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More Recollections of Warren Mitofsky

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My colleagues at the American Association for Public Opinion Research (AAPOR) have put up a web page tribute to Warren Mitofsky. It includes photos and recollections from many of his pollster colleagues posted over the last week on the organization's members-only listserv. I've copied a few of my favorites below, plus one tribute promoted from the comments section here on Pollster.

From Prof. Robert M. Groves of the University of Michigan:

Warren was a legend even when I joined AAPOR in the mid-1970's. Sometimes I think he was always a legend.

I first met him through working on RDD sample designs, just when the original Waksberg article came out. I called him to learn about how he handled the odd features of implementing that design; he did not know me at all, but treated me like a peer. Although he worked in a completely different domain of surveys than the one I was pursuing, I found him sharing all the values of research design and probability sampling. He knew the theory and the practice.

Later at AAPOR, he graciously introduced me to others; those were days when the interaction of the commercial and academic was strong and spirited. He scared me at first, with his gruff manner, but when we were talking surveys, he was open, friendly, and happy to see others learn what he knew. I still have vivid memories of a debate in a session at AAPOR, focused on the value of probability sampling in a world of high costs and low response rates. He was masterful.

Over the years, we invited him to speak to graduate students in survey methodology -- he was a hit because he was filled with stories that made principles memorable. I think he was a teacher by nature.

I do see this as the end of an era. I share the disbelief of others that he is really gone. He will not be replaced, and I will miss him.

[Link added].

From our friend Tom Riehle, of RT-Strategies:

It has been my pleasure over the past six or seven years to introduce pollsters from around the world to Warren. I would always tell them, after our meeting, that were it not for the man they just met, they would not have a job. They would scoff, but they did not know what they were talking about.

Warren made it possible to pursue a career in polling--not just because of the inventions and innovations in which Warren played a role (RDD, polls sponsored and distributed by national media outlets, election night projections and exit polls, just to name a few), but more importantly because of the work Warren (and Harry O'Neill and others) have done, through AAPOR and the National Council of Public Polls and other organizations, to establish and enforce the standards that make polling a trusted profession. It is hard to believe we will keep polling without Warren looking over our collective shoulders and calling us on our shortcomings (and encouraging our best efforts). But I guess the odds are, we will. Here's hoping we do so in the spirit and to the standards Warren always exemplified.

From Rick Brady, a frequent presence in the MysteryPollster comments section during our focus on the exit polls in 2004 and 2005:

Mr. Mitofsky.

That's how I addressed him in each e-mail volley following the 2004 election until he finally asked me to call him Warren. I suppose he realized that although annoying, I was harmless and genuinely interested in understanding exit polling methodology.

I'm not a pollster. Far from it. I'm a City Planning graduate student with a couple of survey research classes under my belt. I plopped some data into excel, ran some "tests" and by-golly, thought I knew a significant discrepancy between a poll and official vote count when I saw one.

But Warren was patient.

Although not immediately obvious from the content of his e-mails, the fact that he stuck with me and took the time to write nearly 100 e-mails in several months time, proved it. This weekend I re-read almost every one with fondness.

The AAPOR site has much more worth reading, of course, and presumably more tributes will populate the tribute page soon. If my colleagues are reading, I'd like to nominate one left here as a comment by my friend Elizabeth Liddle (whose contributions to the 2004 exit poll post mortems I chronicled here and here):

I never met him, but worked with him on the exit poll data over the last year. Your obituary certainly fits the man I got to know.

It still amazes me to realize that the man who dominated the exit poll field for decades took a criticism by a novice on a blog (me) seriously enough not only to re-analyze his own data, but to hire me to do more. It is so rare to encounter someone driven so much more strongly by a passion to know than by conventional assessments of whose opinion might be worth attending to. And to find it in someone of Mitofsky's professional standing is even rarer.

I will miss him.

Photos courtesy AAPOR.  Above Warren Mitofsky and Joe Waksberg in an undated photo probably taken on an election night in the early 1980s.