When we think of a new discipline called market research, an interesting question arises. When did survey research begin?
Although there are different avenues of thought, the first true social researcher could have well been British industrialist and social reformer Charles Booth in the 19th century.
An early reason of big importance for surveys was to gain understanding of a social problem. The origins of modern survey research were traced to Charles Booth, who produced a landmark study titled Life and Labour of the People of London (1889- 1903). According to Jean Converse, who is a well-known survey historian, Booth spent his own money to collect a big amount of data on the poor in London. He was also interested in the reasons why they were poor. After collecting the data, he wrote at least 17 books based on that information. Unlike the modern methods that we use today, at the time he neither used standardised questions nor well-defined sampling techniques. Instead, much of the information was produced by means of interviewer observation and inference.
In stark contrast to studies of social issues, market research and journalism saw an increase in using surveys to gain a systematic view of “the man on the street”. Reactions to political leaders and preferences in upcoming elections was of a big interest and that particular interest led to the development of public opinion polling that we in our modern research industry.
In the early 20th century, market research shot to prominence in the USA. In a similar way, market research needed knowledge about reactions of “real” people to existing and planned products or services. The researchers began to use surveys of larger samples to deliver information more useful to commercial decision makers.
Over the early 20th century, the polling and market research surveyors were interested in what people knew, felt and thought. (Groves, 2009)