A small and informal conference was held in New York on May 10–11, 1963, under the auspices of the Council’s Committee on Comparative Politics,1The author is associate professor of politics at Princeton University and a member of the Council’s Committee on Comparative Politics, whose other members are Lucian W. Pye, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (chairman); Gabriel A. Almond, Stanford University; Leonard Binder, University of Chicago; R. Taylor Cole, Duke University; James S. Coleman, University of California, Los Angeles; Herbert Hyman, Columbia University; Joseph LaPalombara, Michigan State University; Robert E. Ward, University of Michigan; and Myron Weiner, Massachusetts Institute of Technology; staff: Bryce Wood. Messrs. Hyman and Verba organized the conference reported in this paper, for the committee, and served as cochairmen. The participants in the conference included the members of the committee and Robert O. Carlson, Standard Oil Company of New Jersey; Karl W. Deutsch, Yale University; Helen Dinerman, International Research Associates; Leonard W. Doob, Yale University; Frederick W. Frey, Massachusetts Institute of Technology; Eugene Jacobson, Michigan State University; Daniel Lerner, Massachusetts Institute of Technology; Warren E. Miller, University of Michigan; and Bruce M. Russett, Yale University. to consider uses of survey methods in research on political modernization. The participants were chosen for their interest in problems of political modernization as well as their extensive experience in survey research. The conference was planned not only for exchange of information as to the kinds of studies that have been made with survey techniques in the developing nations and discussion of the direction that research of this sort might profitably take, but also to assist the committee in planning future activities.
The following memoranda were prepared for the conference: “Some Nonpolitical Avenues for Approaching a Study of Political Modernization,” by Robert O. Carlson; “Periodic Surveys in Sub-Saharan Africa,” by Leonard W. Doob; “Surveying Peasant Attitudes in Turkey,” by Frederick W. Frey; “Survey Research in Japan,” by Hajime Ikeuchi (Director, Public Opinion Science Institute, Tokyo); “Comparative Survey Research: Some Topics for Discussion,” by Eugene Jacobson; and “Survey Research on Political Modernization,” by Daniel Lerner. These papers were discussed with reference to three broad topics—the substantive contributions that survey research can make to understanding of political change and modernization; methodological problems encountered in planning and carrying out such surveys; and the organizational problems involved.“If survey studies are to contribute to knowledge of this area, it was agreed that they will have to be coordinated with a variety of other methods of study that go beyond the standard cross-sectional survey.”
A number of ways in which survey research can contribute to understanding of processes of change and development were considered. In particular it was suggested that surveys concentrate on the study of what Lerner called “the revolution of rising frustrations.” Survey techniques could be used to locate the segments of society where expectations are rising faster than the ability to satisfy them, as well as to examine possible ways of harnessing these rising expectations—through participation in voluntary associations, for instance. If survey studies are to contribute to knowledge of this area, it was agreed that they will have to be coordinated with a variety of other methods of study that go beyond the standard cross-sectional survey. Survey techniques themselves could be put to greater use, for example, in comparative studies. There was some discussion as to whether comparisons should be made within broadly similar cultural areas—such as the Arab Middle East or Latin America—or over a wider range of countries. A second question was whether the unit of study should be the nation state or the cultural units that make up many of the new nation states. In general it was agreed that studies of nations similar in culture and studies with a wider coverage are both fruitful. And even if the nation state were taken as the prime unit for survey purposes, it would be important to deal with regional and cultural differences.
A major way in which survey research could be expanded, it was agreed, is through greater effort to focus on a variety of groups within a nation. In response to the question whether one ought to study the elite or mass population, the conference strongly believed both should be studied. Samples should be designed to enable the investigator to deal adequately with strategic elites, with important subcultures, with localities undergoing change at varying rates. If surveys are to obtain information on the interaction of elite and other groups—as any study of the implications of the “revolution of rising frustrations” must—study designs will have to provide for obtaining data from varying social levels. Specific social groups on which one could concentrate were suggested also. These included strategic voluntary associations and university and secondary school students. It was also thought that the development of techniques of studying social structure and patterns of interaction within the framework of survey research would be worthwhile.
Much time was devoted to discussion of how to coordinate the many studies that are currently being undertaken and planned for the future so that the results will be more cumulative. Replication is a major need in any set of studies of modernization, in order to test hypotheses in new contexts and over time. Discussion of this point led to consideration of the organizational problems of survey research on modernization and the role that the Committee on Comparative Politics might play in this area. There are several ways in which greater coordination of studies of political modernization could be brought about. One approach would be to arrange for more cross-national coordination of all kinds of studies, ranging from those in which major intellectual control is exercised by one central director to cooperative ventures in which research teams with similar technical skills, working in several nations, agree to coordinate their surveys and make every effort to obtain comparable results. Another way in which to increase the cumulativeness of survey research is through an emphasis in new studies on the replication of parts of earlier studies. Much of this kind of coordination might depend on adequate channels of communication so that scholars working in this general area could be kept informed of the work of others. This suggests the importance of development of adequate archives of previous survey data, as well as of survey instruments.“A group such as the committee is better able to encourage the incorporation of survey techniques into other kinds of research on problems of modernization.”
It was the general consensus of the members of the Committee on Comparative Politics that it could not either assume the role of coordinator of specific survey research projects or manage archives of survey research. Both undertakings require a more permanent organizational structure and substantial financing; the conference discussions indicated that several such efforts are under way. A group such as the committee is better able to encourage the incorporation of survey techniques into other kinds of research on problems of modernization. By facilitating the kinds of exchanges that took place in the conference, the committee could hope to increase the contributions of survey research to the cumulative understanding of problems of social change.
Sidney Verba is the Carl H. Pforzheimer University Professor Emeritus and research professor of government at Harvard University. He served as director of the Harvard University Library for 24 years. Verba has taught at Princeton, Stanford, the University of Chicago, and at Harvard for over 40 years.
One of the nation’s most renowned political scientists, Verba is an award-winning author of over 20 books including The Civic Culture (with Gabriel A. Almond; Princeton University Press, 1963); Participation in America (with Norman Nie; Harper and Row, 1972); The Changing American Voter (with Norman Nie and John Petrocik; Harvard University Press, 1976); Voice and Equality (with Kay L. Schlozman and Henry E. Brady; Harvard University Press, 1995); and The Private Roots of Public Action (with Nancy E. Burns and Kay L. Schlozman; Harvard University Press, 2001).
Verba was a member of the SSRC’s Committee on Comparative Politics (1954–1972) from 1962 to 1972. He has been president of the American Political Science Association. He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the American Philosophical Society, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Among his awards are the James Madison Prize of the American Political Science Association, the association’s highest award, and the Skytte Award from Uppsala University in Sweden, the major international award for significant contributions to political science worldwide.
This essay originally appeared in Items Vol. 18, No. 1 in March 1964. Visit our archives to view the original as it first appeared in the print editions of Items.