Pollsters Gather at Santa Monica Convention

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If you're a political candidate looking for a pollster this weekend, try Santa Monica. That's where political consultants and pollsters are gathering for their annual convention. KPCC's Special Correspondent Kitty Felde caught up with some political professionals for their assessment of this dynamic presidential election year.

Kitty Felde: It's been a busy year for political pollsters.

Bob Moore: Business has been very good.

Felde: Bob Moore is the head of Moore Information in Portland, Oregon. He's been doing Republican polling for more than 30 years.

Moore: It's the first time since 1952 that there hasn't been a sitting president or vice president on the ballot, so, we're breaking new ground. It's the first time since 1960 that we have a senator who is going to be elected president. There are probably more enthusiastic people in this election than we've seen in many elections.

Felde: Moore says this election year has one other thing going for it: it's been a real horserace. John McCain has enough delegates to become the GOP candidate, but that doesn't mean Republican pollsters have nothing to do. Since the Democratic nomination is still up for grabs, Bob Moore still has to figure out how his party's candidate would do against Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton.

Moore: Our business is good because in the election business, there's a lot of changing dynamics, and so you need to poll the public more often than you do for, say, General Motors, who sells, you know, has one brand every year.

Felde: And it's not just the unsettled race on the Democratic side that make this an interesting political year. New technology is posing a challenge to pollsters – specifically, the rise in the number of cell phones. Pamela Jenkins is with Issues & Answers, a political polling company in Virginia.

Pamela Jenkins: By the election in November, about 12% of households will not have a home phone, they'll have cell phones. But they've done a lot of research where they've gone out and conducted mirrored research, with this group of people with cell phones, and this without, and they're finding that the overall results are not significantly different.

Felde: But political pollsters aren't allowed to randomly call cell phones the way they call landlines. Pamela Jenkins says she and other pollsters haven't figured out what to do when most Americans dump their landline phones and use cell phones only.

Pollsters do more than ask your opinion about a political candidate. They make "get out the vote" calls, too. John Delgado is with Eastern Research in Pennsylvania, the nation's largest Spanish-language pollster. His company called 50,000 voters in Ohio and Texas on election day – sometimes calling back four or five times. At about 30 cents a voter, that's a $15,000 expense for a political campaign.

John Delgado: I know the campaigns do calls from, you know, town halls where they have volunteers call, but that's very small scale, and it's kind of, you're calling specific people that you know are undecided, and you want to get them, kind of get them on your side. If people did volunteer to do all these calls, that would be great for them. But that's not the reality. (laughs)

Felde: And the realities of this political year have thrilled John Delgado. He says this is the third presidential election since he was old enough to vote, and he says he can hardly wait for November. Lots of other voters feel exactly the same way, which makes it an even better year for the pollsters.