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After three years of practice, Gallup had assured himself that polls on toothpaste and politics were one & the same. He was also convinced that the famed Literary Digest poll was heading for a disastrous cropper. The millions of Digest postcards were mailed on the basis of telephone and auto registration lists and took no account of the low-income voters who had swung solidly behind the New Deal.
Not long after the first Gallup Poll appeared, Gallup brashly announced that the Digest would be wrong in the 1936 election, followed that up with a prediction that the Digest, by its methods, was bound to pick Landon by 56%.
On election night, 1936, Gallup flipped on the radio and knew he was in. Though he had badly underestimated Roosevelt's winning margin, he had called the Digest's predictions within 1%. After that, it was simply a question of convincing newspaper publishers that there was still news for pollsters to report.
Facts & Good Sense. At 46, Gallup is still the rumpled, well-fed Iowa boy who first came east to make his fortune. Tweedy, balding, good-humored, unhurried, he talks earnestly in a deep, Midwestern voice, addresses everyone indiscriminately as "my friend." A hard worker, he hates detail, refuses to read memos and rarely answers letters. He is a tablecloth sketcher. He is so absent minded that before he leaves for an appointment his secretary gives him a neat card telling him where & when to go and how to get there.
Gallup loves children and animals, hates cities and crowds. Since 1934 he has lived on a 500-acre dairy farm near Princeton with his wife Ophelia and three children: Julia, 11, Alec, 20 (a Princeton sophomore) and George Jr., 18 (now at Deerfield Academy). Since he gave up his Young & Rubicam vice presidency last year, he commutes to Manhattan two days a week, spends the rest of his time in Princeton, with three or four trips a year to his Los Angeles office, an occasional interviewing junket around the rural U.S.
To Gallup the two most important things in the world are: 1) facts and 2) the basic good sense of the U.S. people. No philosopher, he has a mind that refracts facts rather than absorbs them. But he has a Jeffersonian view of the importance of the people's voice. It is a constant source of irritation to him that the sports page, with its box scores and summaries, its racing charts and batting averages, does for sports what Gallup wants to do for all of the U.S. "Everything is reduced to facts and figures but the things that count," he says.
Limitless Fields. But he is making progress. His American Institute of Public Opinion (the grandiloquent official title of the Gallup Poll), distributed by Partner Anderson's Publishers Syndicate, has been expanded into a network covering eleven foreign nations.** Other Gallup researchers study the effect of advertisements in a dummy magazine called Impact, probe the tastes of Book-of-the-Month Club readers, help select titles for Bantam Books.