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Gallup was born into a poor farming family in Jefferson, Iowa.
He entered the University of Iowa in 1918, and earned a B. A. (1923), M. A. (1925), and Ph. D. in political science (1928) there. While at Iowa, Gallup served as editor of the student newspaper, The Daily Iowan. His doctoral dissertation was entitled A New Technique for Objective Methods for Measuring Reader Interest in Newspapers.
After teaching at Iowa, he left in 1929 to head the school of journalism at Drake University, leaving there in 1931 to teach and do research at Northwestern University. One year later he joined Young & Rubicam (Y&R), an advertising agency, where he conducted public opinion surveys for its clients and became that industry's first market research director. He remained with Y&R for sixteen years. While still at Y&R, he founded the American Institute of Public Opinion in 1935.
In 1936, his new organization achieved national recognition by correctly predicting, from the replies of only 5,000 respondents, the result of that year's presidential election, in contradiction to the widely respected Literary Digest magazine whose much more extensive poll based on over two million returned questionnaires got the result wrong. Not only did he 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 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 Oberland of Switzerland. He was buried in Princeton Cemetery.
- Cantril, Hadley. Gauging Public Opinion (1944)
- Cantril, Hadley and Mildred Strunk, eds. Public Opinion, 1935-1946 (1951), massive compilation of many public opinion polls from US, UK, Canada, Australia, and elsewhere.
- Converse, Jean M. Survey Research in the United States: Roots and Emergence 1890-1960 (1987), the standard history
- Gallup, George. Public Opinion in a Democracy (1939)
- Gallup, Alec M. ed. The Gallup Poll Cumulative Index: Public Opinion, 1935-1997 (1999) lists 10,000+ questions, but no results
- Gallup, George Horace, ed. The Gallup Poll; Public Opinion, 1935-1971 3 vol (1972) summarizes results of each poll.
- Hawbaker, Becky Wilson. "Taking 'the Pulse of Democracy': George Gallup, Iowa, and the Origin of the Gallup Poll." The Palimpsest 74(3) 98-118. Description of Gallup's Iowa years and their impact on his development.
- Lavrakas, Paul J. et al eds. Presidential Polls and the News Media (1995)
- Moore, David W. The Superpollsters: How They Measure and Manipulate Public Opinion in America (1995)
- Rogers, Lindsay. The Pollsters: Public Opinion, Politics, and Democratic Leadership (1949)
- Traugott, Michael W. The Voter's Guide to Election Polls 3rd ed. (2004)
- Young, Michael L. Dictionary of Polling: The Language of Contemporary Opinion Research (1992)
- Famous Iowans: George Gallup, from the Des Moines Register website
- George Gallup from a University of Texas at Austin website
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