George Gallup’s Vision for Political Polling

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His book, “The Pulse of Democracy,” painted a vision of the potential of political polling. He believed that such polls could re-create the spirit of a town hall meeting.

The Aftermath of the 1948 Election

While digesting the public humiliation received for predicting that Harry Truman would lose the 1948 presidential election, George Gallup returned to the drawing board to examine his errors. Despite being puzzled by inaccuracies in his election polls, Dr. Gallup refused to relinquish his belief in the validity of scientific sampling. Soon after election results were official, Gallup publically announced: We are continually experimenting and continually learning.

According to George Gallup, Jr., the embarassing gaffe affected his father, but could not defeat him. He revealed that his dad would joke later that the numbers on his tombstone would probably be 1948. Nevertheless, George Gallup recovered and transformed a major mistake into a learning experience. From this experience, he promoted an increase in the amount of polling and even conceived the notion of exit polls.

Beyond Political Opinion Polls

Gallup rose to the forefront of those who helped devise the means to uncover the collective will of the people. In the aftermath of the 1948 fiasco, Gallup is quoted as stating:

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.

When the truth is known, Gallup’s organization lost money on political opinion polling. His millions actually came from corporations that paid for research on the effectiveness of their advertising campaigns or from the television industry that paid him for determining who viewed specific programs.

However, presidential political polls made Gallup’s name a household word and he believed that he was serving the country by trumpeting the collective voice of the people.

Opinion Polls: Vital to Democracy

George Gallup, Jr. conveyed that his father viewed political polls as vital to a vibrant democracy because it allowed people to express their honest opinions to the nation’s leaders. Gallup also viewed polls as a way to limit the influence of powerful lobbying groups and a way to counter the deal making sessions behind the closed doors of smoke-filled back rooms.

“The Pulse of Democracy,” presented an idealistic perspective of the potential of political polling. Gallup believed political polls could create a nationwide phenomenon comparable to a New England town hall meeting. He felt that polls enabled people to reveal their genuine thoughts on key issues of the day and give a voice to the views of the common citizen. He felt polls empowered people to express their viewpoint whether they exercised their right to vote or not.

He did realize that poll results could unfortunately be misused by politicians who pandered to public opinion and disregarded personal conscience or the overall good of society. Gallup once stated: “When a president, or any other leader, pays attention to poll results, he is, in effect, paying attention to the views of the people.”

He is reported as maintaining that leaders should lead and not allow public opinion to dictate their actions. Gallup liked to quote Abraham Lincoln: What I want to get done is what the people desire to have done, and the question for me is how to find that out exactly. He felt that leaders needed to know what the public believed because that is what a democracy is all about.

Source:

  1. Moore, David W. The Superpollsters: How They Measure and Manipulate Public Opinion in America (1995)