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Public Opinion Strategies Turns 20, Reflects on Polling Industry

Tom Williams/Roll Call
The founding partners of Public Opinion Strategies — (from left) Gene Ulm, Glen Bolger, Neil Newhouse and Bill McInturff — have had a front-row seat to changes in campaigns and the polling industry over the past 20 years.

As they poll campaigns from the city council to presidential levels, the firm has a six-figure national research budget during election years that is paid for out of pocket. All of that, along with the collective experience of the 12 partners, is an asset when pitching new clients, they said.

“We’re bringing to the table basically every single campaign we’ve ever worked on,” Newhouse said. “There is not a single thing that could happen in a campaign that one of us haven’t seen someplace.”

Sen. Scott Brown’s (R-Mass.) January 2010 victory was “the longest three weeks of my life,” said Newhouse, who is now polling for former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign-in-waiting. “We knew something that nobody else knew, and we only shared it with the campaign.”

Ulm’s top campaigns include now-Sen. Saxby Chambliss’ (R-Ga.) come-from-behind victory over then-Sen. Max Cleland (D) in 2002, and Bolger’s include Sen. John Thune’s (R-S.D.) upset of then-Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D) in 2004.

Wirthlin’s Influence

The partners credit Wirthlin, who helped guide Reagan’s political career for two decades, for much of their success. Wirthlin passed away in March.

“We’re enjoying our 20 years, but all of us owe an enormous debt to Richard and have an appreciation for his skills,” McInturff said. “I don’t think any of us think we would be here without those years at the Wirthlin Group at Richard’s hand.”

Newhouse and McInturff originally negotiated an agreement with Wirthlin to be his firm’s in-house political arm. Public Opinion Strategies would have remained in the Wirthlin offices and used its call centers, and Wirthlin would have received a quarter of the new firm’s profits.

But at the eleventh hour, Wirthlin unexpectedly backed out. He told them they would thank him later.

“Dick was right,” Ulm said. “We do thank him for it.”

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