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Gallup has been associated with a number of names in the media over the years. One by one these collaborative polls have been set aside. Perhaps this merely means that Gallup will continue to pursue an independent publishing role for their product. Perhaps it means their brand is losing some of it's cachet. Friday January 18th another name dropped their association with Gallup. USA Today will no longer employ Gallup as their collaborative pollster on topics political and social. The colorful though content challenged daily is in negotiations with a player to be named later as a substitute for Gallup.

Once the favored pollster for so many media outlets, now another partner drops Gallup. And then there were how many?

Why this happened, and the parallel it offers to how Gallup vanquished the (limited) competition in it's own rise to polling prominence is interesting.

For many years Gallup has been treated as the gold standard of pollsters. They were one of the first opinion researchers to use scientifically based polling, characterized by a demographically balanced panel of respondents.

Gallup's ascendance came at the time of Roosevelt's overwhelming victory against Landon in 1936. They correctly predicted the outcome of that race for the White House - easily besting the predictive performance of another polling competitor.

That competitor was the Literary Digest. For several election cycles the Digest (a precursor to magazines of the current era like Time) had mailed out millions of postcards, returns from which functioned as their straw poll. The real underlying purpose was to drive up subscriptions for the magazine. But, no matter the original purpose , those straw polls became important to politicians and newspapers of record at the time. They were the only game in town - and their predictive record in the presidential cycles from 1920 through 1932 was impressive.

Then came 1936 - and the end of the Digest as a serious source of public opinion research. The Digest had predicted a rocking win for Alfred Landon, with him garnering 57% of the vote - they were off by nearly 20 points. This also coincides with Gallup's rise in prominence. Using more scientifically based methods of sampling Gallup was able to correctly predict the race's true outcome, all while seeking responses from a substantially smaller universe of respondents.

There were other pollsters who got the 1936 race right, Roper for one, and Archibald Crosley - but George Gallup garnered the lion's share of post-election plaudits. He did so, I think for two demonstrations of moxie and marketing savvy. First, he had predicted what the Literary Digest poll would show - by using the lists the Digest leaned on (telephone subscribers and automobile registrations) - but sending them out to far, far fewer than the number in the Digest's straw poll. He did all this before the Digest had even mailed out a single postcard. A true poke in the eye really, he was saying, look, you guys are going to get this (wrong) answer, and I can get the same answer using far fewer resources. Apparently the Digest response was apoplectic and dismissive. George Gallup was an upstart, using sleight of hand in place of numerically robust survey of millions, which had always been right! But, the biggest boost comes, not merely from being right in his preferred quota sampled poll. No, Gallup's assertion to his newspaper subscribers that, if he were wrong, he'd refund those papers all the money they had spent on subscriptions is the real key. He bet the company and his reputation on his methodology - and it's predictive value.

Imagine Rasmussen offering a refund if wrong guarantee today - he'd be out of business in a heartbeat. Gallup and the small cadre of other scientifically based pollsters prospered, deservedly so, they had built a better mousetrap. As for the Literary Digest they did go out of business. The reasons for which are implicitly linked by some to the 1936 polling debacle. Truthfully though the cause of the Literary Digest's failure as a business is probably best described as linked to the methodological bias which doomed the '36 poll to error. That is, the universe of people who would respond to their survey, and buy a subscription (the original raison d'etre for the surveys) dwindled.

For decades after this point Gallup maintained their position as king of the polling mountain. Weathering, along with the other organizations, their failure to correctly predict the outcome of the 1948 (Dewey Beats Truman!) Presidential election. From that experience comes another counter-point to the current day. Gallup adapted. They recognized that there were methodological failures in their 1948 polling - principally they switched to true random sampling, and became alert to the risks of stopping polling too early. A recognition, in other words of the importance of trend observations.

Which brings us to this recent news about Gallup being kicked to the curb by USA Today. This isn't the first organization to part ways with the venerable Gallup Poll. Back in 2006 there was a messy divorce between CNN and Gallup. Then, Gallup pretended that CNN's falling ratings were the reason they quit on the cable news channel. Which doesn't entirely pass the smell test. Gallup polls for pretty much anyone who will pay their freight. But, brand dilution was the touted cause.

In a memo dated Wednesday, March 15, CEO Jim Clifton wrote: "We have chosen not to renew our contract with CNN. We have had a great relationship with CNN, but it is not the right alignment for our future."

"CNN has far fewer viewers than it did in the past, and we feel that our brand was getting lost and diluted," Clifton continued. "...We have only about 200,000 viewers during our CNN segments."

Gallup no longer wants a broadcast partner, according to the memo. "We are creating our own program and we don't want to be married" to one network, Clifton wrote. Analysts like Frank Newport will be seen as more independent under the new arrangement, he added.

Back then USA Today was Gallup's poster child for best media outlet.
"We have offered to help CNN find a new polling partner and to be as helpful as we can during this transition," Clifton concluded. Gallup IS renewing its deal with USA Today. The newspaper has about 10 million readers per day, the memo noted.
CNN was, to put it mildly, miffed.
Jim Clifton's statements are not only unprofessional but in every respect untrue.

Jim Walton actually spoke with Jim Clifton, CEO of The Gallup Poll, and was told by Mr. Clifton that the reason that Gallup wanted to end their partnership was that the CNN brand was so dominant that Gallup wasn't getting the attention for the polls that they wanted.

We want to make it clear that the decision to not renew our polling arrangement had to do with Gallup's desire to produce their own broadcasts and not about CNN viewership figures. In fact, Gallup had negotiated with us for four months in an effort to extend the partnership.

While we appreciate that Gallup does not wish to have any broadcasting partner for the future, I must note that CEO Jim Clifton's excuse to his employees for ending the relationship has no basis in fact. It shows ignorance of not only our viewership figures but of the reach and value of the CNN brand.

Domestically, our viewership was grossly misstated in his comments. CNN's average monthly reach in 2005 was 66.7 million, far and away the No. 1 source for cable news.

That Gallup TV program CEO Clifton hinted at (possibly with Newport as a lead analyst) it never happened.

Today Gallup's flagship media alliance with USA Today is no longer active, dead - by mutual agreement. A no-fault divorce if you will.
Gallup's statement:

Gallup and USA Today have made a mutual decision to move in independent directions beginning in 2013, and Gallup will evolve the polling it conducted in partnership with USA Today in some different and new strategic directions. As it has been, will remain the primary source for Gallup polls conducted in the U.S. and around the world.
USA Today's:
For 2013, USA TODAY and Gallup have made a mutual decision to move in different directions. USA TODAY is in the final stages of negotiating an arrangement with another polling organization.
Wonder why this happened. Could it have to do with Gallup's growing reputation for failing to hit the target - for not being predictive? Silver discussed this at length. Showing the multiple failing Gallup has exhibited, both in explicitly picking the wrong side of the race, for being well off in the margin of victory, and for having excessive wild swings in polling trends.
Gallup Performs Poorly When Out of Consensus

Usually, when a poll is an outlier relative to the consensus, its results turn out badly.:: :: ::
In 2008, the Gallup poll put Mr. Obama 11 points ahead of John McCain on the eve of that November's election.

That was tied for Mr. Obama's largest projected margin of victory among any of the 15 or so national polls that were released just in advance of the election. The average of polls put Mr. Obama up by about seven points.

The average was right, Gallup wide of the mark.
in October 2000, Gallup showed a 14-point swing toward Mr. Bush over the course of a few days, and had him ahead by 13 points on Oct. 27 just 10 days before an election that ended in a virtual tie.
Nobody swings like Gallup!
The Gallup national tracking poll now shows a very strong lead for Mitt Romney. As of Wednesday, he was ahead by six points among likely voters. Mr. Romney's advantage grew further, to seven points, when Gallup updated its numbers on Thursday afternoon.
We know well how that actually turned out. Gallup ended up on the wrong side of the race. The quoted grafs come from Nate Silver's October 18th, 2012 blog entry. In the weeks following Gallup did tighten the race and switch the race - and still ended wide of the mark. They adjusted, radically, they said, the means by which they tried to contact voters - no mention was made of trying to overcome racial demographic bias noted by others. Worse, Gallup stuck with their flawed likely voter model.
The volume of their late in race polling failure was only diminished by Hurricane Sandy - which stemmed the flow of their erroneous results - till they issued their final poll showing Romney up, by one.

Following the negative critique of Gallup offered by Silver, Frank Newport even went on NPR's Marketplace to publicly assert that Gallup was not in the prediction business.

"These polls are designed only to measure what is happening at the time of that poll in terms of the national popular vote" and are not "designed to be predictive," Gallup Editor-in-Chief Frank Newport said.
George Gallup would be rolling over in his grave at that retrenchment. The company that built their name on you know, predicting things correctly, publicly says they'd rather cling to their methods than get the right result.

Ironic too that Silver took swipes from Gallup as an untried upstart, while getting the right outcome - much as the Literary Digest had once painted Gallup as untested, unreliable. Before they too got a race (spectacularly) wrong. And went away, reputation tarnished. Silver also had the bravado to place his bet publicly, just as had Gallup - who bet his company - Silver merely placed a very public wager with MSNBC host Joe Scarborough.

USA Today says that they are near the end of selecting their new pollster. For fun, a poll of our own - who should it be?


Who Do You Think USA Today Should Choose as Their New Pollster?

19%13 votes
50%34 votes
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17%12 votes
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| 68 votes | Vote | Results

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