Society of Presidential Pollsters

For nearly a century, Presidents of the United States have established unique and private relationships with their pollsters. Very few people have served in this capacity as an advisor on public opinion. Presidential polling—the questions asked, the answers compiled, and the way in which that information is used in decision-making—paint an important picture of the history of American democracy. In this spirit, George Washington University’s Graduate School of Political Management created the Society of Presidential Pollsters to archive and further examine the role public opinion plays in shaping decision-making strategy in the White House.

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The principal project of the Society of Presidential Pollsters – entitled American Government in the 21st Century – is an annual assessment of how Americans evaluate the success of their national government.  Through public opinion research conducted by the firm HarrisX and analyzed by the nationally recognized pollster Mark Penn, the project informs journalists and scholars as to the knowledge held and the evaluations made by American citizens of their public institutions, the workings of American politics, and the functioning of the U.S. Constitution. The results of the assessment are presented to the public in September each year.

“Liberty cannot be preserved without a general knowledge among the people…”

President John Adams

American Government in the 21st Century Assessment

The American democracy is often described as a grand experiment in popular sovereignty, continually in need of vigilance and tinkering so as to realize the Constitutional values of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Recently, Americans have become increasingly divided by political disputes that tap into these core values.  Pursued with unbridled vigor, partisan polarization threatens to undermine the fragile customs and consensus that support our political institutions.  It is appropriate, therefore, that we step back and assess how deeply divided Americans are about the fundamental values of democracy itself and our democratic institutions.  To this end, the project will take the American Experiment's pulse annually.

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Former Presentations

Press Releases

History and Mission of the Society

The Society was founded in 2010 thanks to a generous donation from Mark J. Penn, former pollster to President Bill Clinton. The Society works to locate and obtain records of the polling and related analysis done for the Oval Office. With the help of the libraries at GW, preserve questionnaires, letters, and memorabilia in order to establish an academic resource for the study of presidential decision-making.

The Society aims to delineate the often-elusive role of the presidential pollster. Studying the records obtained, conducting independent research, and working with contemporary historians weaves a narrative of the position going back to the FDR administration.


The papers of President Bill Clinton’s pollster and the Society’s founder, Mark J. Penn, are the first to have been submitted to the archives and will be available for research in the near future. This collection includes the actual data in both hard copy cross-tabulations and in researchable electronic format, as well as the memoranda and analysis provided to the President.

Beyond events and archives, the ultimate role of the Society of Presidential Pollsters is to pay tribute to an essential group of advisors to presidents and presidential candidates over the years. For more information about the Society of Presidential Pollsters, contact Tracy Sullivan.