George Horace Gallup (November 18, 1901 – July 26, 1984) was an American pioneer of survey sampling techniques and inventor of the Gallup poll, a successful statistical method of survey sampling for measuring public opinion.
He asked Americans what they thought, and the politicians listened.
Gallup is a graduate of the Lawrenceville School and the University of Iowa, where he was a football player, a member of sigma alpha epsilon fraternity, and editor of school paper The Daily Iowan. he earned his b.a. in 1923, his m.a. in 1925 and his PhD. in 1928.
In 1936, his new organization achieved national recognition by correctly predicting, from the replies of only 5,000 respondents, that Franklin Roosevelt would defeat Alf Landon in the U.S. presidential election. This was in direct contradiction to the widely respected literary digest magazine whose poll based on over two million returned questionnaires predicted that Landon would be the winner. not only did Gallup get the election right, he correctly predicted the results of the literary digest poll as well using a random sample smaller than theirs but chosen to match it.
Twelve years later, his organization had its moment of greatest ignominy, when it predicted that Thomas Dewey would defeat Harry S. Truman in the 1948 election, by five to 15 percentage points. Gallup believed the error was mostly due to ending his polling three weeks before Election Day.
In 1948, with Claude E. Robinson, he founded Gallup and Robinson, inc., an advertising research company.
In 1958, Gallup grouped all of his polling operations under what became the Gallup organization.
Gallup died of a heart attack at his summer home in Tschingel, a village in the Bernese overland of Switzerland. He was buried in Princeton cemetery.
George Gallup founded the American institute of public opinion -- which evolved into the Gallup organization -- in 1935. Since then, Gallup-affiliated organizations in the United States and throughout the world have assessed public opinion on a wide range of political, social, and economic issues, including the hopes and fears of people around the globe, their leisure-time activities, their morals and manners, and their religious beliefs.
In 1932, Dr. Gallup joined the New York advertising firm of Young & Rubicam as head of its marketing and copy research departments. He continued his research into print media and established the first nationwide radio audience measurement using the coincidental method, a technique he originated. Later, he developed the impact method, a recall procedure now widely used to measure television and print advertising effectiveness.
Throughout the 1940s, Dr. Gallup pioneered a research program for Hollywood movie studios, measuring the appeal of story ideas, the box office draw of stars, publicity penetration, and preview reaction, which culminated in forecasts of the box office receipts for specific films. He worked with many studio heads, including David O. Selznick, Walt Disney, and Samuel Goldwyn. He coordinated research for the best years of our lives -- one of the most-researched films in movie history -- which won eight Oscars.
While at Young & Rubicam, Dr. Gallup began his work in the field of public opinion and election forecasting. He was inspired in part by the desire to help his mother-in-law, Ola Babcock miller, win election and then reelection as secretary of state for Iowa; she was the first woman to hold that office and was re-elected twice.
Dr. Gallup founded the American institute of public opinion, the precursor of the Gallup organization, in Princeton, New Jersey, in 1935. To ensure his independence and objectivity, Dr. Gallup resolved that he would undertake no polling that was paid for or sponsored in any way by special interest groups such as the republican and democratic parties. Adhering to this principle, Gallup has turned down thousands of requests for surveys from organizations representing every shade of the political spectrum and with every kind of special agenda.
Dr. Gallup's initial breakthrough occurred in 1936, when he correctly predicted that Franklin Roosevelt would defeat Alfred Landon for the U.S. presidency. This directly contradicted the literary digest, the poll-of-record at the time, which predicted that Landon, the Kansas governor, would win in a landslide. With national newspaper syndication of the poll and almost daily references in the press, "Gallup" soon became a household word.
If the 1936 election performance of scientific polls gave the fledgling industry credibility with the U.S. public, their performance in the 1948 election threatened to undo everything. Lulled into thinking that few votes would change after the start of the presidential campaign, the three polling organizations -- Gallup, Roper, and Crossley -- stopped interviewing several weeks before the election, predicting a win for republican Thomas E. Dewey. By ending their efforts early, the polls missed the swing of third-party voters back to Harry S. Truman's camp in the final days of the campaign.
Despite the severe blow the polling industry sustained that year, Gallup never doubted the validity of scientific sampling or its potential value to society. Following the 1948 election -- and after one of President Truman’s good-natured jibes at the polls -- Dr. Gallup said in a speech:
"I have the greatest admiration for President Truman, because he fights for what he believes. I propose to do the same thing. As long as public opinion is important in this country, and until someone finds a better way of appraising it, i intend to go right ahead with the task of reporting the opinions of the people on issues vital to their welfare."
The topics covered by the Gallup poll during Dr. Gallup's lifetime closely reflected the turbulent events of this period. He sought the public's views on reform in education, in the criminal system, and in politics, including a better way of seeking out the ablest men and women for high political office. He surveyed the public on improvements in election campaigns and on the opportunity for the people to express their views more directly on important national issues by means of the initiative and referendum.
Among Dr. Gallup's most ambitious projects was a global survey conducted in 1976 to determine the quality of life in all areas of the world, a study that sampled populations embracing two-thirds of the world's population. And in the late 1970s, an international values study dealt with the social, moral, and religious attitudes of the peoples of most of the major countries in Europe, including the Eastern Bloc, and around the world. Today, Gallup's world poll continues this mission.
Throughout his life and until his death in 1984, Dr. Gallup remained committed to learning and reporting "the will of the people." the organization that he founded -- Gallup -- now employs 2,000 professionals in 40 offices around the world and has become a world leader in public opinion polling, market research, and management and leadership consulting. His legacy of integrity and independence has made the Gallup name famous and among the most trusted brand names in the world, synonymous with integrity and the democratic process.