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.
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.
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.
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."
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).