Politics polled: how the public broadcaster discovered the opinion poll

Date of news: 16 March 2022

Today, the Netherlands is voting to elect new municipal councillors. Nowadays, the voting behaviour of large groups of voters is partly determined by referencing and opinion polls. These polls not only chart political developments, but also influence the voter's choice in the voting booth. In his article for BMGN - Low Countries Historical Review (BMGN-LCHR), Fons Meijer of Radboud University investigates how and why opinion polls have become so important in the Dutch media.

Public broadcasting corporations discovered the phenomenon of opinion polls in the 1960s, Meijer states in his BMGN article. Not only did broadcast editors and journalists claim a position as intermediaries between politicians and voters with the help of these polls, they also used them to break open the compartmentalised relations.

After all, from the 1970s onwards, polling agencies such as NIPO and experts like Marcel van Dam and Maurice de Hond promoted in radio and television programmes a new, scientifically substantiated image of the electorate as citizens who no longer attuned their voting behaviour to their religion or ideology, but to their findings as critical civilian consumers. The result was a forever changed Dutch election culture.

Historical, journalistic sources

For the research, Meijer used various historical sources. 'We looked at old recordings of radio and television programmes in which polls were used, at letters and editorial minutes from the NOS archives in which editors discussed the use of polls, and at newspapers and magazines in which journalists reflected on the election surveys of the public broadcasting corporation,' says Meijer.

The publication appears today in BMGN - Low Countries Historical Review, an academic journal on the history of the Netherlands and Belgium in an international perspective. The journal is published by the Royal Dutch Historical Society (KNHG). The KNHG promotes the interests of the profession by devoting itself to the professional development and employment prospects of historians, the professionalisation and positioning of the historian, the social importance of history and the accessibility of sources. The KNHG advises in the field of policy and organises congresses and workshops for the professional group. To this end, the society works closely with colleges, universities and training and knowledge institutes.

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