04/03/2009 10:15 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Profiling Obama's Polling Operation

Ben Smith has a must-read piece into today's Politico that provides new details on President Obama's polling operation. While recent reports have included passing references to Obama's pollsters, Smith nails down who is doing what:

Data from pollsters Joel Benenson and Paul Harstad has become increasingly important to shaping the White House’s message as the crucial battle over the president’s budget intensifies.

“The pace [of polling] is picking up,” said one source familiar with the data.

In addition, David Binder, a San Francisco-based focus group expert, also has been traveling the country taking the national temperature on issues like energy and health care, others close to the White House said.


A political aide, Larry Grisolano, confirmed the outlines of the White House polling operation, which is paid for through the Democratic National Committee.

“Harstad and Benenson poll for the DNC, which shares data with some folks in the admin[istration], as has been the practice in past administrations,” he said in an email.

Smith's piece describes the Obama polling operation so far as falling somewhere between the practices of the Clinton, whose pollster Mark Penn polled once a week, and the Bush, who cut back to just six national polls a year and depended more on analysis of "the growing pile of publicly available data" Also, where Bill Clinton "studied Penn’s polls with 'hypnotic intensity,'" Obama "leaves political guru David Axelrod to sift through the results."

The article also fleshes out the profile of Joel Benenson, the "first among equals" among Obama's team of low profile pollsters during the fall campaign:

“It became clear over the course of the campaign that there needed to be one person who knew the polling inside and out who’d be able to brief Barack and be able to be a part of debate prep, and that was Joel,” said another former campaign adviser.

A bearded, combative former newspaper reporter, Benenson and Axelrod, also an ex-journalist, have a warm rapport-- one former aide described them as a “vaudeville act” together. And Benenson has an unusual resume: Before becoming a reporter for the New York Daily News, he was a beer distributor. Politico's Roger Simon described him, amid the chaotic 1977 New York blackout, seated in front of his shop with a 12-gauge shotgun. He jumped from the Daily News to New York Governor Mario Cuomo’s 1994 reelection campaign, then went to work for Penn on Clinton’s 1996 race.

The full article has much more -- it's worth reading in full.