The expression “moving the needle” first appeared in England during the industrial revolution. The reference was to gauges on steam engines. During World War II, it became a more common term in reference to aviation gauges. In business today it’s synonymous with making progress. Source
- In US politics to 'move the needle' is to significantly change the opinion polls in the direction of your candidate.
- An alternative - more recent - origin to the one above comes from seismology. The movement of the Richter Scale indicates the strength of an earthquake.
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