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 filings.
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 approach.
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.