American Institute of Public Opinion
George Gallup was the founder of the public opinion poll that bears his name. His work was considered to be pioneering in public opinion polling. He invented a scientific statistical technique through which he could sample opinions of a small number of people and derive the general public mood of the population on various issues. His technique was also successfully used for predicting the outcome of presidential elections and other political races. In 1936, when his opinion poll successfully predicted the victory of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Gallup became the leader in his field.
George Gallup was born the son of George and Nettie Davenport Gallup on November 18, 1901. His father, George Sr., a farmer, had been described as an eccentric schoolteacher who dabbled in the real estate investments of farm and ranch lands. George, Sr. also dreamed of what he called a new kind of logic called "lateral thinking." He inspired his son to think creatively and was considered a significant influence on Gallup's eventual approach to his life's work.
Gallup grew up on the plains of Iowa and attended the University of Iowa. This was a difficult time for him. His parents were experiencing financial hardships and they found it difficult to help with college expenses. Gallup continued in his education, however, and was able to get the money he needed from scholarships and work, doing odd jobs around the university.
As it turned out, it was one of those odd jobs that would end up becoming the basis for his career. During one summer vacation while still in college, Gallup worked for a St. Louis newspaper, The Post-Dispatch, taking surveys door-to-door, asking the readers their feelings about the newspaper. The job was not a pleasant one. It was monotonous and tiring in the midst of the oppressive St. Louis summer heat. He had to ask each household exactly the same questions. All of this made Gallup wonder whether there might not be an easier, more efficient way to get the answers to these kinds of questions and still get accurate results. He determined that this would be his life, his career.
Gallup's training was a mixture of many elements. He was the editor of the campus newspaper at college. He built up the publication from a small college paper to one of general interest that supported itself with advertising. It became the voice of not only campus news, but of the entire town.
Gallup graduated from the University of Iowa in 1923, with a bachelor of arts degree in journalism. He remained at the college to become a professor of journalism. He also continued his studies and earned a master's degree in psychology in 1925. At the end of that same year, on December 27, Gallup married Ophelia Smith Miller. They had three children: Alec Miller Gallup, George H. III (who continued as the head of his father's organization), and Julia Gallup Laughlin.
In 1928, Gallup earned a Ph.D. in journalism. His doctoral dissertation was entitled: "A New Technique for Objective Methods for Measuring Reader Interest in Newspapers," and clearly forecasted his future career interests.
George Gallup was actively involved in his career until the time of his death. He lived comfortably on a 600-acre estate in the affluent community of Princeton, New Jersey. He died on July 26, 1984, at the age of eighty-three while he was travelling in Tschingel, Switzerland, where he suffered a fatal heart attack.
Gallup became a college professor upon receiving his Ph.D. He was the head of the journalism department at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, from 1929 to 1931. He taught at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, from 1931 to 1933, as a professor of journalism and advertising. From 1933 until 1937, while beginning a career at Young & Rubicam Advertising in New York City, he continued to work as a professor of journalism at Columbia University.
Gallup began his primary career when he accepted a job with the advertising firm of Young & Rubicam, in 1932, at which time the United States was in the midst of the Great Depression. He began to collect information about the public's moods and he shared the results with Young & Rubicam's clients. These clients who advertised on radio, and in magazines, were eager to pay for information about what the public wanted. In an era when money was not easily available to most Americans, even those with jobs, such information was crucial to a company's direction and success.
Gallup was a young family man when he joined Young & Rubicam. He had already become convinced that his ideas about "scientific sampling" were enormously important and useful. Many professionals regarded this as radical for the times, and they disputed his accuracy. Gallup did not sway, however, in pursuing his own methods as a way to capture the public's moods and sentiments.
George Gallup created a technique for asking questions of a small random mixture of Americans. He would then use the information to predict how huge populations felt about things, what they believed, what they would buy, and, most of all, how they would vote.
By 1935, Gallup formed the American Institute of Public Opinion, a private company, where he gathered many and various predictions of public moods and attitudes. He sold the information to the newspapers that subscribed to his service. Gallup also formed the first polling group for the entertainment industry, known as Audience Research, Inc. This provided Hollywood, for instance, with public reaction to anything from movie titles to the popularity of movie stars.
Gallup increased his wealth quickly as he conducted polls for advertisers, entertainment executives, and the media. However, he achieved his greatest fame when he began to predict the outcome of political races.
In 1936, the Gallup organization accurately predicted that Franklin D. Roosevelt would win easily over presidential candidate Alf Landon. What Gallup had learned to do was implement a technique of sampling a small number of the general population that would accurately represent the population at large. This was a vastly different approach from the old "straw poll" whereby people who were asked to respond to questions were not necessarily people who provided a broad, representative spectrum of American opinions. Gallup had invented an ingenious contribution to political forecasting.
While polling became the heart of his work, Gallup never strayed too far from his original interests of journalism and education. In his work The Miracle Ahead in 1964, and throughout his life, he emphasized and advocated that the best education system was one which called forth the creative powers of the human brain. He insisted that the best training a mind could have was that which developed skills such as perception, concentration, problem solving and decision making. Gallup believed most in the case history method of teaching, which according to him afforded, ". . . perhaps the best method that mankind has yet found to transmit wisdom as opposed to knowledge."
Social and Economic Impact
George Gallup invented the scientific method of obtaining the ideas and moods from a small group of people and translating their diverse opinions into an indicator of the sentiments of much larger groups. He invented modern polling techniques that brought to the forefront great productive accuracy.
The impact of his polls on modern society is difficult to measure. Polls have provided a means, throughout the world, by which pollsters can scientifically examine the needs, the desires, the frustrations, and the satisfactions of large populations. This information, whether used for public or private benefit, has presented the key to understanding an ever-changing American mind, politically and socially.
Gallup's scientific method of gathering public opinion transformed this monumental task into a manageable one. He brought to many industries the answers for questions they had about the American disposition. Through polling, he could determine what Americans wanted, how they felt about political and social issues, and what they felt about products they bought in the grocery store. This information gave businesses the direction they needed to interpret and meet the public's approval. This translated into financial gain for corporations that fueled a market-driven economy.
People doubted the accuracy of the Gallup Poll predictions for many years. Indeed, skeptics remain constant in any similar venture. However, Gallup succeeded with a startling accuracy in the polls which opponents found difficult to deny. He overcame his challenges when he consistently came up with the right answers.
Gallup's belief in people was, perhaps, his most important social contribution. He listened to what the average person had to say, and made it matter in the public arena. As founder of such an organization as Quill & Scroll, the high school journalism honorary society, he told the youth of America that they were important. His numerous awards from business and educational institutions speak to the value society placed on his contributions.
Chronology: George Gallup
1923: Earned his B.A. at the University of Iowa.
1925: Earned his M.S. at the University of Iowa.
1925: Married Ophelia Smith Miller.
1928: Obtained his Ph.D. from the University of Iowa.
1929: Headed Journalism Department, Drake University, Des Moines, Iowa.
1931: Became professor of journalism and advertising, Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois.
1932: Named director of research, Young & Rubicam Advertising Agency, New York City.
1935: Founded American Institute of Public Opinion, New York City and Princeton, New Jersey.
1939: Founded Audience Research Institute.
1940: Published The Pulse of Democracy: The Public Opinion Poll and How It Works.
1958: Founded Gallup Organization, Inc.
Historian Richard Reeves interviewed Gallup in the final years of his life. When Gallup was asked about the effect that polling had on a democracy, his response was candid and assertive: "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."
The life of George Gallup is the story of America and its foundation in democratic ideals. He emerged from a childhood of dreams, into a lifetime career of making even the smallest voice in America heard. His methods and his results might have been questioned but George's unfailing influence in how America works, votes, and lives, is the legacy that survives him.
Sources of Information
Gallup, George. The Gallup Poll of Attitudes Toward Education, 1965-1973. Princeton: Princeton Opinion Press, 1976.
Gallup, George. The Miracle Ahead. New York: Harper Bros., 1964.
Gallup, George, and John O. Davies. What My People Think. New York: American Institute of Public Opinion Press, 1971.
Gallup, George, and Saul F. Rae. The Pulse of Democracy: The Public Opinion Poll and How it Works. New York: Simon & Shuster, 1940.
Reeves, Richard. Fifty Who Made a Difference. New York: Villard Books, 1984.
George Gallup (1901-1984) was a pioneer in the field of public opinion polling. He developed methods for perfecting the selection of sample populations, interviewing techniques, and formulation of questions. He also was a teacher and a proponent of educational reform.
George Horace Gallup was born on November 18, 1901, in the small town of Jefferson, Iowa. He was the son of George Henry Gallup, a farmer as well as a real estate dealer in agricultural land, and of Nettie Davenport. All of his higher education took place at the University of Iowa where he received a B.A. in 1923, an M.A. in 1925, and a Ph.D. in 1928. On December 27, 1925, he married Ophelia Smith Miller. They had two sons, Alec Miller and George Horace, Jr., who carried on their father's polling organization, and a daughter, Julia Gallup Laughlin.
From Teaching to Polling
Gallup's career as a teacher began after he received a bachelor's degree and stayed to teach journalism and psychology from 1923 to 1929 at his alma mater, the University of Iowa. He then moved to Drake University at Des Moines, Iowa, where he served as head of the Department of Journalism until 1931. In that year he moved to Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois, as professor of journalism and advertising. The next year he moved to New York City to join the advertising agency of Young and Rubicam as director of research and then as vice-president from 1937 to 1947. From 1933 to 1937 he was also professor of journalism at Columbia University, but he had to give up this position shortly after he formed his own polling company, the American Institute of Public Opinion (Gallup Poll), in 1935, where he concentrated on attitude research. He was also the founder (1939) and president of the Audience Research Institute. Other positions were: chief executive officer and chairman of the board of Gallup Organization, Inc., and president of Public Opinion Surveys, Inc., and of Gallup International Research Institutes, Inc., which had 35 affiliates doing research in over 70 foreign countries.
Apart from these business positions Gallup was active in professional and public service groups. He was president of the International Association of Public Opinion Institutes, 1947-1984, and of the National Municipal League, 1953-1956, and chair of the All-America Cities Award Committee, a jury which selects All-America cities on the basis of intelligent and effective citizen activity. He founded Quill and Scroll, an international honor society for high school journalists, and served as chair of its board of trustees. Gallup continued in nearly all of these offices until his death of heart failure on July 27, 1984, in Tschingel, Switzerland.
A Pioneer in Polling
By 1944 George Gallup was widely recognized as one of the major pioneers in public opinion polling and had participated in the creation of methods to achieve a high degree of accuracy in discovering the public's opinions on a wide variety of issues. He first developed his research techniques to test audience reaction to advertising and features sections of both newspapers and magazines and then sharpened his survey methods to include radio audiences.
Gallup had firm beliefs in the validity of polling. In fact, he believed that polls made a positive contribution to the democratic process. He wrote that public opinion polls provided political leaders with an accurate gauge of public opinion, proved that the common people do make good decisions, focused attention on major issues of the day, uncovered many "areas of ignorance," helped administrators of government departments to make wiser decisions, made it more difficult for political bosses to pick presidential candidates "in smoke-filled rooms," revealed that the people are not motivated in their voting solely by self-interest, and helped define the "mandate" of the people in national elections.
During the 1930s and 1940s he improved the methods of pre-election surveys so as to gain accuracy. The results of polls taken in 392 elections in the United States and several foreign countries by his American Institute of Public Opinion achieved a mean average error of only 3.9 percent. Such a high degree of accuracy resulted from his methods of choosing population samples that are highly representative of the nation, of interviewing people rather than mailing out questionnaires, and of polling right up to election day in order to discover any changes in opinion over time.
In later life Gallup came to recognize that pre-election surveys had very little influence on politicians, many of whom expressed some contempt for them. He therefore dismissed the claim that polls were dangerous to a free political process because of their undue influence on politicians. Majority opinion, as made known by opinion polls, is "not necessarily a controlling factor in the legislation that emerges from Congress." In his view, "well-organized minorities can and do thwart the will of the majority." To safeguard the interests of the majority he recommended greater use of the initiative and referendum, both on a state and national scale. He firmly believed, however, that a carefully prepared opinion survey could be as accurate as a referendum and would be a lot cheaper.
Always an Educator
George Gallup was best known as an entrepreneur in the business of discovering what people think about issues. But he was also an educator, and this experience, plus his study of the attitudes of millions of people, led him to formulate a philosophy of education which he described in The Miracle Ahead (1964). The collective views of people, he affirmed, are usually sound and logical; the people are not led by their emotions as elitists claim. However, their thinking about issues does not go deep enough. Humans have been slow to recognize the great power of the brain and make too little use of it. Thus far humanity has made real progress in enhancing its comfort and well-being, but in human relations we are no more advanced than the ancient Greeks. To achieve greater and more rapid progress, a new education system must be created to enhance our mental powers. The present system does not encourage in students a conception of education as a lifelong process. It does not provide mastery of the major fields of knowledge or essential communication skills nor the creative talents needed to find new and better solutions to the student's and society's problems. Training the mind involves the teaching of perception or awareness, concentration, organization of data, objectivity, problem solving, decision making, and creativity. Gallup was particularly affirmative toward the case history method of teaching, which offers "perhaps the best method that mankind has yet found to transmit wisdom as opposed to knowledge."
Awards and Publications
Gallup was widely honored for his creative work and enjoyed a long list of awards: distinguished achievement award, Syracuse University, 1950; honor award, University of Missouri, 1958; elected to Hall of Fame in Distribution, 1962; Distinguished Citizen Award, National Municipal League, 1962; Advertising Gold Medal, Printers' Ink, 1964; Parlin Award, American Marketing Association, 1965; Christopher Columbus International Prize, 1968; distinguished achievement award from New Jersey chapter of American Marketing Association, 1975; National Association of Secondary School Principals award, 1975; elected to Advertising Hall of Fame, 1977, and to Market Research Hall of Fame, 1978. He received honorary LL.D. degrees from Northwestern University, Drake University, Boston University, Chattanooga University, and the University of Iowa; an honorary D.Sc. from Tufts University; an honorary L.H.D. from Colgate University; and an honorary D.C.L. from Rider College.
His most important publications were: The Pulse of Democracy: The Public Opinion Poll and How It Works (1940, reprinted 1968); A Guidebook to Public Opinion Polls (1944); Secrets of Long Life (1960); The Miracle Ahead (1964); A Survey of the Public's Attitudes Toward the Public Schools (1969); Attitudes of Young Americans (1971); The Gallup Poll: Public Opinion, 1935-1971 (1972); Sophisticated Poll Watcher's Guide (1976); and The Gallup Poll: 1972-77 (1978). He was editor of The Gallup Poll: Public Opinion (1979-1983).
Gallup's books are the best sources for his opinions and philosophy. Books on opinion surveys and his role are Albert H. Cantril, editor, Polling on the Issues (1980) and A. H. Cantril and Charles W. Roll, Polls: Their Use and Misuse in Politics (1972). The following articles provide reviews of his books and some information on his career: TIME (May 3, 1948); Newsweek (August 20, 1956); New Republic (December 16, 1972; April 8, 1978); Psychology Today (June 1973); and American Historical Review (October 1973). The best obituary, with pertinent data on his career, was in the New York Times (July 28 and 29, 1984). □
George Gallup was a pioneer in the field of public opinion polling. He developed methods for perfecting the selection of sample populations (a small group that resembles the population as a whole), interviewing techniques, and formulation of questions. He also was a teacher and a supporter of educational reform.
Life in Iowa
George Horace Gallup was born on November 18, 1901, in the small town of Jefferson, Iowa. He was the son of George Henry Gallup, a farmer as well as a real estate dealer in agricultural land, and Nettie Davenport. As a teenager, Gallup worked as the manager of a dairy farm and used his salary to start a newspaper at his high school. All of young Gallup's higher education took place at the University of Iowa, where he received a bachelor's degree in 1923, a master's in 1925, and a doctorate in 1928. On December 27, 1925, he married Ophelia Smith Miller. They had two sons, Alec Miller and George Horace Jr., who carried on their father's polling organization; and a daughter, Julia Gallup Laughlin.
From teaching to polling
Gallup's career as a teacher began after he received a bachelor's degree and stayed to teach journalism and psychology from 1923 to 1929 at the University of Iowa. He then moved to Drake University at Des Moines, Iowa, where he served as head of the Department of Journalism until 1931. That year, he moved to Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, as a professor of journalism and advertising. The next year he moved to New York City to join the advertising agency of Young and Rubicam as director of research (later as vice president from 1937 to 1947). From 1933 to 1937 he was also professor of journalism at Columbia University, but he had to give up this position shortly after he formed his own polling company, the American Institute of Public Opinion (Gallup Poll), in 1935, where he concentrated on attitude research. He was also the founder (1939) and president of the Audience Research Institute.
Apart from these business positions Gallup was active in professional and public service groups. He was president of the International Association of Public Opinion Institutes, from 1947 to 1984, and of the National Municipal League, from 1953 to 1956, and chairman of the All-America Cities Award Committee, a jury which selects All-American cities on the basis of intelligent and effective citizen activity. He founded Quill and Scroll, an international honor society for high school journalists, and served as head of its board of trustees.
A pioneer in polling
By 1944 George Gallup was widely recognized as one of the major pioneers in public opinion polling and had participated in the creation of methods to achieve a high degree of accuracy in discovering the public's opinions on a wide variety of issues. Gallup had firm beliefs in the validity of polling. In fact, he believed that polls made a positive contribution to the democratic process.
Always an educator
George Gallup was best known for creating a business of discovering people's opinion on issues. But he was also an educator—and this experience, plus his study of the attitudes of millions of people, led him to develop a set of basic principles of education which he described in The Miracle Ahead (1964). The collective views of people, he recognized, are usually sound and logical; people are not led by their emotions as some people claim. However, their thoughts about issues are not deep enough. To achieve greater and more rapid progress, a new education system must be created to enhance our mental powers. Gallup was particularly positive toward the case history method of teaching, which offers "perhaps the best method that mankind has yet found to transmit wisdom as opposed to knowledge."
George Gallup was involved in his career right up until his death. He was traveling in Tschingel, Switzerland, when he suffered a massive heart attack on July 26, 1984, and died the next day. He was eighty-three years old.
For More Information
Cantril, A. H., and Charles W. Roll. Polls: Their Use and Misuse in Politics. New York: Basic Books, 1972.