George Horace Gallup

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George Gallup (19011984) invented a reliable statistical technique from which he could discover the views of his fellow citizens on everything from corn flakes to religious convictions by sampling the opinions of only a limited number of typical respondents.

Gallup financed his college education at the University of Iowa with scholarships and a variety of jobs. During one summer vacation he worked for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, going door-to-door surveying readers about their feelings toward the newspaper. After a few days Gallup asked himself whether or not there wasn't an easier, more efficient way to get the responses the paper needed. His answer to that question would become his life's work.

After graduating from the University of Iowa in 1923 with a Bachelor of Arts in journalism, Gallup went on to earn a Master's in psychology and, in 1928, a doctorate in journalism. His doctoral dissertation, "A New Technique for Objective Methods for Measuring Reader Interest in Newspapers," forecast his future career interests.

Gallup taught for brief periods on the faculties of Drake, Northwestern, and Columbia universities. Meanwhile, he was conducting reader-interest evaluation surveys for a number of major Midwestern newspapers. In 1932, at the age of 31, he accepted a position as director of research at a rising New York advertising firm, Young and Rubicam. The firm's clients were eager for data concerning public reaction to various products. Gallup, who became vice president of the firm in 1937, remained with Young and Rubicam for more than a decade.

In 1935 while he was still associated with Young and Rubicam, Gallup founded the independent American Institute of Public Opinion in Princeton, New Jersey, to gather information about public attitudes regarding a variety of topics. That year he also published the first random-sample opinion poll in a newspaper column, "America Speaks." The column was eventually distributed to 200 subscribing newspapers. Audience Research, Inc., was formed in 1937 and was an organization devoted primarily to assessing public reaction to movie titles, casts, and stories. It is said that Walt Disney (19011966) decided to go forward with producing "Alice in Wonderland" on the strength of Gallup's research.

Convinced that his sampling methods were as valid for politics as they were for marketing choices Gallup boldly and correctly predicted that Franklin Roosevelt (19331945) would win the 1936 presidential election over Alf Landon. Although in 1948 Gallup, like other pollsters, incorrectly picked Governor Thomas Dewey to win over incumbent President Harry Truman (19451953), his polling techniques changed the political landscape forever. By the turn of the century it would be unthinkable that any political campaign would be undertaken without extensive polling.

Toward the end of his life, in an interview with historian Richard Reeves about the effect that polling had on a democracy, Gallup said, "If government is supposed to be based on the will of the people, then somebody ought to go out and find out what the will is. More and more people will be voting on more and more things, officially, and unofficially in polls, on issues as well as candidates. And that's a pretty good thing. Anything's good that makes us realize that government is not 'them.' We are the government. You either believe in democracy or you don't."

Although Gallup's fame rested on his political predictions, his personal fortune was built on his ability to accurately assess middle America's reaction to new products and entertainment vehicles. That work continued after his death in 1984. In addition the Gallup Organization's periodic opinion surveys on cultural attitudes provided a running historical commentary on how U.S. views on such topics as religion, education, and the role of women both changed and remained the same over the last half of the twentieth century.


Current Biography 1952. New York: H.W. Wilson, 1952, s.v. "Gallup, George."

Gallup, George. The Miracle Ahead. New York: Harper Bros., 1964.

Gallup, George and Saul F. Rae. The Pulse of Democracy: The Public Opinion Poll and How it Works. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1940.

Gallup, George and John O. Davies. What My People Think. New York: American Institute of Public Opinion Press, 1971.

"Dr. Gallup's Finger on America's Pulse." The Economist, September 27, 1997.

Reeves, Richard. Fifty Who Made a Difference. New York: Villard Books, 1984.

George Gallup, in an interview with historian Richard Reeves">

if government is supposed to be based on the will of the people, then somebody ought to go out and find out what the will is.

george gallup, in an interview with historian richard reeves

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Gallup, George Horace (1901–84) US statistician. He sampled public opinion on social, political, and business matters, and correctly forecast the outcome of the 1936 presidential election. Gallup polls thus acquired a reputation for accuracy.

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George Horace Gallup