This film is part of Free

America Thinks It Over

In a world on the verge of war, will America support the democracies of Europe, or turn inwards and embrace isolationism?

Documentary 1939 17 mins


In 1939 Europe was on the brink of war, but in the USA, public opinion polls showed the majority of Americans were enjoying security and well-being, largely as a result of Roosevelt’s New Deal. This March of Time issue evokes a powerful sense of the ambivalence felt by Americans: nimbly showing them to be concerned by the rise of fascism, keen to defend themselves and support the democracies of Europe, but not necessarily enthusiastic about going to war.

One of the most fascinating aspects of this issue is the detailed account of Elmo Roper’s pioneering use of public opinion poll in America, through the Fortune Survey, which predicted Roosevelt’s landslide victory in the 1936 US Presidential elections to within 1% accuracy. This reconstruction of the development of the poll features Roper himself and his team, along with maps, diagrams, and archival footage, combining words and images in a typically dramatic March of Time style, to make the potentially dry subject of opinion polls seem genuinely exciting.