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Gallup, George - Overview, Personal Life, Career Details, Social and Economic Impact, Chronology: George Gallup

public university journalism opinion

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.

Personal Life

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.

Career Details

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

1901: Born.

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.

1984: Died.

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.

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about 7 years ago

I need help: who can tell what did Mr. George Gallup say about the effects of the surveys in elections in the media, money and another thing that I don't know...

My email is andre@coletivaeac.com.br. Thanks, André