Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann

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Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann
Bundesarchiv B 145 Bild-F087631-0004, Hotel Königshof Bonn, Ludwig-Erhard-Stiftung.jpg
Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann and Otto Schlecht at the Ludwig Erhard-foundation in 1991
Born (1916-12-19)19 December 1916
German Empire Berlin, German Empire
Died 25 March 2010(2010-03-25) (aged 93)
Allensbach, Germany
Nationality  Germany
Fields Political science
Alma mater Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität,
University of Missouri
Doctoral advisor Emil Dovifat
Known for spiral of silence, Institut für Demoskopie Allensbach
Notable awards Great Cross of Merit (1976),
Alexander Rüstow Medal (1978),
Baden-Württemberg's Medal of Merit (1990),
Helen Dinerman Award (issued by WAPOR; 1990),
Gerhard Löwenthal Honor Award (issued by Junge Freiheit; 2006)

Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann (19 December 1916 – 25 March 2010) was 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.

Elisabeth Noelle was born to Ernst and Eve Noelle in 1916 in Dahlem, a suburb of Berlin.[1] First Elisabeth went to several schools in Berlin and then switched to the prestigious Salem Castle School, which she also left one year later. She earned her Abitur in 1935 in Göttingen and then studied philosophy, history, journalism, and American studies at the Friedrich Wilhelm University, and the Königsberg Albertina University. When she visited Obersalzberg, she by chance had an encounter with Adolf Hitler, which she later called "one of the most intensive and strangest experiences in her life".[2] She stayed in the USA from 1937 to 1938 and studied at the University of Missouri. In 1940 she received her Ph.D. concentrating on public opinion research in the USA.

In 1940 she briefly worked for the Nazi newspaper Das Reich. On 8 June 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. She, along with her husband, created the first German opinion-polling body.[1]

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.

Allegations of anti-Semitism

In 1991, Leo Bogart criticized Noelle-Neumann, accusing her of anti-Semitic passages in her dissertation and articles she wrote for Nazi newspapers. As a young woman, she had "superb credentials as an activist and leader" of Nazi youth and students' organizations, he wrote.[3] In fact, when she published her 1940 dissertation in Germany, entitled "Opinion and mass research in the USA", having spent a year at the University of Missouri researching George Gallup's methodology, Joseph Goebbels called the 24-year-old woman as an adjutant and intended her to build up, for the ministry of propaganda, Germany's first public opinion research organization. She declined, having fallen ill, which angered 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’s article appeared just weeks before Noelle-Neumann took up a visiting position in the Political Science Department at the University of Chicago, where she had held similar appointments since 1978. Michael Kochin, a graduate student at the university, noticed the article and circulated it on campus prior to her arrival,[4] igniting a vigorous debate on Noelle-Neumann’s past.[5] While the administration and students at the university,[6] the local Jewish defense groups,[7] and Chicago newspapers[8] remained disengaged from the issue, John J. Mearsheimer, then chairman of the university’s political science department, spoke with Bogart, met for over three hours with Noelle-Neumann,[9] and called a departmental meeting about her on October 16.[10] Some at the university claimed Noelle-Neumann was being slandered, and Mearsheimer's colleagues were not of one opinion about the case. Mearsheimer, however, widely publicized his views concerning the allegations themselves and as they related to academic freedom and opposition to bigotry. "I believe Noelle-Neumann was an anti-Semite," Mearsheimer stated, "and was not forced to write the anti-Semitic words she published. Moreover, I believe that the anti-Semitic writers and publicists of Germany – to include Noelle-Neumann – jointly share some responsibility for the Holocaust. For this she owes an apology."[11] "The thing to remember about the killing of the Jews," he said, "is that it was not done by a handful of people. … It was also a result of the Reich of normal – or of average – German citizens. Like Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann."[12]

In private letters and in written responses, Noelle-Neumann acknowledged being in a Nazi student organization but denied being a Nazi. "I am anguished by the suffering of Jews in Nazi Germany," she wrote.[13] Bogart, Mearsheimer and others remained dissatisfied with her response.[14]

Noelle-Neumann completed her visiting position in Chicago in mid-December 1991 and returned to Germany. When some University of Chicago students learned that she was to return there on March 13, 1992, they called a rally to protest against her return.[15] Reached by telephone at her office in Allensbach am Bodensee, Germany, on March 10, Noelle-Neumann told a reporter she was unaware of the proposed rally but intended on coming to the university as planned.[16] That day, her hosts at the National Opinion Research Center announced that she had cancelled her appearance "in light of serious threats".[17]

Several years later, Noelle-Neumann's Nazi connection came under scrutiny from another American academic,[18] but she never explicitly apologized for her past.[19] Interviewed on the subject in 1997, she said, "I did my duty and would do my duty again in a second life. I'd even say I was proud of what I did back then because I opposed the Nazis by working from within."[20]

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."

Personal life

She was married to the Christian Democratic politician Erich Peter Neumann (1912–1973) from 1946 until his death. She was married to the physicist Heinz Maier-Leibnitz (1911–2000) from 1979 until his death.

In an interview in the German newspaper Der Tagesspiegel, Noelle-Neumann said that while holding a scientific point of view she also believed in angels and predestination.[21]



Selected work

  • Noelle-Neumann, Elisabeth (1984), The spiral of silence. A theory of public opinion – Our social skin, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, ISBN 0-226-58932-3<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>.


  1. 1.0 1.1 "Elisabeth Noelle Neumann: Pioneer of public-opinion polling and market". The Independent. Retrieved 2015-12-05.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. Markus Clauer: Zwischen Prognose und Macht. Zum Tode von Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann. In: Die Rheinpfalz. 26 March 2010.
  3. Leo Bogart, "The Pollster & the Nazis," Commentary, August 1991, pp. 47-49.
  4. Douglas Wertheimer, "Noelle-Neumann cancels U of C talk," Chicago Jewish Star, March 27, 1992, p. 3.
  5. Andrea Wood, "Professor rebuts Nazi charges," Chicago Maroon, October 25, 1991, p. 1; Andrea Wood, "Professors challenge Noelle-Neumann," Chicago Maroon, November 1, 1991, p. 1; "Chicago Professor Is Linked to Anti-Semitic Past," New York Times, November 28, 1991; Associated Press, "U.C. prof’s Nazi-era writings bring call for a wider apology," Chicago Sun-Times, November 30, 1991, p. 14.
  6. Ethan Putterman, "U of C silence a 'moral failure,'" Chicago Maroon, December 3, 1991; Jacob Dallal, "Noelle-Neumann’s explanations troubling," Chicago Maroon, November 1, 1991; Shoshannah Cohen, "Charges against professor draw little student response," Hyde Park Herald, December 11, 1991, p. 1; Douglas Wertheimer, "Controversy surrounds U of C prof. accused of denying Nazi past," Chicago Jewish Star, November 15, 1991, p. 1.
  7. Douglas Wertheimer, "Jewish, university groups are silent on prof. at U of C with alleged Nazi past," Chicago Jewish Star, December 20, 1991, p. 1; students on campus could be engaged in Holocaust issues: Douglas Wertheimer, "'Maroon' rejects Holocaust denier's ad," Chicago Jewish Star, March 27, 1992, p. 2.
  8. Letter, D. Wertheimer, "Old News," Chicago Reader, January 10, 1992, section 1, page 2; Michael Miner response, p. 34.
  9. D. Wertheimer, Chicago Jewish Star, November 15, 1991, p. 2.
  10. Douglas Wertheimer, "Jewish, university groups are silent on prof. at U of C with alleged Nazi past," Chicago Jewish Star, December 20, 1991, p. 19
  11. John J. Mearsheimer, "Noelle-Neumann was a willing anti-Semite," Chicago Maroon, November 12, 1991, pp. 17-18.
  12. John J. Mearsheimer, quoted in Chicago Jewish Star, November 15, 1991, p. 2.
  13. Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann, "Accused Professor Was Not a Nazi," New York Times, December 14, 1991, p. 14; Noelle-Neumann, letter, Commentary, January 1992, pp. 9-15; D. Wertheimer, "Noelle-Neumann and her critics spar in print," Chicago Jewish Star, January 17, 1992, p. 2.
  14. John J. Mearsheimer, "Apology sought," New York Times, December 28, 1991, p. 12; "The Noelle-Neumann Case," Commentary, April 1992, pp. 11-12 (a letter signed by Political Science Department faculty at the University of Chicago, including John J. Mearsheimer and Stephen M. Walt); Leo Bogart, "Professor's Own Nazi Past Accuses Her," New York Times, December 28, 1991, p. 12; Bogart, letter, Commentary, January 1992, pp. 17-18; Editorial, "The Professor's Silence," Chicago Jewish Star, November 15, 1991, p. 4; Editorial, "Lest we remember," Chicago Jewish Star, December 20, 1991, p. 4.
  15. Ethan Putterman and Michael Kochin, letter, "Noelle-Neumann rally," Chicago Maroon, March 10, 1992, p. 21; D. Wertheimer, "Student protest planned with return of Noelle-Neumann to the U of C," Chicago Jewish Star, March 13, 1992, p. 1.
  16. Douglas Wertheimer, "Noelle-Neumann cancels U of C talk," Chicago Jewish Star, March 27, 1992, p. 3.
  17. Julia Angwin, "Noelle-Neumann cancels planned visit," Chicago Maroon, April 3, 1992, p. 9.
  18. William H. Honan, "U.S. Professor's Criticism of German Scholar's Work Stirs Controversy," New York Times, August 27, 1997, p. A13. Christopher Simpson, the American professor, claimed that Noelle-Neumann's Spiral of Silence was riddled with totalitarian ideology.
  19. Editorial, "Silent to the end," Chicago Jewish Star, August 27, 2010, p. 4.
  20. William H. Honan, "U.S. Professor's Criticism of German Scholar's Work Stirs Controversy," New York Times, August 27, 1997, p. A13.
  21. „Ich habe die Engel gesehen" (i.e. "I beheld the angels.")

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