Born in 1903, Henry Durant grew up in the Bermondsey section of London. By 1936 he had been granted his doctorate and was associated with the London School of Economics, but academic positions in pre-war Britain were few and underfunded. While George Gallup would go on to actively promote and franchise his work through a network of independent international agencies, in 1936 this network was all in the future.
As Durant told an interviewer, “Not Gallup himself, but an associate of his, Harry Field, came from the USA in 1936 looking for someone to start up part-time Gallup work from home.” Field offered Durant £150, the equivalent in 2023 of $15,949. Durant took the offer. His first poll was the 1938 by-election, which was within 1% of the actual result. The BIPO poll results were then picked up by the British paper News Chronicle. Durant and the British Institute of Public Opinion would continue to poll on day-to-day topics such as attitudes towards the Spanish Civil War and the reaction of the British public to the growing German menace.
George Gallup had risen to fame when his polling proved so much more accurate than the leading polls of the day. However, Henry Durant had his own moment when BIPO was nearly alone in correctly forecasting the 1945 General Election, predicting that Atlee’s Labor party would defeat Churchill’s Conservative party, surprising even the News Chronicle staff.
Durant took the view that polls were a form of journalism, as opposed to commercially-oriented market research. However, suggestions that questions be repeated led Durant to create his omnibus survey, which was replicated in nearly every country in Europe. Durant was the inaugural president of the British Market Research Society, as well as active in forming the European Society for Opinion and Market Research.