American elections — and the American electorate — grow more complex and confounding every campaign cycle. This year’s presidential contest, featuring one of the most experienced politicians ever to seek the White House and a showman who has never served a day in the military or elected office, has befuddled even the most experienced observers.
George H. Gallup, one of the founders of public opinion research, would have reveled in the challenges presented by the personalities — the two most unpopular major party candidates to win their parties’ nominations — and by the seemingly contradictory views of the public about the state of the nation.
Mr. Gallup, who died 32 years ago this week at age 82, could not, and probably would not, tell you who he thought would win in November. But he could tell you what forces were driving public opinion, from fear of crime and terrorism to a widespread unease about rapid cultural and demographic changes.
And he most certainly would have pointed out the flaws in a presidential primary system that produced two candidates with such high negative ratings and so many voters in despair.
“Dr. Gallup had a major conviction that the whole election process in the nation was way off on a wrong track, and he argued that the people wanted major reforms — including abolishing the Electoral College, a single national primary, confining campaigning to a month or two in the fall, and national funding of the campaign,” Frank Newport, editor in chief of the Gallup Organization, wrote in an email. “He no doubt would be feeling ever more strongly about these convictions in today’s environment.”