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The Gallup Brain: The More Things Change . . .

The Gallup Brain: The More Things Change . . .

by Jennifer Robison

One of the most valuable aspects of Gallup's public opinion database, the Gallup Brain, is that it provides a record of how Americans have lived, day by day, for almost 70 years. The questions are topical, the responses top-of-mind -- and they reflect the way Americans truly think and feel. So, as we draft our New Year's resolutions, and as some of us note how similar they are to last year's, it might be comforting to recognize that things really do change. On the other hand, historical Gallup data may indicate that some of the most challenging aspects of life -- money, mortality, and other people's behavior -- are relatively constant.


December 1947. "Do you approve or disapprove of women of any age wearing slacks (pants or dungarees) in public -- that is, for example, while shopping?" Forty-one percent of Americans said they disapproved of women wearing slacks in public, 33% approved, and 20% were indifferent. When asked whether they approved of slacks-wearing in the home, 64% approved, 11% disapproved, and 21% were indifferent.

June 1955. "As you probably know, Bermuda shorts are knee-length pants which are usually worn with knee-length socks. Do you approve or disapprove of women wearing Bermuda shorts on the streets?" A majority of Americans (64%) disapproved and 28% approved. However, the idea of women wearing these shorts on the streets was more palatable than "men wearing them to their place of work" (16% approved) and "high school students wearing them to school" (22% approved).

May 1937. "Do you object to movie scenes of women drinking?" Fifty-five percent of Americans who had gone to the movies in the last month said yes, 42% said no.

March 1950. (This question was asked only of women.) "How much pleasure and satisfaction do you get out of your housework -- a lot, a fair amount, or very little?" A lot, 47%; a fair amount, 35%; very little, 18%.

October 2000. (This question was asked only of women.) "If you were a young woman and looking for a husband, which would you prefer -- [options rotated] A young man who is very handsome, or a young man who is not handsome but has a lot of money?" Twenty-eight percent said handsome; 34% said not handsome but has money; 37% other responses.


March 1958. "See if you can tell me what famous [men], living or dead, made the following statements well-known . . . "I came, I saw, I conquered," (19% answered correctly; 72% didn't know); "Hi yo Silver!" (77% answered correctly; 19% didn't know).

May 1968. "Some people say that all young men between the ages of 16 and 22, who are out of school and out of work and not now in the army, should be required to join a Youth Conservation Corps to carry on their education, learn a trade, and earn a little money. Do you approve or disapprove of this plan?" Seventy-three percent approved of the plan and 23% disapproved. Support dropped to just 53% in 1971.

October 2000. (This question was asked only of men.) "If you were a young man and looking for a bride, which would you prefer -- [options rotated] A young woman who is very pretty, or a young woman who is not pretty but has a lot of money?" Fifty-five percent said pretty; 23% said not pretty but has money.


January 1958. "To help the U.S. Post Office Department meet expenses, would you favor or oppose increasing the rate on first class local mail (letters) from 3 cents to 4 cents?" Yes, 49%; no, 46%.

January 1946. "What is the smallest amount of money a family of four (husband, wife and two children) needs each week to get along in this community?" Average response, $45.

"Did you get a spending allowance from your parents when you were a child?" August 1951: yes, 29%; no, 71%. February 1997: 50% yes; 50% no. "Do you think a child, say, 12 years old should get an allowance?" August 1951: yes, 86%; no, 12%. February 1997: 83% yes; 15% no.

March 1938. "Do you think the salaries of people who earn more than $15,000 a year should be made public by the federal government?" YES!, 22%; yes, 19%; NO!, 28%; no, 21%. (Early Gallup surveys were conducted in person, and interviewers used their own discretion to determine whether or not respondents answered with emphasis – e.g., "YES!" vs. "yes".)


August 1997. "Do you personally believe Elvis Presley is still alive, or not?" Yes, 4%; no, 93%; don't know, 3%.

November 1936. "Do you think the Republican party is dead?" Yes, 27%; no, 73%.

December 1988. "Please tell me whether or not you think these words or terms apply to your beliefs about life after death or heaven . . . There will be humor?" Yes, 74%; no, 15%.

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