends and plotted
results on maps of states and of the nation.
Melvin G. Holli, author of "The Wizard
of Washington," observes, "With Hurja's advice, . . . [James] Farley, who
directed the flow of funds for the Democrats, would signal the announcement
of new WPA (Works
Progress Administration) projects and relief programs or
designate speakers and campaign materials for those states that Hurja's
notebook indicated were doubtful." Hurja even used WPA workers to do his
Roosevelt's landslide win, Hurja broke
with the president. The pollster was especially upset with
FDR's court-packing scheme and the
trend toward an imperial presidency. Regretting his support for centralized
government, Hurja became a Republican. In fact, he returned to
Crystal Falls in 1946 and ran for
Congress in Michigan's 12th district. He lost his race, but he advised
other Republicans and thereby helped that party take control of Congress.
Yes, Hurja admitted, he trusted too much in
Roosevelt, but he had the courage to
admit his mistake and try to correct it. Known as the "Crystal Gazer from
Crystal Falls," Emil Hurja was a local
boy with a national impact.
Burton Folsom, Ph.D. is historian in
residence at the
Center for the American Idea in
Texas and an adjunct scholar with the Mackinac Center for Public Policy
RM Eisinger and J Brown.
Lewis & Clark
College, 0615 SW Palatine Hill Road, Portland, OR 97219, USA
Polling as a means toward presidential autonomy: Emil Hurja, Hadley Cantril
Franklin Delano Roosevelt's private
polling served as a historic turning point in American politics.
Roosevelt, faced with a
constricting party apparatus and hostile relations with the media
and Congress, sought to strengthen the executive branch in order
to achieve a measure of independence from the Democratic Party,
the media, or Congress. Polls, we argue, allowed
and subsequent presidents to gauge public opinion without
the consent of parties, the media, or Congress.
Emil Hurja's polls for the DNC and Hadley Cantril's polling for
explain this new function of the presidency. Emil Hurja disseminated
poll data to the president, employing statistical techniques
that began to obviate the local Democratic party as an institutional
conduit between the electorate and the executive branch. Hadley
Cantril was more than a poll data disseminator; he was also
a media and communications advisor.
Roosevelt's advisors used
private polls as vehicles to advance the president's legislative
and public relations agendas, and as instruments to measure the
popularity of policies not yet codified and candidates not yet
announced. Thanks to these polls,
had a secret weapon that loosened the bonds previously
preventing the executive branch from becoming the leadership
vehicle he envisioned it to be.
the ways in which the executive branch began to grow under
Roosevelt, the assimilation of public
opinion polls and the advice that accompanied them as an accepted
function of the presidency signaled a historic change in the
evolution of American politics
International Journal of
Public Opinion Research 10:237-256
International Journal of Public Opinion Research
Melvin G. Holli,
professor of history and former chairman of the History Department
(1991-1994) at the University of Illinois at Chicago, has authored
thirty-five articles and fifteen books that have received numerous awards.
Holli specializes in urban, ethnic, and political history. His latest work
is The Wizard of Washington: Emit Hurja, Franklin
Roosevelt, and the Birth of Public
Opinion Polling (St. Martins Press, 2002), ISBN 0-312-29395-x
Emil Hurja: Michigan Presidential Pollster,"
Michigan Historical Review, Fall 1995
Melvin G. Holli
poll as we know it today came into existence in the 1930s, but the art of
determining how people are going to vote, who is going to win an election
and what the public opinion of the day is has been practiced throughout U.S.
history. A look at the time line below makes it clear that the poll has been
making news for years, and will continue to do so.
1700s - Poll
books of early politicians record who voted and how they voted.
Jefferson Administration: Regular canvassing of voters – by individual
political parties of party members only – begins. Voters are asked about
their voting intentions only, and demographic questions or attitudinal
questions are not included.
Canvassing becomes widely utilized, with national parties using armies of
volunteers to canvass voters.
first recorded straw vote appears in the Harrisburg Pennsylvanian; Andrew
Jackson is the favored presidential candidate in Wilmington.
DeBow, the director of the 1850 census, utilizes the concept of the random
sample, sampling 23 counties and cross-tabulating data regarding marriage,
schooling and inequality of wealth.
term “dark horse” is used by the Boston Journal to describe a candidate
other than the leading contenders likely to emerge as a winner of an
election. The process of election watching and candidate watching becomes
known as horse-race journalism.
Democratic National Committee spends $2.5 million to circulate campaign
pamphlets and personalized letters and sponsor 14,000 field workers and
orators. The Republican National Committee spends $3.5 million in 1896 to
sponsor what author Richard Jensen, writing in Public Opinion, calls
polling, with an “intensity never matched before or since in a democratic
newspapers conduct straw polls to determine the outcome of the
McKinley-Bryan presidential election. The Chicago Record spends $60,000 plus
to mail postcard ballots to each of the registered voters in Chicago and to
a random sample of one voter out of every eight in twelve Midwestern states.
A quarter of a million returns predict McKinley will win and are off by only
.04 percent in Chicago, but fail outside of Chicago.
First three decades of the twentieth century:
Straw polls become even more popular and are conducted by the Hearst
Newspapers, New York Herald, Cincinnati Enquirer, Columbus Dispatch, Chicago
Tribune, Omaha World-Herald and the Des Moines Tribune, among others.
Columbus Dispatch begins systematic polling in Ohio and by 1920 conducts
polls using geographical locations and a quota system based on party, sex,
religion, nationality and economic status. Literary Digest, a popular weekly
magazine, begins the first of its straw polls, focusing on presidential
World War I:
Army psychologists administer intelligence and aptitude tests to get
recruits into the right jobs. The art of designing questionnaires is
improved, and the discovery of patterns of response through statistical
analysis is made.
Advertising agencies and the Curtis chain pioneer buyer-attitude studies.
researchers, government and academic statisticians improve upon the sampling
technique, adopting quota sampling.
Ling, psychologist and media, advertising and marketing expert, creates the
first modern poll, the Psychological Barometer, for the Psychological
Corporation (still in business) surveying public attitudes on various
products. Ling’s polls are conducted in home, not by mail, eliminating the
problems of nonresponse.
Alex Miller runs for secretary of state in Iowa as a Democrat and her
son-in-law tests a public opinion sampling technique developed while he was
working on a doctorate degree. Mrs Miller wins, and her son-in-law, George
H. Gallup, is in business.
Gallup, Archibald Crossley and Elmo Roper launch the modern attitudinal
poll, asking those polled about more than just how they intend to vote,
correctly predicting Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s victory in 1936. The Gallup
Poll is syndicated for newspapers. Roper conducts the Fortune Poll for
gives Roosevelt 55.7 percent, Crossley predicts 53.8 percent and Roper says
61.7 – the president’s actual share is 62.5 percent The Literary Digest
predicts that Republican Alfred Landon will win and moves into polling
Features syndicates the Crossley Poll.
President Roosevelt uses public opinion information gathered from polls to
lead the public.
Media-supported or -conducted state polls such as Joe Belden’s Texas Poll
(1940), Mervin Field’s California Poll (1947), the Des Moines Register Iowa
Poll (1943) and the Minneapolis Tribune’s Minnesota Poll (1944) are
polls and pollsters predict a Dewey landslide. Polling suffers a credibility
1960: John F.
Kennedy utilizes polls during his presidential campaign.
are conducted by CBS/New York Times, NBC/Associated Press. ABC/Harris, the
Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times. Time and Newsweek sponsor opinion
polls are introduced by CBS News. Voters are asked demographic questions and
whom they voted for. In 1972 CBS News adds questions about the mood and
motivations of the voters.
Etzioni’s MINERVA system adds voting capability to the standard home
telephone for conference calls of up to 30 people.
Carter hires pollster Patrick Cadell, and comes from behind to win. Cadell
becomes the first pollster to become a full-fledged member of the inner
circle at the White House.
predicts Ronald Reagan has won the presidency by 8:15 p.m., before the polls
have closed in the western states
Primer on Polls" by Jean Marie Hamilton