In the weeks before the 2012 election, Gallup was an outlier among political pollsters. It showed an electorate leaning Romney, when most others showed a dead heat. The discrepancy sparked controversy among poll watchers. By the election’s eve, Gallup fell back in line with the consensus, narrowly underestimating President Barack Obama’s support. But for Gallup, the miss hardly matters: Its name was in the papers for weeks leading up to the election. And that’s the point.
Tracking the presidential race every four years is the most public work Gallup does, and it keeps the company’s storied brand in the spotlight from the primaries through the first Tuesday in November. But conducting far less glamorous research that helps businesses hone their operations—much like a management consultant—is how Gallup makes money. Corporations and organizations pay the firm to do everything from querying customers about new services they’d like to quizzing employees about how happy they are with their benefits. The flashier business of tracking the road to the Oval Office is a flyspeck in the company’s operations and means next to nothing to its bottom line. “It’s a small part of what we do overall,” says Frank Newport, Gallup Poll editor-in-chief.