In 1916 the Literary Digest, an influential general-interest weekly magazine published by Funk & Wagnalls, conducted a national survey of voter preference, mailing out millions of postcards and counting the returns, partly as a circulation-raising exercise. Using these straw poll results the Digest correctly predicted the election of Woodrow Wilson as president of the United States. This may be the first national opinion poll.
"The poll correctly predicted that Woodrow Wilson would be the winner, and the magazine’s poll went on to successfully call the next four elections. Newspapers gave substantial coverage to the poll, which drove up the magazine’s readership. In 1932, James A. Farley, chairman of the Democratic National Committee, was widely quoted as saying, “Any sane person cannot escape the implication of such a gigantic sampling of popular opinion as is embraced in the Literary Digest straw vote.… It is a Poll fairly and correctly conducted.”
"The magazine set out to launch its most ambitious poll ever in 1936. Over 10 million postcards were mailed to Literary Digest subscribers, people on automobile registration lists, and names in telephone directories, of which 2.4 million were returned. The Literary Digest issued its predictions in an article boasting that the figures represented the opinions of “more than one in every five voters polled in our country” scattered throughout the forty-eight states. The results indicated that Republican candidate Alfred Landon would defeat Franklin Roosevelt, receive 57 percent of the popular vote, and carry thirty-two states in the Electoral College. Roosevelt won by a landslide, commanding 61 percent of the popular vote and winning in all but two states.
"While the magazine made no claims of infallibility, its methodology was heavily flawed. The sample was biased toward Republican-leaning voters who could afford telephone service, cars, and magazine subscriptions. The volunteers who tabulated the results were not carefully trained, which introduced additional error into the calculations. The backlash from the errant results was monumental. The Literary Digest went bankrupt, and the public’s faith in polls was shattered" (https://open.lib.umn.edu/americangovernment/chapter/7-3-polling-the-public/, accessed 9-2020).