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FEC Reports: The Democratic Pollsters

Topics: 2008 , Pollsters , The 2008 Race

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, here and 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 2007.

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.

07-18%20clinton%20obama.png

Not surprisingly, the two biggest fundraisers during the second quarter - Clinton and Obama -- also spent (or accounted for) the most polling. The Clinton 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 Caucuses.

This is all speculation, of course, although TPMCafe's Greg Sargent provided 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 Iowa." Politico's 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:

07-18%20others.png

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."

 

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