During his career, George Gallup (1901-1984), the pioneer of opinion surveys and founder of the Gallup Poll, frequently commented on issues relating to Public Diplomacy. He was a member of the U.S. Advisory Commission on Information from 1973 to 1978.
In a 1963 essay, he focused on the Soviet Union, but the principles Gallup advocated seem as relevant to Islamism today as they did to the Soviet Union of yesteryear. One is struck by the way he anticipated the current phenomenon of democratization followed by “one man, one vote, one time.”
“Many people in public life in this country,” Gallup wrote, “pay lip service to the idea that the great struggle of this era is the battle for the minds of men, they are quite willing to admit that Russia has scored many victories, but they are still unready and unwilling to map out a campaign of the dimensions necessary to match Soviet efforts.” Except for the reference to the former “Soviets,” both observations still apply today. Russia scores victories, and Americans are still “unready and unwilling to map out a campaign.” And can’t both observations be made of China, not to mention North Korea?
The “arguments” against “propaganda” that he summed up in this essay, moreover, are still current. As Americans think through our national story, now more mindful, for instance, of slavery, Jim Crow, and prejudice, Gallup asked whether “we have no right to speak out until we, as a nation, are perfect, that we must set our own house in order first.” He cautioned against applying this insight too strictly.
Gallup urged focus on messages, research, pre-testing, English teaching, and exchanges as well as “ideological warfare.” This then, is an article for Public Diplomacy reading lists.
- The mere expenditure of large sums of money offers no guarantee of winning the cold war. We must have an effective message, and what is of equal importance, we must make sure that it is effective before we spend the money.
- . . . you can’t sell people unless you reach them, and this costs a lot of money. You can’t do this job with mirrors. . . . We must reach more people, more often, and with a better message than the enemy.
- One other principle which works in every field—whether it be warfare or business—is to find out what succeeds and then do more of it.
- It can easily be demonstrated that learning a foreign language predisposes one towards that country. We are presently making a small-scale effort to teach people of the world the English language. But instead of teaching thousands of persons, we should be teaching scores of millions. . . .
- We should bring all of the teachers of the world to the United States who wish to come. We should work out a carefully guided tour to give them the best possible impression of the country. We should take the same attitude towards these visitors that we do when we invite people into our homes. We don’t take our guests immediately to the cellar or to the attic to show them what bad housekeepers we are. We show them what we ourselves are most proud of.
- Many hope that if we are strong militarily that somehow strength in this department will solve our propaganda job. But you can’t kill ideas even with H-Bombs.
- There is absolutely no possible way out of fighting the ideological war. In order to compensate for defense which we are constantly suffering, we naturally tend to lean more heavily on the armed services, appropriating more billions for defense. So, no matter how you figure it, the most economical and most effective way to deal with Russia is to try to match her efforts in ideological warfare.
- One argument frequently advanced against an adequate propaganda program is that we don’t need propaganda — that deeds speak louder than words. Maybe in an ideal world this is true, but the best proof that this view is false is the very success of the communist efforts at this time in Asia, Africa, and Europe. Communist deeds are the exact opposite of its words.
- Another argument—akin to the first—is that we have no right to speak out until we, as a nation, are perfect, that we must set our own house in order first. If this rule were applied strictly, we would have no preachers of Christianity—except the saints—and certainly there would be no advertising, because no product or institution has yet reached a state of perfection.
- Still another argument is based upon the misconception that propaganda is necessarily based upon lies, and that on moral grounds, if no other, we should not engage in propaganda. The word, unfortunately, has acquired a bad odor, thanks to Goebbels and his modern Russian counterparts.
- But the most effective propaganda, like the teachings of Christianity, can and should be based upon the truth. A lie, repeated endlessly, can be sold to many; but what is often overlooked is that truth, by the process of repetition, can be sold more easily than lie.
- A final argument is the one I mentioned earlier. There is no point in spending billions of dollars unless we are certain that we are getting results. With this I am in complete agreement. And that is where research comes in.
- I believe that the only department in which we may have an advantage over the Russians is in our research methods for pre-testing propaganda ideas and for measuring their success in use. We do not need to spend millions of dollars on ideas or programs which later are discovered to be ineffective. Through research it is possible to find out which of many basic appeals should be incorporated into our propaganda program and to measure the effect of these ideas in changing attitudes. Through research it should be possible to discover the best way of nullifying the enemies’ propaganda. Through research we can know at all times, and in every target area, just who is winning the propaganda battle and we can learn a lot about the why.
Source: George Gallup, “The Challenge of Ideological Warfare,” in John F. Britton, ed., Propaganda and the Cold War (New York: Public Affairs Press, 1963), pp. 54-56
Donald M. Bishop is the Bren Chair of Strategic Communications in the Brute Krulak Center for Innovation and Creativity at Marine Corps University in Quantico, Virginia. Mr. Bishop served as a Foreign Service Officer – first in the U.S. Information Agency and then in the Department of State – for 31 years.