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Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann

Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann and Otto Schlecht
Born December 19, 1916 (1916-12-19) (age 93)
Berlin, German Empire
Residence Germany
Fields Political science
Alma mater Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität
Doctoral advisor Emil Dovifat
Known for spiral of silence, Institut für Demoskopie Allensbach
Notable awards Great Cross of Merit in 1976

Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann (born December 19, 1916) is a German political scientist. Her most famous contribution is the model of the spiral of silence, detailed in The Spiral of Silence : Public Opinion - Our Social Skin. The model is an explanation of how perceived public opinion can influence individual opinions or actions.

She earned her Abitur in 1935 in Göttingen and then studied philosophy, history, journalism, and American studies at the Friedrich Wilhelm University, the Königsberg Albertina University, and the University of Missouri. She stayed in the USA from 1937 to 1938. In 1940 she received her Phd concentrating on public opinion research in the USA.

In 1940 she briefly worked for the Nazi newspaper Das Reich. On June 8, 1941 Das Reich published Noelle-Neumann's article entitled "Who Informs America?" in which she propagated the myth that a Jewish syndicate ran the American media. She wrote, "Jews write in the paper, own them, have virtually monopolized the advertising agencies and can therefore open and shut the gates of advertising income as they wish." She was fired when she exchanged unfavourable photos of Franklin D. Roosevelt for better looking ones. She then worked for the Frankfurter Zeitung until it was banned in 1943.

In 1947 she and her first husband Erich Peter Neumann founded a public opinion research organization – the Institut für Demoskopie Allensbach, which today is one of the best known and most prestigious polling organizations in Germany.

From 1964 to 1983 she held a professorate at the Johannes Gutenberg University of Mainz.

Noelle-Neumann was the president of the World Association for Public Opinion Research from 1978 to 1980 and worked as a guest professor at the University of Chicago from 1978 to 1991.


In 1991, Leo Bogart launched a ferocious attack on German public opinion research and political advisor Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann.

He made her the center of controversy while she was a visiting professor at the University of Chicago, as he published “The Pollster and the Nazis” in the August 1991 issue of Jewish heritage and cultural magazine Commentary, accusing her of anti-Semitic passages in her dissertation and articles she wrote for Nazi newspapers. In fact, when young journalist and sociologist Elisabeth Noelle published her 1940 dissertation “Opinion and mass research in the USA” in Germany, having spent a year at the University of Missouri to research George Gallup’s methodology, Goebbels called the 24-year-old woman as an adjutant and intended for her to build up, for the ministry of propaganda, Germany’s first public opinion research organization. She declined, falling sick, and angering Goebbels; she later became a newspaper journalist with Nazi publications where she wrote some articles on Jewish influence over U.S. news and elite opinion.

Bogart suggested there is a direct line from Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels to Noelle’s theory of the “spiral of silence” and “public opinion as our social skin,” which interpreted the group pressure band-wagon effect and the domination of leading mass media over public opinion. The accused wrote a letter of apology to the magazine, explaining that the passages served alibi functions under the dictatorship and were not meant to be harmful.

John Mearsheimer, Professor of Political Science at the University of Chicago wrote in the New York Times on December 16, 1991:

"She has admitted she was not hostile to the Nazis before 1940. She says she was anti-Nazi after 1940, but has produced no evidence that she criticized the Nazis then. She wrote anti-Semitic words in 1938-41, and there is no evidence she was compelled to write them. Queried on her anti-Semitic writings, she told me: "I have never written anything in my life that I did not believe to be true."

Selected Work

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