SURVEY AND PUBLIC OPINION RESEARCH
Unless otherwise noted, all biographies were written by Peter Simonson and Lauren Archer.
THELMA ERLICH ANDERSON
ROSE KOHN GOLDSEN
(1916 – 2010), a German political scientist, was an influential but controversial scholar who studied the influence of media on public opinion, arguing for the powerful effects that media could have and developing the influential, albeit debated, theory of the “spiral of silence.” She was born in 1916 in Berlin to a distinguished family and her childhood would have a lasting impact on her. She grew up in a privileged family with a father who spent time discussing topics with her and a mother who trained her to appreciate art. Growing up, Noelle-Neuman was often sick, and as a result, became accustomed to spending her time reading and writing. In high school she founded a student paper that was banned after only six issues. Then, she enrolled in a journalism course taught by Emil Dovifat, a key figure in establishing mass communication in Germany. This class, combined with her high school newspaper experience, inspired her to get a doctorate in journalism, but she was denied acceptance to the university for failure to join a Nazi organization. She began training as a painter and graphic artist but eventually gained admission to the University of Berlin to study newspaper science. In addition, she spent time at the University of Munich and on a fellowship traveled to America and studied at the University of Missouri's School of Journalism from 1937-38. While there, she gathered data for her dissertation as well as traveled extensively. In 1939 she returned to Germany to finish her doctorate but almost gave up when war broke out. In 1940 she completed her degree, having written her dissertation on American public opinion research and the polling methods of George Gallup.
From 1940 to 1945, Noelle-Neuman worked for a number of newspapers, including Das Reich
and the Frankfurter Zeitung
. Throughout this time she had several run ins with the Nazi Ministry of Propoganda regarding her writings. In 1946 Noelle-Neuman married Erich Neumann, and in 1947 they co-founded the Allensbach Institute, the first German survey research institute. Noelle-Neuman became director and subsequently turned down job offers to remain there. The Allensbach Institute performed pioneering work in capturing German public opinion. For many years Noelle-Neuman co-edited the series Allensbacher Jahrbucher der Demoskopie
, which presents the Institute's findings that might be of interest to the public or historians. Through her work at the Allensbach, Noelle-Neuman also formed strong ties with top German leaders including Chancellor Kohl and was even called “the Pope” of public opinion polling by one German weekly.
When seeking to expand beyond Allensback, Noelle-Neuman began lecturing on communication research in 1961 at the Free University. By 1964 she moved to the University of Munich with an associate professor position, and in 1967 she became a full professor. Meanwhile, in 1966 she founded the Institut fur Kommunikationsforschung
at the University of Mainz and directed it until 1983. Many of her students achieved senior level opinion polling positions. Noelle-Neuman also worked as a visiting professor at the University of Chicago in the political science department from 1978-1991 followed by a visiting professor stint in the Department of Communications at the University of Munich from 1993-1994. Her husband died in 1973, but in 1979 she remarried to Heinz Maier Leibnitz, a distinguished physicist and one-time president of Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft
(the German equivalent of the National Science Foundation). Throughout her time in these various positions she worked as a journalist and public opinion analyst. She also served as president of the World Association for Public Opinion Research from 1978 to 1980 and received the Helen Dinerman award in 1990 for her work's contribution to methodological techniques.
Noelle-Neuman published prolifically. The most influential aspects of Noelle-Neuman's works remain her exploration of the relationship between mass media and public opinion as well as her innovative technique of using multiple methods, including cross-sectional surveys, panel studies, and content analysis, to examine research questions. Her most renowned work, The Spiral of Silence: Public Opinion—Our Social Skin
, has been translated into 20 languages. The book discusses fear of isolation and an individual's need to be a part of society, a theory based on her study of voting poll responses. The study explored the idea that those who felt they shared the majority view were more willing to openly express that view while those of the minority view would be more reluctant to share or wouldn't share at all and, as a result, that opinion would eventually disappear from the public realm or fall into what Noelle-Neuman called the “spiral of silence.” Noelle-Neuman's work presents a dynamic picture of public opinion, seeing it as cultivated by two sources, both direct observation and indirect observation through mass media. She argued for the idea that mass media had powerful effects at the time when the general consensus was that media didn't have that much of an impact on audiences. Parts of Noelle-Neuman's work also hint at later research showing that the media frames issues for the public.
Noelle-Neuman's work has been criticized from both theoretical and methodological standpoints, especially the spiral of silence theory as well as the powerful effects of media claim. Noelle-Neuman's work is founded on the mass society model and many theoretical objections to her work stem from that foundation. Methodologically, criticism stems from concerns that applicability is limited and culturally specific.
Throughout her career Noelle-Neuman also faced personal criticisms based on her past. Although she had previously faced accusations of Nazism, the criticism grew particularly strong in the 1990s as more of Noelle-Neuman's past became publicized. Attention was focused on her ties to the Nazi party (she once had tea with Hitler) and she was accused of generating anti-Semitic writings both in her dissertation work and when she worked for Das Reich
. The controversy seemed to start with an article by Leo Bogart entitled “The Pollster and the Nazis,” a commentary article on Noelle-Neuman's work that argues some of her past writings tended to support Nazi sentiments and bordered on being anti-Semitic. Following in Bogart's footsteps, Christopher Simpsons claims Noelle-Neuman's professional work and theories have been shaped by her Nazi sentiments and totalitarian ideology. Noelle-Neuman responded to Simpson's criticisms at the 1997 International Communication Association conference, pointing out numerous errors in Simpson's research. Over the years, Noelle-Neuman responded to criticisms of her past by explaining that any anti-Semitic writings or perceived pro-Nazism sentiments were a cover-up for her own anti-Nazi attitudes. She never joined the Nazi party and was actually fired from Das Reich
for submitting an article that her editor felt was too sympathetic to President Roosevelt. Despite criticisms Noelle-Neuman's work will continue to influence the path of communication studies and understandings of public opinion.
Noelle-Neumann, Elisabeth. (1973). Return to the concept of powerful mass media. Studies in Broadcasting
Noelle-Neumann, Elisabeth. (1979). Experiments in the measurement of readership. Journal of the Market Research Society
Noelle-Neumann, Elisabeth. (1979). Public opinion and the classical tradition. Public Opinion Quarterly
Noelle-Neumann, Elisabeth. (1984). The spiral of silence—public opinion: Our social skin
. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press.
Noelle-Neumann, Elisabeth. (1984). International opinion research: How to phrase your questions. European Research
Noelle-Neumann, Elisabeth, and Mathes, Rainer. (1987). The 'event as event' and the 'event as news': The significance of consonance for media effects research. European Journal of Communication
Noelle-Neumann, Elisabeth. (1989). Advances in spiral of silence research. Keio Communications Review
Noelle-Neumann, Elisabeth. (1989). The public as prophet: Findings from continuous survey research and their importance for early diagnosis of economic growth. International Journal of Public Opinion Research
Noell-Nuemann, Elisabeth. (1997). An autobiographical sketch: Excerpts from the English translation of “Uber den Fortschritt der Publizistikwissenschaft durch Anwendung empirische Forschungsmethoden. Eine autobiographische Aufzeichnung.” in Arnulf Kutsch and Horst Pottker (Eds.), Kommunikationswissenschaft – autobiographisch. Berichte zur Entwicklung einer Wissenschaft in Deutschland. Wiesbaden: Westdeutscher Verlag, (Publizistik Sonderheft No. 1).
Viswanath, K. (1996). Elisabeth Noelle-Nuemann. In Nancy Signorelli (Ed.) Women In Communication: A Biographical Sourcebook (300-11). Westport, CT: Greenwood Press.
Professor Elisabeth Noelle-Nuemann: Opinion pollster and professor of journalism.” Times Online. April 15, 2010, http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/obituaries/article7097606.ece
Bogart, Leo. (1991). The pollsters and the Nazis. Observations, 47-49.
Simpson, Christopher. (1996), Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann's “Spiral of Silence” and the Historical Context of Communication Theory. Journal of Communication, 46: 149–171.
Dr. Christopher Simpson's webpage