Americana: The Gallup Poll


Here, George Gallup appears to be showing an early television audience that his research indicates Tom Dewey would defeat Harry Truman in the presidential election of 1948. Ruh-roh. Uploaded by

I may not know what you think. And you may not know what I think. But since 1935, we all know what we all think – thanks to George Gallup and the Gallup Poll. Gallup first gained credibility by correctly predicting Franklin Roosevelt’s victory over Alf Landon, although today you’d have to say a trained monkey could have picked that race. Even so, Gallup set a standard for the public opinion industry by not accepting advertising, thereby making its findings more credible.

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Today, there’s hardly any social or political issue for which Gallup can’t give a reliable indicator of public sentiment. And not just in America, but in some 140 countries around the world. On any given day, Gallup can tell you the President’s approval rating, the percentage of Americans who exercise regularly, whether or not the job market is growing, whether people believe their standard of living is improving, and dozens of other fascinating subjects.

Of course, no one is infallible, and neither is Gallup. Like every other organization, it failed to predict the Harry Truman upset of Thomas Dewey in the 1948 presidential election. It also expected Gerald Ford to defeat Jimmy Carter. But polling methods and science has made huge strides since those mistakes, and Gallup will probably never make that mistake again.


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