Daniel Yankelovich is best known as an interpreter of public opinion and values. As an analyst of American society he has, in the words of Fortune‘s editors, attained a reputation for “prescient insight.”

Less well known is the extent of his involvement in social policy. In the 1960s and 1970s, his firm evaluated the Great Society programs for the Johnson administration’s War on Poverty. “Some programs got into political hot water from the outset,” he says, “particularly the community action programs that challenged the authority of mayors and governors. But other Great Society programs flourished, such as the foster grandparents programs, which brought children who needed care together with older Americans whose own children no longer demanded all of their attention, and storefront information centers, which gave people information about ‘second chance’ institutions that could help someone who had dropped out of school or gotten in trouble with the law. The greatest accomplishment of the War on Poverty is often overlooked. Poverty in the U.S. was cut almost in half: from 22 percent of the total population to about 12 percent!”

Yankelovich was trained at Harvard University as a social scientist. In 1958, he founded Yankelovich, Skelly, and White, which grew into one of the country’s largest and most respected research and consulting firms. For several years he was also Research Professor of Psychology at NYU and the New School. He is president of the nonprofit Public Agenda, which he founded 20 years ago with Cyrus Vance, and he is chairman of DYG Inc., a firm that tracks social trends.

Yankelovich has written eight books, including New Rules, an analysis of America’s changing social morality, and Coming to Public Judgment, which describes a new social theory for understanding American public opinion.

The question he addresses in this article–“How can liberalism regain its moral authority?”–may, in the present conservative climate, seem quixotic. But he shows that not only is the question serious, the answer is hopeful and practical.

“I am not by temperament a political partisan,” he says. “But I believe it is bad for the nation to have liberalism boxed into a corner where it can no longer exercise an influence for the good.”

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