Alec Gallup dies at 81; former chairman of polling organization

Alec Gallup, who served as chairman of the Gallup Poll, which was started by his father and is considered among the most trusted political polls in the United States, died of a heart ailment June 22 at his home in Princeton, N.J. He was 81.

George Gallup Sr. founded the Gallup Poll in 1935, devising random sampling techniques to allow for much greater statistical accuracy. His polling organization, long based in Princeton, was renowned for gauging public opinion across a broad spectrum of issues, from people's religious beliefs to their presidential preferences.

The business made its reputation in 1936 by correctly predicting President Franklin D. Roosevelt's reelection when other polls had forecast a victory for his Republican challenger, Gov. Alf Landon of Kansas.

But the organization stumbled slightly in the 1948 presidential race when it picked Thomas Dewey, the Republican governor of New York, over President Truman.

Along with his brother, George Gallup Jr., Alec Gallup assisted his father in running the company for decades.

He then served as co-chairman of the Gallup Organization from 1986 to 1996, writing and editing the questions for the polls conducted.

"He could smell out a bad question or an unreasonable interpretation of data as well as anyone I've ever known," said Andrew Kohut, a former president of the Gallup Organization who is now president of the Pew Research Center.

Gallup took a leading role in the company's 1976 "Human Needs and Satisfaction" survey, among the first comprehensive global surveys conducted, and the Phi Delta Kappa education survey, conducted yearly since 1969.

Alec Miller Gallup was born Jan. 4, 1928, in Iowa City. He attended Princeton University for three years, then received a degree in journalism from Iowa University in 1950. He also did graduate work in communications and journalism at Stanford University.

He studied marketing and advertising research at New York University and started working with the Gallup Organization in 1959.

George Gallup Sr. died in 1984, and the Gallup Organization was sold years later to Selection Research, which retained the name and kept Gallup and his brother as co-chairmen.

The name Gallup has become synonymous with polls in some countries. In 2003, Gallup won cases in Russian courts to stop the operations of impostor Gallups in Russia. Elsewhere, the word has actually entered the dictionary.

"It causes us a lot of problems," Gallup said in a 2000 PBS documentary that touched on polling. "In Scandinavia you really can't say, 'Hey, you can't use our name,' because they can use it, because it means survey."

Remington writes for the Washington Post.

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