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Disbursements to the Campaign Pollsters

Topics: 2008 , The 2008 Race

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 Post checked the relevant numbers and posted them 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 Penn, is Clinton's lead pollster.

Clinton's 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 Biden (D-Del.) spent $200,000 on his polling in the first quarter. Giuliani dropped $121,000 on polling with the Tarrance Group; Romney paid Voter/Consumer Research $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 Corners). 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.  

 

Comments
Rob:

That is a lot for Biden to spend on polling.

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