From FDR to Barack Obama, Presidents of the United States have established unique and private relationships with their pollsters. There are very few people who 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.
It is in this spirit that the George Washington University’s Graduate School of Political Management has 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.
Beyond events and archives, the ultimate role of the Society of Presidential Pollsters is to pay much-deserved tribute to an important group of advisors to presidents and presidential candidates over the last 70 years.
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. It has a three-fold purpose.
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, it preserves questionnaires, letters, and memorabilia in order to establish an academic resource for the study of presidential decision-making.
Secondarily, the Society aims to delineate the often-elusive role of the presidential pollster. By studying the records obtained, conducting independent research, and working with contemporary historians, it weaves a narrative of the position going back to the FDR administration.
And thirdly, the Society brings these professionals together. Current pollsters will benefit greatly from an engaged community of veteran “Pollsters General,” as journalist Bill Schneider once dubbed the position.
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.
For more information about the Society of Presidential Pollsters contact Tracy Sullivan.