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Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 345

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This is the grave of George Gallup.

Born in 1901 to an Iowa dairy farmer and his wife, the young Gallup was ambitious and hard-working. He had to deliver his father’s milk, but he saved up his money to start a newspaper at his high school. He went to the University of Iowa to play football, became greatly interesting in journalism and stuck around the university, getting a bachelor’s, master’s, and PhD there, the latter in 1928. He got a job at Drake University in Des Moines, running the school’s journalism program and then in 1931, moved to Northwestern. But Gallup was already becoming more interested in public polling than traditional journalism. In 1932, he left journalism and moved to New York, taking a job as research director for an advertising agency, while also teaching some at Columbia. Then, in 1935, Gallup began his famed polling firm.

His interest in polling came from a 1932 campaign by his mother-in-law for Iowa’s Secretary of State. She was considered a long-shot, but he discovered she actually had a lot of support and she won the election. In 1936, hatred of FDR was so great among a certain class of people that Literary Digest predicted that Alf Landon would win because so many people replied to their poll. But Gallup that was highly unsophisticated and he ran his own poll showing that FDR would win in a landslide, which is of course exactly what happened. This made him much more famous. That’s not saying his polling was exactly a science. He notoriously claimed that Thomas Dewey would defeat Harry Truman in 1948 by 3 points, leading to the famous newspaper headline that Truman held up when he won. But he admitted it, realizing the mistake he had made by stopping polling three weeks before the election, thinking people’s minds were made up.

Gallup remained the nation’s most famous pollster through his life. He started many different polling firms, both domestic and international, consolidating them all in 1958 under The Gallup Organization. He expanded this beyond politics to all sorts of public opinion questions. In 1976, he polled people from 2/3 of the world’s nations for a study of global quality of life, among other ambitious projects. He died of a heart attack in 1984 at his summer home in Switzerland. Not bad for an Iowa farm kid.

George Gallup is buried in Princeton Cemetery, Princeton, New Jersey.

Now stop reading LGM and go prove the pollsters right in the House and wrong in the Senate. And if you live in Georgia, Wisconsin, or Florida, really go vote against the horrifying Republican candidates.

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