Disbursements to the Campaign Pollsters

04/16/2007 05:11 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

This morning, my able assistant and I tried to acquaint ourselves
with the online filings available at the Federal Election Commission (FEC) in an
effort to see what the campaign pollsters for the presidential campaigns have
been up to. Unfortunately, the learning curve was a bit steep. The good news is
that Chris Cillizza at the Washington
checked the relevant numbers and posted
to his blog, The Fix:

At first glance it appeared as though Sen. Clinton
had departed from the poll-crazy political approach of her husband -- spending
no money on survey research in the first three months of the year. But look at
the debt Clinton
piled up -- $1.58 million -- and you'll find $277,000 owed to Penn,
Schoen & Berland
. One of the founders of that firm, Mark
, is Clinton's
lead pollster.

debt to Penn's firm suggests she spent the most on survey research of any
candidate in the '08 field. As we noted yesterday, Sen. Joe
(D-Del.) spent $200,000 on his polling in the first quarter.
Giuliani dropped $121,000 on polling with the Tarrance
; Romney paid Voter/Consumer
$99,000, while McCain disbursed $95,500 to Public Opinion Strategies.
Obama spent $94,000 on one of his pollsters (Harstad Strategic Research)
and $12,500 on another (Brilliant
). Of the top six, only Edwards spent no money on polling
in the period.

So what kind of polling are the campaigns doing at this
stage that costs so much money? The FEC reports include only the amounts paid
to pollsters, not the specific purpose of each payment, but it is a pretty safe
bet that each of the candidates above has done some sort of polling or focus
group work in both Iowa and New Hampshire, and perhaps Nevada and South Carolina
as well. Their costs will vary, of course, but a poll in a single primary state
can cost $20,000-30,000 or more, depending on the length of the questionnaire and
the number of interviews conducted. A night of focus groups probably runs close
to $10,000. And those candidates spending $200,000 or more are likely taking
soundings of some of the states holding primaries on February 5, 2008.  

Most of the surveys are long "benchmarks" that go far beyond
the questions we typically see on media surveys. They present information about
the candidates to get a sense for how preferences may change as the race unfolds
and voters get to know the candidates better. The surveys also typically
include extensive "message testing" to help guide what the campaigns try to communicate
through campaign appearances and paid advertising. This is a topic I hope to
explore much more in the year ahead.