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American Association for Public Opinion Research

Herbert Abelson Biography

Herb Abelson (r.), being interviewed by Leo Bogart

Herb Abelson provided the following autobiographical material on June 10, 2009:

My first employment in survey research happened in late 1955 when Opinion Research Corp. (ORC) recruited me as Chief Psychologist (and Reuben Cohen as Chief Statistician). At the time we were both working in Wash DC and moved to Princeton in early 1956. Before that I had completed formal education with specialization in psychology (Clark Univ AB 1947; Univ Maryland PhD 1952), spent a year as instructor in psychology in Univ Md overseas program; and three years on a George Washington Univ. Army contract conducting research on psychological warfare.

This was a time of ferment in the business of research as I learned both at ORC and through attendance and participation in AAPOR. Reuben developed an area probability sample for ORC, and I utilized my psychology background for improving survey measurement techniques, introducing exploratory research via group interviews and conducting training seminars on observational and behavioral questions in survey measurement.

Through acquaintance with and assignments from Joe Klapper, Director of the CBS Office of Social Research, I was introduced in 1965 to the managers of the CBS News Division, who engaged me to conduct the "first nongovernmental survey of South Vietnamese civilians." In the Fall of 1966 I spent a month in Vietnam and was fortunate to meet a Vietnamese researcher who had spent a summer at the Univ of Michigan studying survey sampling, and whose staff of Vietnamese students were available for me to train as interviewers.

The study findings were the subject of a CBS News television broadcast in 1967, and an AAPOR program at that year's conference.

Over the years Reuben and I became officers and directors of ORC, and when McGraw-Hill acquired the company, in 1968, we departed to start Response Analysis (RAC).

At RAC we collaborated with the social research unit of GW University on several government sponsored face to face national interview studies of illicit drug use for which I developed a system for eliciting confidential information without compromising respondents.

When the Department of Energy was established, a RAC staff, led by Reuben Cohen, was successful bidder for a multi-year program of national studies of household energy use. Most years, our emphasis on government and nonprofit work accounted for up to a half of our revenues.

During the mid 1980's we exercised an ESOP plan that Reuben had set up and we retired from executive responsibilities. By that time the company had grown to over 100 full time staff plus a central telephone interviewing facility.

In 1993, I became Associate Director of a newly revived Survey Research Center at Princeton University and spent the next ten years as instructor and as adviser to those students and faculty whose theses and grants include a survey research component. This became a very satisfying second career.

Publications

Persuasion NY: Springer Publishing Co 1959, rev Edition with Marvin Karlins 1971. Articles and reviews in POQ, J. Apply Psychol., J. Social Issues, Amer J. Sociology, J. Advertising Research.

Affiliations

AAPOR: Council member at large 1964-67, 1986-88; Conference Chair 1967-68; President 1974-75. 1995 recipient of the AAPOR Award.

Council of American Survey Research Organizations (CASRO) Director 1978-88; Chairman 1983-84; Conference Chair 1986.

American Psychological Association 1948 - present

Association for Consumer Research (ACR) Director 1992-93.