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August 17, 2012

George Gallup, America’s Great Influencer

Influence

Jeff Cochran

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What makes a great influencer? In many cases, people try to get things done without understanding the other individuals involved in the process, their motivations and needs, and how they make decisions. SNI believes that to become as influential as possible, one must understand and implement four basic steps. First, one must build credibility, since without credibility and trust, no amount of logic will convince the other side. Second, one must engage emotions, since people tend to decide emotionally and collaborate with people they can connect with. Third, one must demonstrate logic, because everyone uses logic to hone in on interests and issues that are important for them. And fourth, one must facilitate action, since a decision is just a conversation until action has been taken. Mastery of these steps will improve one’s influence, facilitating the completion of more successful deals.

One of America’s most influential individuals was George Gallup. During the presidential election of 1936, he created the Gallup Poll, which became one of the most reliable measurements for determining the public’s opinions. Gallup identified a successful trend in the business world and facilitated it to fit a specific need. After listening to dinner conversations, discussions during the long trip to work, and various other daily interactions, Gallup decided to use market research, the same methods used successfully to sell dishwashers, and sneakers, for politics.

Using the data he gathered from his polls, Gallup predicted that The Literary Digest, the main source of political polling at the time, would publish an article predicting Landon’s victory based on its faulty survey results. Gallup was right. By thinking logically, he knew that the Digest used mailed-in ballots from addresses found from phone numbers or car registries to generate its polls. However, due to The Great Depression, millions of voters lived without cars or phones. Therefore, their voices would be left unheard. By surveying the “average voter”, Gallop was able to determine that America would favor Roosevelt for President. He did his polling by conducting door-to-door interviews. Unlike most polls at the time which surveyed large, unscientifically selected groups, Gallup used significantly smaller groups that were methodically chosen to gather his research

Gallup gathered his facts by engaging the public’s emotions, being approachable, and making a personal connection with the public. He accomplished this by conversing with people from all social classes rather than just waiting passively to receive a marked up piece of paper. Gallup sought to not only cover the populist views on politics, but also on education, hopes, fears, hobbies, ethics, religion, economics, law, and equality as well. He was able to identify what interests/ issues were the most important to Americans and to shed light on their current status.

It was of utmost importance to Gallup for the integrity of his work to remain untarnished, swearing never to conduct solicited polling from a special interest group or from an organization with a specific plan. He also made the personal choice never to vote himself to ensure that he would not influence the views of those he was polling or raise any question about bias in his reporting. This sacrifice built credibility for his work.

Lastly, just as with many other great influencers, he was able to change his procedures to maintain his trustworthy reputation. In 1948, when he ceased polling two weeks before Election Day, Gallup predicted the wrong outcome. After this incident he stated, “We are continually experimenting and continually learning”, and the Gallup Poll has never been wrong about an election since.

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