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American Association for Public Opinion Research

AAPOR Member Profile: Murray Edelman

by Alian Kasabian (with assistance from Murray)
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A big form of social control is denial. The biggest challenge for those of us in the early LGBTQ movement was being seen. If we as public opinion researchers are to represent the voice of the people, we need to go beyond the limits of our own limiting world view when we design our questions and answers.” -Murray Edelman, June 2019
 
Murray Edelman tells the story of his AAPOR Presidential Address in 2001 – that part of the audience knew he was gay before he walked up on that stage, but everyone knew when he was done. He said that he worked on that speech for months, because he saw it as a real gift to address all of his colleagues that he respected so much. Murray describes this as a highlight of his career, was thrilled by the enthusiastic standing ovation, and by people, years afterwards telling him how much it touched them.

Murray was a voice for marginalized folks long before 2001. While he was finishing his PhD at the University of Chicago in 1969, he was a founder of the early gay liberation movement in his hometown (Chicago). He said that experience transformed his life. He stayed involved over the next decade as the movement slowed, but it helped shape his career. Murray developed the exit poll at CBS with Warren Mitofsky, and later worked to include self-identified gays, lesbians, and bisexuals in exit polling – increasing the visibility of an often ignored and hidden population. Within AAPOR, he started GAAPOR (an affinity group for the Lesbians, Gay Men, Bisexuals, and Transgender people of AAPOR and their admirers). He says that the evolving definition of gender is a coming challenge for AAPOR, i.e., representing the growing number of gender minorities beyond the binary category that is basic to trends and weighting. “The categories for race and religion have changed over the years; how and when will gender adapt?”

 
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Murray on the megaphone during a 1970 Chicago Gay Liberation Front rally 
 
The 2001 conference also marked Murray’s 21st year of attending AAPOR conferences. Those years were spent working at CBS where he continues to consult and at Voter News Service where he ran the exit poll and projections for ABC, CBS, CNN, FOX, NBC and the Associated Press from 1993 to 2002. He credits his CBS colleagues, Warren Mitofsky and Kathy Frankovic, for introducing him to AAPOR. The “gleam in their eyes when talking about AAPOR” inspired him to attend his first conference in 1981. He says that AAPOR put his work and research in perspective, satisfied both his academic and socially aware sides, and was a friendly group – particularly during Applied Probability. He said, “I got hooked and didn’t miss a conference for over 30 years.”

Over these years, Murray has had many roles within AAPOR, and watched it grow from “150 people…in the Poconos” to what it is today. He thinks fondly back on being conference chair, being in the center of it all and giving back for all of the professional support he has received.  But he also looks forward to the smaller group that is GAAPOR, describing it as “a place for intergenerational and interdisciplinary mixing in ways that I loved about the much smaller AAPOR in 1981.” He would like to see AAPOR support GAAPOR and the other affinity groups by listing the “night out” activities in the program and app – to help support diversity at the conference, but also in our fields. The community he has in AAPOR has been a support during career struggles, reminding him of who is he and what he stands for. He said the social activities are as important as the paper sessions because we form bonds of support that help us define and act in ways that strengthen our profession.   And the more that we support diversity and expose ourselves to viewpoints and life experiences different from our own, the better we are able to represent the true voice of the people.

In recent years, you can often identify Murray by his rainbow suspenders around the conference, and you can almost always find him at the annual GAAPOR dinner. If you want to learn more about Murray’s work and life, you can find a copy of his Presidential Address in Public Opinion Quarterly (Volume 65), his Heritage Interview on the AAPOR website or YouTube, and the reasons for his 2008 induction into the Chicago LGBT Hall of Fame on their website.