The Oldest Opinion Polls

I'm working on helping a collection of students create opinion polls for a research methods class, and it got me wondering how opinion polls (public surveys) even came to be in the first place.

I imagined I would be able to find records of scientific opinion polls from Ancient Civilizations, such as Egypt, or maybe Greece, but I couldn't find such a thing. According to what I could find, back in older times, people known for thinking (such as Plato, Aristotle, Locke, Hobbes, and Rousseau) apparently mostly considered public opinion to be a force beyond measurement, sort of like an emergent property where the whole was more than the sum of the parts.

It wasn't until the mid 1700s that the term "public opinion" even began common use! France was one of the first countries to start using the term, but did not have a scientific approach to measuring it. The first official straw polls of public political opinions probably didn't show up until the 1800s. The United States had a small one in 1824 regarding Andrew Jackson and John Quincy Adams, but since there was no effective way to get a massive amount of people to respond to the survey, it only garnered roughly 500 responses.

Today, you can't get away from the things, and as someone who has studied the design of surveys, many of them aren't even being conducted effectively or fairly in the first place. Marketing teams could seriously benefit from learning how to write questions that aren't loaded, leading, or double-barreled. There are lots of ways to write a bad survey, and much fewer ways to write a good one.


Erikson, R. S., & Tedin, K. L. (2015). American public opinion: Its origins, content and impact. Routledge.

Madonna, G., & Young, M. (2002). The First Political Poll. Retrieved from: