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Gallup Vault
The Best of the Gallup Vault
Gallup Vault

The Best of the Gallup Vault

Gallup recently published its 100th Gallup Vault article, each one taking the reader back in time to a notable finding from Gallup's 80-year archive. The collection reveals instances of wholesale change in Americans' thinking, as well as examples of how the nation's problems, if not outlook, remain the same. It captures Americans' reaction to critical events in U.S. history and documents the long march for civil and women's rights, as well as ever-changing social mores.

'My, How Things Have Changed'

  • In 1962, a far less politically polarized time than today, 77% of Americans approved of the job President John F. Kennedy was doing, and 91% of those who had seen one of his live televised press conferences liked how he handled himself.
  • While society continues to implicate various forms of entertainment in the corruption of youth, in 1954, 70% of Americans blamed teenage crime on comic books.
  • In 1939, nearly two-thirds of Americans told Gallup they considered it "indecent" for women to wear shorts in public, and a third said the same of men wearing topless bathing suits.
  • Formality remained in fashion for many in 1951, when Gallup found a quarter of Americans believing men should be required to wear coats in restaurants and hotels if women were present.

The More Things Change, the More They Stay the Same

  • Gallup polling in the 1970s found a sharp drop in the percentage of Americans holding the FBI in high esteem, after a Senate intelligence committee revealed the agency had monitored and harassed Martin Luther King Jr. during his time as a national civil rights leader.
  • Shortly before electing Ronald Reagan as president in 1980, Americans' top concern about the Republican candidate was that he "puts his foot in his mouth" or "says things without considering the consequences."
  • National security-based concerns about immigrants were widespread in the U.S. in 1939, after a German spy ring was uncovered. Following this, 79% of Americans were in favor of fingerprinting all noncitizens living in the U.S. and registering them with the federal government.
  • Also in 1939, over half of Americans harbored concerns that Russia was exerting undue political influence in the U.S., in the form of advising or controlling the U.S. Communist Party.
  • One day after the 1999 massacre at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, eight in 10 Americans told Gallup that the event was a sign of deeper problems in the country rather than an isolated incident that didn't reflect on society more generally.
  • Before credit cards, Americans took advantage of "installment plans" as a way to buy things they couldn't afford. A 1941 Gallup poll found about seven in 10 Americans saying they had used installment plans at some point, and 36% were currently paying for something on installment.

Historic Points on the Road to Civil Rights

  • In 1941, 63% of U.S. adults favored abolishing poll taxes, which were common throughout the South and posed a barrier to blacks' voting. However, 25% favored retaining them -- including a majority of residents in the eight Southern states that still imposed such taxes.
  • In 1957, six in 10 Americans supported the Supreme Court's decision to strike down an Alabama law that required segregated seating on city transportation, marking the last major blow to the doctrine of "separate but equal." Support for the court's decision registered 27% in the South but 70% elsewhere.
  • Many more Americans in 1962 thought President John F. Kennedy was "pushing racial integration" too fast (42%) rather than not fast enough (12%), with another 32% saying he was advancing things "about right."
  • In 1965, shortly before the Supreme Court struck down a Virginia law banning interracial marriage, Americans were evenly divided on the matter, with 48% approving and 46% disapproving of laws making marriage between whites and blacks a crime.
  • Three-quarters of Americans in 1965, including half of white Southerners, favored President Johnson's proposal to ensure equal voting rights for blacks.

Evolving Views About Women

Gallup a Live Witness to History

  • A 1937 Gallup poll sheds light on something now taken for granted -- the monthly U.S. labor report. However, in 1937, measuring unemployment between decennial census administrations was a novel idea. Gallup found 68% of Americans in favor.
  • Within the first week after Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941, 97% of Americans approved of Congress formally declaring war on Japan, thus entering the U.S. into World War II. Just 2% disapproved.
  • After the war, in 1947, 65% of Americans agreed with a United Nations plan to divide the land of Palestine into two states, "one for the Arabs and one for the Jews."
  • A year before the original NATO treaty was signed in 1949, Gallup found 65% of Americans in favor of a mutual defense pact between the U.S. and its Western European allies.
  • Two-thirds of Americans in 1951 disapproved of President Harry Truman's decision to fire Gen. Douglas MacArthur as commander of U.S. forces in Korea after a public disagreement ensued between the two men over the direction of the Korean War.
  • Seven in 10 Americans (69%) favored adding "under God" to the Pledge of Allegiance in 1953.
  • After the 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion failed to overthrow former Cuban Prime Minister Fidel Castro, Americans' preferred next step was to establish a trade embargo with Cuba for "so long as Castro is in power."
  • Just days after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in November 1963, less than a third of Americans (29%) believed that Lee Harvey Oswald had acted alone.
  • Two-thirds of Americans in 1972 thought President Richard Nixon's visit to China would be "fairly" or "very" effective at improving world peace.
  • Half of the residents of the United Kingdom and over a quarter of Americans said they felt as sad about Princess Diana's untimely death in 1997 as if someone they knew personally had died.

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