WSJ: Rasmussen Is 'America's Insurgent Pollster'

Pollster Scott Rasmussen is the subject of a fascinating profile in The Wall Street Journal.

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You can tell it's a volatile political year when a balding, middle-aged pollster gets a standing ovation from hundreds of state legislators after delivering the news that only 23% of the people in this country believe today's federal government has the consent of the governed.


"Americans don't want to be governed from the left or the right," Scott Rasmussen tells the American Legislative Exchange Council, a conference of 1,500 conservative and moderate legislators. "They want, like the Founding Fathers, to largely govern themselves with Washington in a supporting—but not dominant—role. The tea party movement is today's updated expression of that sentiment."

Mr. Rasmussen tells the crowd gathered around him after his speech that the political and media elites have misread the tea party. He believes this strongly enough that he's teamed up with Doug Schoen—a pollster for both President Bill Clinton and New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg—to publish a new book that will seek to explain the movement's significance. "Mad as Hell" will be out early next month.

Thanks to the shifting tectonic plates of American society, polls have come to dominate our politics as never before, and Mr. Rasmussen is today's leading insurgent pollster. A co-founder of the sports network ESPN as a young man, now, at age 54, he's a key player in the contact sport of politics. His firm, Rasmussen Reports, has replaced live questioners with automated dialers so it can inexpensively survey a large sample of Americans every night about their confidence in the economy and their approval of President Obama. Key Senate and governor's races are polled every two weeks.

Some traditional pollsters argue otherwise, but time has shown that automated telephone technology delivers results that are just as accurate as conventional methods (as well as being far less costly). Mr. Rasmussen correctly predicted the 2004 and 2008 presidential races within a percentage point. In 2009, Mickey Kaus of noted that Mr. Rasmussen's final poll in the New Jersey governor's race was "pretty damn accurate. Polls using conventional human operators tended to show [Democrat Jon] Corzine ahead. They were wrong."

Early this year, Mr. Rasmussen delivered the first early-warning sign that Scott Brown would change the direction of American politics. A Rasmussen poll showing Mr. Brown surging and only nine points down with two weeks left to go before January's special Senate election in Massachusetts attracted the instant attention of White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel. "How had this happened? What the bleep was going on?" is how the New York Times characterized his reaction. A Boston Globe poll taken about the same time showed Democrat Martha Coakley with a safe 15-point lead.

Mr. Rasmussen has a partial answer for Mr. Emanuel's question, and it lies in a significant division among the American public that he has tracked for the past few years—a division between what he calls the Mainstream Public and the Political Class.

To figure out where people are, he asks three questions: Whose judgment do you trust more: that of the American people or America's political leaders? Has the federal government become its own special interest group? Do government and big business often work together in ways that hurt consumers and investors? Those who identify with the government on two or more questions are defined as the political class.

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Scott Rasmussen: Public Opinion Pollster, Author, Co-Founder of ESPN & Rasmussen Reports, Political Analyst

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