Reagan will keep close tabs on public image
Washington — Despite the President-elect's labeling the politics of issues as "no no," the Reagan administration will be using modern polling to study the waves it makes with the American people.
The polling will be channeled formally through the Republican National Committee (RNC), much as President Carter's pollster, Patrick Caddell, did much of his work nominally for the Democratic National Committee.
The Reagan pollsters are aware of criticisms leveled at the Carter White House, such as the charge of following public opinion rather than leading it. But they insist a professional, ongoing assessment of opinion is crucial to governing and think they can avoid pitfalls.
"When you have a pollster writing memos saying it's style over substance, that's trouble," says Reagan pollster Vincent Breglio, commenting on the Carter-Caddell experience. "You must stay with what the survey data is saying. Caddell was in the middlem of the decisionmaking process. We're not going to be decisionmaking. We'll maintain a professional stance. Survey information is absolutely necessary to governing."
Mr. Breglio is executive vice-president of Decision Making Information (DMI), the California-based survey firm he formed in 1969 with Richard Wirthlin, one of Reagan's closest advisers. Breglio heads the East Coast office of DMI, across the Potomac from the White House. DMI president Wirthlin heads the larger West Coast office.
Several Republican polling firms will be called on for opinion research, in contrast to Mr. Carter's dependence on Mr. Caddell, Breglio says. "There's no way on the Republican side you will have a premier polling firm. There are too many good ones. There is no way to sew it up the way Pat Caddell did."
In addition to Wirthlin-Breglio's DMI, Republican pollsters Arthur Finkelstein, Tully Plesser, and Robert Teeter will do political research for the RNC, and Reagan White House.
The Reagan pollsters were the only professionals to show a consistent wide margin for Reagan during the campaign, and the 10-point victory spread at the end. As the final weekend before the election, most pollsters were still anticipating a close race.
Explaining the firm's methods, Breglio says DMI did not adjust raw data for such factors as percentages of Republicans or Democrats supposedly residing in a state, as other firms did. "there needs to some thorough methodological investigation" in the polling community, to prepare for future elections, Breglio says. "A lot of people have egg on their face."
Breglio thinks the firm's methods were vindicated, although he concedes at one point, under challenge by the Reagan campaign, it restudied its procedures.
The potential Reagan landsllide was visible as long ago as June 1979, he says , contending that more than half of the public could not think of anything positive to say four more years of the Carter administration, while 70 percent found something positive for a Reagan term.
DMI already has done a postelection survey for the Reaganites, and a postinaugural survey is likely in February.
"It's important to know what the Reagan constituency looks like and who they are," Breglio says of the 3,000-voter postelection survey. "It's important to know how they will stick with him."
Breglio declined to comment on whether a long-range continuing study of voter attitudes and the administration's actions already has been designed. But other sources say this is likely, given the highly organized and sophisticated DMI survey program for the Reagan election campaign.
Richard Beals, who helped design the Reagan campaign polling system as a DMI staffer, will become director of planning and evaluation in the Reagan White House, reporting to Edwin Meese, the President's counselor and top policy aide. The Reagan White House, like Carter's, is expected to monitor the research of public and private survey firms as well as special Republican-sponsored polls requested through the RNC.
Breglio predicts polling will become even more important in future campaigns as well as a fixture in governing. Technological features such as "simulation" will be used more.
The DMI surveys themselves are not mysterious. Using a questionaire, teams of a dozen or so women phone randomly selected households from the basement of DMI's Arlington, Va., town house. The results can be entered on a computer by 2 a.m., and the results analyzed by 6 a.m.
By July, Reagan had a 25-point margin (Reagan 48, Carter 23, Anderson 15), reflecting the people's "time for a change" mood.
Wirthlin and Breglio argue there was no last-minute surge to Reagan, which other analysts claim skewe d their own last projections.