He Talks, We Listen

Shawn Hanks
April 15, 2011

Shawn Hanks


The following is a profile article that NJ Savvy Magazine did on Scott Rasmussen.

From his perch in Asbury Park, pollster Scott Rasmussen keeps a sharp eye on the nation. From economics and politics to Bruce Springsteen and Snooki, he tracks trends, compiling and analyzing data daily.

Before elections, we all want to know how our candidates are faring, but do we really need to know what people think the rest of the time, about anything, from what car we’ll buy next and our vacation plans to Obama Care and Governor Christie’s efforts to get a handle on the state’s financial woes?

The answer is a resounding yes. Just for starters, polls are tied to the most intriguing headlines of the day, and frequently they create headlines of their own. As such, they are capable of inspiring legislation, changing policies, making or breaking political careers, and influencing investments and business strategies.

The Asbury Park firm’s “Rasmussen Reports” is free and on line, and it has become the most trafficked opinion site in the country. Millions visit it every day, plus hundreds of thousands subscribe to the firm’s Platinum Service featuring more elaborate daily reports and analysis.

Rasmussen claims the reports are successful because his firm goes way beyond polling.

“To be sure, we conduct more public opinion polls than any other firm and in a variety of ways,” says Rasmussen. “But we aren’t just pollsters. We’re actually an active news organization, staffed with an editorial team that generates a daily cycle of reports based on our survey results. ‘If it’s in the news, it’s in our polls’ goes our slogan, but it’s more than that. It’s the way we do business. Our coverage, posted on our website, tracks not only the political world, but also current events, consumer confidence, business and lifestyle topics. We also list the president’s job approval ratings daily.”

Analytical Accuracy

So is Scott Rasmussen always right? “No, of course, not,” he says modestly. He did wrongly predict that Sharron Angle would beat Harry Reid in the recent mid-term elections. However, both the media and visitors to his website praise his accuracy to the skies. For example, they point out that in 2008, “Rasmussen Reports” was the first to show Barrack Obama gaining on Hillary Clinton among Democratic voters, the first to show John McCain on top among Republicans and the first to show the widespread unpopularity of the bailouts of banks and auto companies.

In 2009, most polling companies showed New Jersey Governor John Corzine with a modest lead in his reelection bid, but Rasmussen consistently showed challenger Chris Christie ahead and eventually matched his margin of victory. That New Jersey race, combined with the firm’s earlier track record, led liberal columnist Mickey Kaus to declare: “If you have a choice between Rasmussen, and, say, the ‘New York Times,’ go with Rasmussen.”

Last year, “Rasmussen Reports” was the first to show Republican Scott Brown had a chance to defeat Democrat Martha Coakley in the special Massachusetts Senate race to fill the late Ted Kennedy’s seat. Just after Brown’s upset win, the influential Washington publication “The Politico” said of “Rasmussen Reports”: “The overwhelming wisdom in both parties was that Martha Coakley was a lock. It’s hard to think of a single poll changing the mood of a race that dramatically.” A study by Boston University and the Pew Research Center concluded that the Rasmussen poll, perhaps more than anything else, signaled an upset was brewing.

The Methods

So how does Rasmussen do it? There’s more involved than just calling a certain number of people and asking them a bunch of questions. A lot more. 

Automated technology is an important ingredient. Unlike boiler rooms and phone banks, it ensures that every respondent hears exactly the same question, from the exact same voice, asked with the exact same inflection, every single time.

Calls are placed to randomly selected phone numbers via a process that guarantees appropriate geographical representation. Typically, calls are placed from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. during the week, while Saturday calls are made from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Sunday calls from 1 p.m. to 9 p.m.

The raw data taken from the calls is analyzed to make sure the sample reflects the overall population in terms of age, race, gender and other factors. This step is important because different segments answer their phones in different ways. For example, women answer the phone more often than men, older people are home more and answer the phone more often than younger people, and rural residents typically answer the phone more frequently than urbanites.

Composing the poll questions is tricky, for a single word can affect the answer. For instance, a CBS/New York Times poll found that 70 percent of us favor gay men and lesbians serving in the military, but the same poll found that just 59 percent favor homosexuals in the military.

Loving New Jersey

Rasmussen is a devoted New Jerseyan. He lives in Ocean Grove, which he calls his favorite place on earth. 

“It has been my idea of paradise longer than I can remember,” he says. “As a kid, I spent all my summers here on the beach, living with my grandparents, and I got my first job here at the shore. That was in 1970. I was an umbrella boy and made $15 a week plus tips. I played a lot of volleyball, rode a lot of waves and spent a lot of nights on the boardwalk in Asbury Park. During those days, school was simply the intolerable nine-month period of time between summers in Ocean Grove. That was one reason my favorite song was Alice Cooper’s ‘School’s Out.’

“What’s so terrific about New Jersey is you have the option of living in a small town like Ocean Grove and yet be so close to the city that you can visit often,” he continues. “What’s the best thing that could happen for the state? Definitely that the Yankees win the World Series and the Giants win the Super Bowl in the same year. The last time that happened was the year I was born, and it wasn’t even called the Super Bowl back then.”

Local Analysis

Considering his devotion to his home state, it’s not surprising some strictly New Jersey issues creep into his polls.

On the lighter side, there’s his poll on the popularity of a fellow New Jerseyan, Bruce Springsteen. Fifty-eight percent of likely New Jersey voters view the Boss favorably, but Rasmussen found that when a survey question identified the Rock-and-Roll Hall of Famer as a Democrat, his favorables declined.

“It was an interesting study of the way political perceptions color poll responses,” says Rasmussen.

Another lighthearted poll tested state residents’ opinion of “Jersey Shore,” the MTV show that follows eight hard-partying young people’s antics. Seventy percent felt it impacts the state’s image negatively.

On a more serious note, “Rasmussen Reports” closely follows Governor Christie. So far, the governor is doing well, he says. A majority of likely New Jersey voters approve of the job he’s doing, and considering the state is known to be overwhelmingly Democratic, that’s no mean feat. The governor earns solid support for his handling of the state’s contentious budget situation.

Author, Author

All the insight Scott Rasmussen has gained via polling has led him to write two books: “Mad as Hell: How the Tea Party Movement Is Fundamentally Re-making Our Two-Party System” and “In Search of Self-Governance.” He is sought after on the national speakers’ circuit and is getting ready to write a third book, again inspired by his polling results.

“They often surprise me,” he admits, ”but the biggest surprise of my polling life has been the passion with which people argue about politics and numbers. For me, polls are to learn from and understand what your friends and neighbors think. In today’s world, they’re often used to replace reasoned argument and uttered in a tone that suggests this one single, solitary number is enough to end all discussion on the topic. I especially chuckle when I hear our polls quoted out of context or incorrectly. I used to get really upset about it, but I have gotten over that.”

Rasmussen, who describes himself as “happily married for 27 years,” has two college-age sons. They don’t share his passion for polls and are following their own career paths.

People always ask him about the differences between Republicans and Democrats and between young and old, but he’s more interested in what unites us.

“There’s lots of common ground that unites the American people today,” he says.


For information on how to book Scott Rasmussen for your next event, visit PremiereSpeakers.com/scott_rasmussen.

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