The family of an Iowa native who was a pioneer in public opinion polling has donated George Gallup’s work papers to the University of Iowa.
“This is the raw material of the start of polling in the United States,” says Greg Prickman, director of Special Collections and University Archives for the U-of-I. “There was polling before Gallup, but he was one of the first people to start to apply some principles and technique to polling that tried to do away with bias and things like that.”
The Gallup family has donated about 200 boxes of papers to the university — file folders full of memos, letters and tally sheets for the polls Gallup’s company conducted.
“There’s some very interesting stuff related to training manuals,” Prickman says. “In the early days, a Gallup poll was conducted in person and they had field agents who would go out and interview people and there’s some material related to how they trained those people, how they were trained to ask questions, how they were trained to look at the demographics of who they were interviewing.”
The collection includes notes on the Gallup polls conducted during the 1948 presidential race.
“Many people recall the very famous ‘Dewey Defeats Truman’ headline,” Prickman says. “The predictions about that election came heavily from the Gallup poll and they had to explain what happened, so there was a congressional inquiry and there’s all sorts of interesting material related to that.”
Gallup was born in Jefferson, Iowa in 1901 and he earned three degrees from the University of Iowa. The collection is being processed — papers are being placed in protective folders and a description of the collection is being drafted. Once that’s done in a couple of months, Prickman says people will be able to view the documents — under supervision — in a reading room at the University of Iowa. Some of the Gallup collection will be digitized, too, so parts of it can be posted online.