Gallup’s Frank Newport: Size Doesn’t Matter

Pollster Frank Newport believes that two heads – actually, 200 or 1,000 heads – are better than one. “The collective wisdom of people looked at together is very valuable,” said the editor in chief of the Gallup Poll, in a deftly engaging talk at the Princeton Regional Chamber lunch today. “The business leader who relies on his own judgment has a fool for a consultant.”
(Above, he is in the center with chamber CEO Peter Crowley, left, and Grant Somerville of Merrill Lynch, right.)
Newport records daily from a recording studio at his Carnegie Center office; the Gallup headquarters moved out of town but used to be on Chamber Street in the building now owned by Henderson Sotheby’s.

How the Gallup Poll began: Founder George Gallup had polled for ad agencies and Hollywood directors until he famously opposed a “mail-in” survey and predicted the outcome of the FDR/Alf Landon presidential race. Still, he had to persuade the general public that, with scientific random sampling, the size of the sample doesn’t matter. A chef doesn’t have to eat all the soup to taste for salt, he used to say. A doctor doesn’t need to take all your blood to test it.

What the public hears about is a small percentage of the Gallup business, which does 95 percent of its work for corporations. It polls 1,000 people daily, including the cellphone population. The four research areas: to understand a marketplace (business specific), to understand an industry (industry specific), to track the economic environment (measuring consumer confidence), and to understand the political environment. Re the economy, as of yesterday, 21 percent of the nation are satisfied with how things are going, yet 80 percent are satisfied with their personal situation.

(I’m stopping here for an urgent aside, sounding the horn for a potential help for the job debacle. Newport said the polls show a slight uptick in people saying that their companies are hiring, but very slight. Meanwhile I’m rooting for a grassroots job creating initiative, Princeton Job Creation Forum, which invites anybody — you ?– to pitch in to help to replace jobs. The group met the day after the election and has some firm plans to jumpstart new and growing businesses. Contact — ok back to Gallup, thanks for listening.)
Last year, 2 percent said they had the flu, this year, 2.7 percent have had it.

Those numbers don’t necessarily reflect New Jersey. Nationally, Ronald Reagan is the # 1 favorite among American presidents with JFK # 2 and George Washington ranks near the bottom with only the six percent of the votes. That’s not the New Jersey opinion, which is the third most Catholic state and one of the top 10 Democratic states. New Jersey also ranks above average in ethical optimism, whether a lost wallet would be returned.

As for the Corzine defeat, Newport wasn’t surprised. After all the polls predicted it. He carefully guards his own political opinions. “Not even my wife knows how I vote.” In fact, believing as he does in collective wisdom, “the more I look at the data, the more I question my own opinion.”

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