CLINTON'S POLLSTER ROLLING IN THE GREEN

By Published on .

WASHINGTON-Bill Clinton is in a class of his own when it comes to using the basic tools of mass marketing.

A review of documents at the Federal Election Commission shows President Clinton has carried over from his successful national campaign an intense and unprecedented reliance on polling, focus groups and media advisers to help sell his message.

In the first three months of 1994, Clinton pollster Stanley Greenberg was paid $365,000 by the Democratic National Committee. Media advisers James Carville and Mandy Grunwald likewise received healthy compensation from the DNC's treasury, which is funded by contributions from party faithful.

The political consultancy of campaign strategist Mr. Carville (Carville & Begala) received $52,500 while the media company of Mr. Grunwald (Grunwald, Eskew & Donilon) was paid about $75,000, according to commission records.

"God almighty, that's a lot of money," said William Hamilton, a Democratic pollster in Washington.

"My God, those are pretty heavy expenditures," said Sig Rogich, the Las Vegas adman who in 1989 moved into the White House as a special assistant in charge of making sure that President Bush came off well at news and public events.

By comparison, the Bush White House in the first three months of 1990 spent $90,409 among five different pollsters, with more than half going to the administration's principal polling company, Coldwater Corp., according to commission records.

Similarly, the Bush administration's expenditures on media advisers and strategists were far less. Commission records show that Republican political guru Roger Ailes received $38,400 in the first quarter of 1990, while the Republican consultancy of Bond Donatelli was paid $29,708 and several other consultants lesser amounts.

The dramatic contrast in basic marketing spending, separated by four years, is far more than might be ascribed to inflation. The unprecedented use of paid media by President Clinton after his election accounted for some of the difference. Millions of dollars went into paid advertising-and the polling and focus groups that preceded-to help win passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement. The same is true of healthcare, with the end of the spending still not at hand.

Beyond paid advertising, there's the interest in taking the nation's pulse on issues that have bedeviled the administration, including Whitewater and last week's filing of sexual harassment charges against the president by Paula Jones.

But there were other differences too, said political marketing professionals, that may account for, if not explain, the chasm that separates the administration's marketing expenditures from those of predecessors.

Those differences, likewise, help explain why pollster Mr. Greenberg has ascended to an advisory role likened to that held by Secretary of State Henry Kissinger during the Nixon era and pollster Dick Wirthlin in the first Reagan term.

Neither Mr. Greenberg nor President Clinton's other pollsters returned calls.

"That's a lot being spent on polling but not outrageous when you consider what's being done," said Mike Vaselice, VP at the Tarrance Group, a leading Republican polling company based in Houston. "Typically, the White House will have the Democratic National Committee do between 200 and 250 calls every night, Sunday through Thursday, that's ongoing tracking-asking for a rating. For example, in a given week, the subject might be foreign affairs and where Bill Clinton stands on different foreign affairs issues.

"The next week, it could be healthcare and job approval relative to that issue or the particulars of [healthcare] legislation. They're random and nationwide calls weighted by states based on voter registration."

Mr. Vaselice, who came to Tarrance from the National Republican Congressional Committee, said Mr. Greenberg was particularly fond of using focus groups, costing at least $4,000 apiece.

Besides coming of age in politics with a fondness for information and marketing, President Clinton came into office with an aggressive and controversial agenda for change, said Mr. Hamilton, the Democratic pollster. His clients include the Health Insurance Association of America, creators of the controversial "Harry & Louise" TV spots that challenged the president's proposed healthcare reforms.

"Those numbers for polling seem to me to be almost more than necessary, but then I've never been in the position of having a client in the White House," Mr. Hamilton said.

He also said that President Clinton's political astuteness may turn him, more than his predecessors, to the tools of political marketers.

"He's the best politician in office that I can remember-if he wasn't president, he'd be a political consultant. And he's smart because he listens to his people-Stanley and Mandy," he said.

Jim Whitney, DNC press secretary, said the Clinton agenda and those opposing it contribute to the need for marketing techniques. "There is a lot of misinformation out there, and to counter it, you need to go to the media with accurate information," Mr. Whitney said. "I don't think that in the 1980s you saw anywhere something like the HIAA spending $15 million on advertising. Something like that fundamentally alters the equation."

Karen Hall Jamieson, dean of the Annenberg School for Communications, said President Clinton's agenda is far more ambitious than his predecessors'. "With healthcare, it's as if they're running a political campaign," Ms. Jamieson said. "So you'd want to do a lot of polling to put together a healthcare plan ... and readjust it where the weaknesses are. And it's so complex a plan that they need many polls. It looks as if it was crafted ear-to-ground ... They're managing it just like a campaign."

In this article:
Most Popular