Cartoons offer an insight into public opinion at the time they were
published. Newspapers and journals often employ a cartoonist
to produce topical cartoons once a day. Contemporaries would have
been expected to recognise the characters, the events, jokes and
satire in the cartoon and therefore the cartoon provides a window
(albeit a strange one) on the past.
Public opinion polls are a recent (post WWII) development therefore
cartoons can offer us a rare insight into public opinion in the more
The weaknesses of newspapers are often also true of
cartoons. Cartoons also have the disadvantage of exaggerating and
simplifying complex historical events. They are often politically
motivated and make no attempt at objective, independent analysis.
They can also be very unrepresentative. They may reflect the views
of the readership of a newspaper. But this is one newspaper with a
limited circulation in one country. They may not actually reflect
the views of most of the readership.
Many cartoons are polemical and
intended to shape political opinion. David Low is recognised as one
of the greatest cartoonists of the 20th century, but if his views
had reflected those of a wider public, Britain would have gone to
war much sooner than September 1939.