Deaths Elsewhere

Deaths Elsewhere

January 24, 2003

Burns W. "Bud" Roper, 77, a leading pollster for four decades and the author of political polling's central question about the state of the nation, died of lung cancer Monday at his home in Bourne, Mass., on Cape Cod.

It was Mr. Roper who first asked Americans if they thought "things in this country are generally going in the right direction" or had "seriously gotten off on the wrong track." It is now a staple of polling questionnaires.

Mr. Roper, who attended Yale University, got into polling on his return from Army Air Forces service in World War II -- joining Elmo Roper & Associates, the New York-based company founded by his father in 1933.

As a major figure in professional polling organizations like the American Association for Public Opinion Research, he helped write method and question-wording standards, which were made public so that polling results could better be judged.

His career was bracketed by two polling controversies, each marked by his readiness to admit mistakes. The first was the failure of the Roper Poll, like others, to anticipate President Harry S. Truman's election victory over Thomas E. Dewey in 1948. Mr. Roper and his father said they failed to see indications they should have noted that Truman was gaining fast in the campaign's last weeks.

Then, in 1993, a poll his organization did for the American Jewish Committee reported that 22 percent of Americans doubted that the Holocaust had ever happened. He attributed the figure to a poorly worded question that "thoroughly confused people." He praised pollsters who, posing the question in different words, found that as few as 2 percent of Americans doubted the Holocaust occurred.

Mr. Roper is survived by four children, including son Bruce Roper of Columbia.

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