Public Opinion Polling before the Internment of Japanese-Americans

Soon after Pearl Harbor, acting under political pressure and without time to design and pre-test a survey, interviewers from the Agriculture Department’s Program Surveys spoke to people in San Francisco, Seattle, Los Angeles, and California’s Imperial Valley. These “preliminary impressions” found a range of views toward Japanese-Americans, with more negative opinions in rural areas, among Filipinos and people who worked with them “or in competition with them.” While distinguishing between particular individuals and the group, there was “a feeling that all should be watched, until we know which are disloyal, but a tendency to feel that most are loyal – if we could be sure which.”

These findings, including political and economic considerations, were presented to high-level government officials and were part of the discussions underlying the deportations. In a late January 1943 1942 meeting where the data were discussed, Secretary of Agriculture Wickard “emphasized the political aspects of the situation reflected in the attitude of the state officials, the abuse of the licensing power, and the acuteness of the problem in the rural areas especially as the planting season approached…”

…Once the decision was made to proceed with the relocation, public opinion studies tracked overall public opinion and views in the areas where relocation was taking place and evaluated messages about the relocation, targeted at individuals within and outside of the country.

From this post at Pollways, the blog of political scientist Amy Fried.  Her new book, Pathways to Polling, is here.


4 Responses to Public Opinion Polling before the Internment of Japanese-Americans

  1. J. Otto Pohl January 2, 2012 at 9:13 am #

    The comment about the Filipinos is interesting and I am wondering if it had to do with an association of Japanese Americans with Imperial Japan’s invasion of their ancestral homeland at the time rather than just economic competition. A report from Serov to Beria on 30 August 1941 regarding the announcement of the decree to deport all the Volga Germans noted that Polish and Czech refugees living in the Volga German ASSR were especially happy about the news. Racial revenge is always popular.

  2. Scott Monje January 2, 2012 at 10:24 am #

    She must mean January 1942.

    • Amy Fried January 2, 2012 at 11:21 am #

      Yes, indeed, 1942. I’ve now fixed the typo.

  3. James W. January 2, 2012 at 2:13 pm #

    Public opinion is overwhelmingly negative about illegal “mexican” immigrants and outside of a few elitist coastal enclaves, the people overwhelmingly support immediate deportation… yet I’m not holding my breath for this to happen