Political historians and social science scholars have tended to date heavy reliance upon public opinion polls used in political campaigns and to guide governance first to the 1960 John F. Kennedy election and to Louis Harris, allegedly the first big-time pollster to direct a presidential campaign, and then to Lyndon Johnson and his pollster consultant, Oliver Quayle. President Johnson was notorious not only for campaigning by the polls but for governing as well. He often defended his politics before pesky reporters and journalists by pulling out a recent poll from his vest pocket showing public support for his controversial policies. John Kennedy, although somewhat less overt, fine-tuned and revised his 1960 presidential campaign to be compatible with what Lou Harris and the polls told him. Pollster and consultant Pat Caddell may have eclipsed them both by putting candidate and later president Jimmy Carter on poll-pilot before, during, and after the 1976 presidential campaign. Yet it would be in the 1990s when the nation would witness its most poll-driven president in history, Bill Clinton, who not only used polls to guide his campaigns and shape his governance, but even checked out phrases for speeches using Dick Morris’s “mall polls.”1


Presidential Election Electoral College Presidential Campaign Electoral Vote Public Opinion Polling 
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© Melvin G. Holli 2002

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  • Melvin G. Holli

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