Did you know that the grandchildren of the founder of the highly-respected George Gallup Opinion Polls live in Blount County?
Alison Gallup, granddaughter of the founder and daughter of the late Chairman of the Gallup organization, will give a presentation, “History of the Gallup Polls: the Inside Story,” on Monday, June 16, at 7 p.m., at the Blount County Public Library.
Along with a summary of the methodology involved in the surveys, she will also share family stories about the father and son who founded and ran the organization for many years, some of the ways that they represented politics and politicians, the economy and world views. In the movie industry, the Gallup organization conducted surveys each year for the People’s Choice Awards Show in Los Angeles. In the 1930s and 1940s, Dr. Gallup did polls for the entertainment industry to help movie directors know which endings of movies would be most popular with audiences.
Alison will discuss anecdotes of their relationships with some of the high-profile leaders of their day, and she will talk about the family relationships.
George Gallup, Sr., was born in 1901 in Jefferson, Iowa, and graduated from the University of Iowa where he later founded the Quill and Scroll High School Journalism Society where high school students learned ethics in journalism. George, Sr., earned his Ph.D. at the University of Iowa prior to being hired by the advertising firm, Young and Rubicam. He also was head of the journalism department at Northwestern.
In early years after Iowa, he married Ophelia Miller whose mother was Ola Babcock Miller who ran for Secretary of State and became the first female Secretary of State for Iowa. Gallup, Sr., suggested that she do a poll, so, through some casual polls, she found out that one of the main concerns for people of Iowa was safety, so her platform was highway safety. Upon election to office, she established the State Patrol who were the first state police.
Gallup’s early years of advertising in New York State, with Young and Rubicom, were important years in shaping his interest in polling.
His very first election prediction, in 1936, at one year in the business after establishing the American Institute of Public Opinion (later known as the Gallup Poll), he criticized Literary Digest’s prediction of Alf Landon as winner by a landslide, and Gallup predicted Franklin Delano Roosevelt by a landslide. Of course, FDR won, and the prediction by Literary Digest was skewed by a heavy incline toward upper social class, and Gallup knew that the prediction couldn’t yield accurate results which led to the establishment of his credibility as a pollster.
Over the next decades, 50 years or so, Gallup established a reputation for accuracy and integrity, remarkable years with an excellent track record as a pollster and predictor.
One famous glitch occurred during in 1948 when the Gallup polls predicted Dewey’s win over Harry Truman as President of the United States. And, of course, Harry Truman won that election. From that ignominious front page picture of Harry Truman holding the Chicago Tribune’s banner headlines, Gallup learned that, even though he was within the margin of error, had he continued polling until the polls closed, the opinion survey would have selected the actual winning candidate. It was such a tight election, that made all the difference.
Gallup had a direct connection to Hollywood, doing audience research for Walt Disney and Louis B. Mayer. Susan Ohmer wrote a book called “George Gallup in Hollywood,” a fascinating look at the movie industry where she said that polling could be very useful in shaping movie endings and which actors to cast. For some years, Hollywood paid attention to polling and paid more attention to movies as an art form. It was during those Hollywood years that Gallup became good friends with Loretta Young. He took the public’s temperature on films such as “Gone with the Wind”, “Dumbo”, “Fantasia”, and “The Best Years of Our Lives”. Because of his ability to do research, taking all income brackets into account, movie studios came to rely on Gallup’s polling to help shape popular movies.
As a man, Gallup valued the importance of family, and he loved his farm. Ali said that she “remembers her grandfather well and was close to him as one of the most important people in her life. He was an incredibly warm and encouraging person, a big bear of a man, slapping you on the back. A very unique and warm person. He was exceptionally innovative and brilliant, just constantly churning ideas. He was just as interested in talking to a janitor as to the President. He felt that everybody had something to say.”
Between Gallup, Sr., and Jr., they met or personally knew every president from FDR through President Bill Clinton. The only two presidents they didn’t meet up until now were Presidents Obama and George Bush, Jr.
George Gallup, Jr., was born in 1930, and graduated from Princeton, earning a degree in Religion. He joined his father in 1954 and became President of the Gallup Poll in 1955. In the late 1980s, he established the George H. Gallup International Institute, named after his dad, which is a nonprofit foundation with the goal of taking surveys to the next level, not only coming up with results of surveys in various fields, but coming up with solutions for addressing problems discovered in polls. For example, the Institute proposed solutions for how to address the problem of the rampancy of drug addictions. He also did a survey for the National Fatherhood Initiative where he conducted a study on fatherlessness.
Once, at a Renaissance weekend hosted by the Clintons, Gallup, Jr., and his wife, Kingsley Hubby Gallup, got separated. Looking for his wife around the room, he said, “Oh, there she is, beside President Clinton.”
Alison Gallup is the oldest grandchild of pioneering pollster, George Gallup, Sr., and she has lived in Blount County for almost 15 years. She spent six years as editor and managing director of Princeton Research Center. She was writer, editor and facilitated inquiries on statistics in religion. The Center published reports and books discussing and providing analysis of religion trends in America including belief in God, church membership, church attendance and affiliation. Related to religion trends, Alison, during her work at Princeton, made some presentations as a speaker and acted as liaison with media and the press.
When an acquaintance from Oak Ridge invited Alison to visit East Tennessee, she fell in love with the area. She said she researched places to live in East Tennessee—cost of living, recreation, happiness, schools–and picked Maryville a full year before A&E selected Maryville as a top ten places to live in the U.S. Then her brother visited and also fell in love with Maryville and moved a year later. From 2000 on, their parents started visiting several times a year and vacationed in Townsend, rented cabins and loved it so much in Blount County that after his wife’s death, George, Jr., purchased a second home where Ali and George now live.
Alison’s lifetime interest in art and her love of animals re-directed her career path to help in various rescue organizations. She and her brother, George IV, established the Fur Squad to do pet sitting, and they’ve been in business ten years now. She also does pet portraits in addition to doing graphic design for various businesses in Blount County.
George, Jr., passed away in November 2011, and while his children were sorting through storage units of political collections and memorabilia, they had the inspiration to offer to do an exhibit at the Blount County Public Library, so they called Joan VanSickle Sloan at the library. Sloan, while being somewhat taken aback by their generous offer, gladly made arrangements for the “George Gallup Family” exhibits.
“Our father loved the Blount County Library,” Alison said, “and he was in the building many times.”
She and her brother, while going through their father and grandfather’s things, thought it would be a suitable tribute to our dad and grandfather to do an exhibit in their honor, which they did in May. And now, on June 16, Alison will further honor them with a presentation about their work as well as their strong family relationships.
“These men,” she says, “not only achieved prominence for their work but were very warm, kind, approachable people.”
Free and open to the public, the exhibit is sponsored by the Blount County Public Library, located at 508 N. Cusick Street, Maryville. For further information about library programs or services, call the library at 982-0981 or visit the Web site at www.blounttn.org/197.