Back when president Bush was still candidate Bush, harping on the need
to restore honor and integrity to the Oval Office, one of his most reliable
applause lines was his pledge to govern "not by polls and focus groups, but by
principle" -- an obvious shot at the poll-driven presidency of Bill Clinton. During
one stump speech, Bush challenged voters to "ask my Texans whether I stand on
principle or on polls and focus groups."
So it was no small embarrassment when the April issue of The Washington
Monthly revealed that, contrary to his public assurances, Bush was spending
an awful lot of money on polling. It turned out that the Republican National
Committee (RNC), which pays the White House polling bill, had forked over nearly
$350,000 to Bush's principal pollsters -- Matthew Dowd, Fred Steeper, and Jan van
Lohuizen -- and had spent close to $1 million overall on polls and focus groups in
2001. True to current form, the Bushies couldn't seem to get their message
straight, alternately claiming that the actual number spent on polling was
$731,000, or $336,000, or even ... nothing. (In an April 18 Roll Call article,
then-presidential adviser Karen Hughes suggested that Republican pollsters such
as Frank Luntz submitted polling voluntarily. "He's doing it for himself," Hughes
But a recent Washington Post headline ("Bush Turns More Partisan With
Coming of Elections") got us thinking: If Bush spent so much money in an off year
like 2001, what's his polling bill for a midterm election year? A trip to the
Federal Elections Commission to examine RNC disbursement filings confirms that Bush
is well ahead of last year's pace. In the first three months of 2002, Bush's three
principal pollsters collected more than $236,000. Extrapolate that figure across
the rest of the year and they can expect to collect more than $944,000.
And that's not all. As one Republican pollster told us, the Bush White House
prefers to spread its polling work across multiple firms. So far this year, the
RNC has spent $317,100 on polling, which would project to about $1.3 million -- and
because polling will only intensify as the November elections heat up, the actual
numbers are certain to be much higher.
A couple of years ago, on Meet the Press, Bush confessed to Tim
Russert, "I've been, frankly, amazed at the amount of polling that goes on to
determine the behavior in the White House." To which we can now reply: So are we.