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LBJ's Last NH Poll

Topics: Eugene McCarthy , LA Times , Pollsters

A bit of polling history on a slow Monday morning: Yesterday's Los Angeles Times included a fascinating account of President Lyndon Johnson's decision against seeking a second term in 1968 by his former appointments secretary Jim Jones (via Jonathan Martin). The story includes reference to polling done for Johnson in New Hampshire:

As appointments secretary to Johnson -- the position now known as chief of staff -- I followed the ups and downs of the president's decision-making process closely, and I am convinced that fear of losing was not why he declined to run. In fact, just prior to his March 31 speech, we instructed our pollster, Oliver Quayle, to do an in-depth survey pitting Johnson against all of his competitors in both parties. Johnson defeated every Democrat and Republican candidate by relatively wide margins.

The poll was conducted about the time of the New Hampshire primary. Because Johnson had not said definitively one way or the other whether he would be seeking the nomination, insurgent Minnesota Sen. Eugene McCarthy was the only serious candidate on the Democratic ballot. Even though McCarthy did much better than anyone expected, the fact is that Johnson won the primary with 49% of the vote -- all on write-ins.

In 1986, political scientist Bruce Altschuler published a review of "Lyndon Johnson and the Public Polls" ($) in Public Opinion Quarterly. The account makes no mention of this final New Hampshire poll, although it identifies Quayle as "Johnson's main pollster," someone who "regularly took polls, usually of individual states or parts of states between 1964 and 1968.

 

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