The final group of pollsters worth mentioning are the ones
we hear the least about — the internal pollsters working for
the campaigns themselves. That's where the real money is
made, said Leve, because those pollsters are paid for
ongoing analysis and strategy and working for big-name
politicians can bring in additional outside business.
Take, for example, Joel Benenson: He was President
Barack Obama's chief pollster since the beginning of
his campaign in 2008, and now he's Democratic nominee
Hillary Clinton's chief strategist and pollster. Beneson
Strategy Group provided at least $5 million in services in
the 2008 cycle, and has already charged even more in
this cycle, according to Federal Election Commission
That's not just for the polls themselves, but for his analysis,
consulting and strategic guidance that help the candidate
use the data to shape her policy, messaging and campaign
This area of expertise mixing polling and strategy is so
important that it even has its own class at Harvard,
taught by government professor Stephen
Ansolabehere and Mark Penn, who was
White House pollster for six years. They told CNBC that
polling is an art first, with science second.
"The real value of a pollster is not just in reporting the
numbers, but in interpreting the numbers and providing
advice," Penn said.
The Harvard class isn't filled with students who want to
be pollsters in their career, but rather to be global leaders
themselves or to advise leaders, knowing how to use polls
to manage decisions. Ansolabehere described in-house
campaign polling as part of the data feeding into analytics
and strategy. Students learn how to interpret "complex
situations" where the research and reality may disagree.
Even with the Donald Trump campaign apparently spending
almost nothing on polls, it look like pollsters will make
plenty of money from other national and local campaigns.
As of August, the Clinton campaign has attributed nearly
$9 million in spending to just"polling" alone (not including
other strategic services), while Trump's unique campaign
has recorded only $150,000. In 2012, President Barack
Obama and Mitt Romney each recorded about $5 million
in "polling" expenditures.
"Whatever he is missing out on, I think Clinton picked up,"
Kimball said. "I don't think the industry is hurting for
political polls." Despite some of the financial and
methodological challenges facing pollsters today, many
of the experts we talked to were optimistic that new
technology and increased demand for poll results are
ushering in a great time to be in the business.
"I think we're entering a new golden age of polling,
certainly for those who know how to use all the data
and new technology that's available," said Anthony
Salvanto, director of elections at CBS News. "We've
never had more information or more ways
to learn what people think – and after all, it's listening
to people that makes polling really worthwhile."
Note: The comment from Anthony Salvanto at CBS News
was added to the story after it was initially published.