Historians have tended to point to John F. Kennedy's 1960 bid for the presidency as the first time a candidate relied extensively on public opinion polls to drive a campaign. Polling has come to define American politics and is perhaps most clearly embodied in Bill Clinton, the post poll-driven president in history. Melvin G. Holli dismisses this notion, however, and reveals that presidential reliance on public opinion polls dates back to the New Deal era, when Franklin Roosevelt employed a first-generation Finnish American named Emil Hurja to conduct polls for his 1932 and 1936 presidential campaigns. Holli shows us how Hurja convinced the Democratic National Committee to allow him to apply the new science of polling to FDR's presidential campaign of 1932. Roosevelt's triumph at the polls in that year and again in 1936, as well as the spectacular 1934 Democratic mid-term congressional victory was legendary. Holli here restores Hurja, whom the Washington press corps dubbed the "Wizard of Washington", to a place in American history and politics.
MELVIN G. HOLLI is Professor of History at the University of Illinois at Chicago and the author and co-editor of fifteen books on urban, ethnic, and political history. His publication The American Mayor: The Best and Worst Big-City Leaders received extensive review attention and was the subject of a fifty-minute lecture on CSPAN-TV's Book Week.