I spent much of yesterday poking around the presidential
candidates disbursement forms looking at what the pollsters received, having
had my appetite whetted by the coverage over the last few days by the Atlantic's Marc Ambinder (here,
and the Washington Post's Anne
Kornblut. My interest, not surprisingly, is in the
disbursements to pollsters which were quite large in the second quarter of
I discovered, among other things, that the Federal Election
Comission web site has vastly simplified the process of digging into the
candidate filings - at least for the presidential candidates - with a spiffy
new reporting page
that provides thematic maps showing the geographic distribution of
contributions for each candidate. Click a little further on that page (the
candidate's name, then the "current presidential filings" for that candidate)
and you will find easily navigated pages showing (among other things)
disbursements and debts subtotaled "by purpose" and "by vendor."
I culled these for payments itemized for "polling" or to the
individual pollsters. One challenge in this exercise is that the totals for
"polling" in the "by purpose" summaries rarely match the specific disbursements
to the individual pollsters because payments to pollsters often include funds
accounted for as "consulting" as well as reimbursement for travel expenses. And
the campaigns appear to differ in the way they categorize these expenses. Finally,
the disbursements for "polling" do not include polling bills received but not
yet paid - those are under "debts."
With those caveats out of the way, here is what I found. I'll
cover the Democrats in this post and the Republicans in a subsequent post. First,
the two big spenders on polling, Clinton and Obama.
Not surprisingly, the two biggest fundraisers during the
second quarter - Clinton and Obama -- also spent (or accounted for) the most polling.
campaign shows $729,021 in payment or debt to its pollsters** compared to the
$655,526 listed for the four pollsters engaged by the Obama campaign.
Setting aside the amounts, the most striking thing about
these reports is contrast between the Clinton and Obama campaigns in the way
they are dividing up the work and the implied generational shift in the
pollsters working for Obama.
Mark Penn, who has been polling for political clients since the 1970s,
is handling virtually all of the Clinton
survey research. Bendixen &
Associates, the firm of pollster Sergio Bendixen, specializes in
"multilingual" research and and "Hispanic marketing." The $30,000 debt to that
firm is most likely for a survey of Hispanic voters.
On the other hand, the Obama campaign is dividing its
polling dollars among four lesser known consultants who collectively represent
a new generation of rising stars that have emerged from more established firms.
The four are Paul Harstad, the
pollster for Obama's 2004 Senate campaign with roots at Garin-Hart Research; Cornell Belcher
who served as an internal pollster at the DNC in recent years but previously
worked for Diane Feldman; Joel
Benenson, who served as internal manager of the Clinton-Gore polling in
1996 for Penn & Schoen and whose firm polled for several hotly contested
Senate races in 2006; and a new addition, San Francisco pollster David Binder.
From the dollar amounts alone, it is impossible to tell exactly
what the candidates are paying for, but the total amounts suggest quite a bit
of activity for Clinton and Obama. Most
likely, both campaigns have invested in some combination of focus groups, long
benchmark surveys and very large sample micro-targeting surveys Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina. Both have
probably also conducted benchmark surveys in those early states (such as California and Florida)
that they are considering targeting with paid communications before the Iowa
This is all speculation, of course, although TPMCafe's Greg Sargent
this clue back in February: "Benenson will be in charge of polling for the key
primary state of New Hampshire, while Belcher
will poll South Carolina and Harstad will poll
Ben Smith at first speculated
that Binder would be the "California pollster," but later updated: "A reader
tells me Binder's work for Obama is actually focus groups, and that he works on
the campaign nationally rather than just in California."
The bottom line is that these two campaigns now know a lot
more than we do about how likely voters in the early states react to the
Democratic candidates and their messages.
Here are the expenditures by the rest of the field:
For these candidates, expenditures during the second quarter
are not necessarily a good indicator of how much polling they have done to date.
For example, the Biden campaign reported
no polling expenditures in the second quarter, but over $200,000 paid to
pollster Celinda Lake in the first quarter.
The generational contrast to the Obama pollster crew is also
present here. The lead pollsters for Edwards (Harrison Hickman), Richardson
(Paul Maslin), Biden (Celinda
Lake) and Dodd (Stan
Greenberg) were all name partners in campaign polling firms in the 1980s (and,
interests disclosed, yours truly
managed to work for all four between 1986 and 1991).
Next up: pollsters for the Republicans.
**Update: Lynn Sweet reports
that "some of" the payment and bet to Penn's firm "may be for direct mail
services, not polls."