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firm to hire? The answer to this question is contin- gent on how the campaign intends to utilize their pollster. One way pollsters tend to be used is solely as

the numbers guy (or gal). The campaign will call on their pollster to get an understanding of where the race stands and what needs to be done to win. Otherwise, there is little involvement of the poll- ster in other campaign decisions. A much more effective method is to fully in-

corporate your pollster as a part of the campaign team. Campaign decisions on messaging, targeting and the like are made with input from your poll- ing consultant along with others, and input is given based on what the polling has shown. If you are planning on running a very compart- mentalized campaign and only using your pollster to deliver numbers on a periodic basis, there will be little difference between a large or small firm. But if you want to run a more collaborative style campaign, then the size of the firm can make a real difference. Each campaign should make a deci- sion on what feels like the best fit for their team; in some cases a large firm will feel like the right match, while other campaigns will see a smaller firm as the better option. The later was the case for Sean Coffey, a Democratic candidate to become New York’s next Attorney General. Coffey is a recently retired plaintiffs’ attorney,

former Naval officer, and former federal prosecu- tor who is running for elected office for the first time. He and his manager have hired smaller firms —including mine—to fulfill almost every level of their consultant needs. “As with most campaigns, the team around the

table tends to be a reflection of the candidate,” says Tammy Sun, the campaign’s spokesperson. “Sean is a newcomer to politics, who made a career out of fighting for the little guy. As any former head of Arthur Andersen or WorldCom will tell you, Sean’s natural inclination is not to equate the size of a com- pany with being right. This is not to say that having larger consulting firms around the table would mean the campaign wouldn’t function as well, but we do have an atmosphere of teamwork and flexibility that I have not seen on many campaigns.” Van Parish, Coffey’s campaign manager, put it

this way: “I have worked with large and small firms throughout the years and have had excellent re- sults with both. With Sean we have an exceptional candidate, and in the current political environment the race seems like it is changing almost daily. This is one of those years where a little bit of extra at- tention from our consultants can make all the dif- ference.”

Pollsters are an odd breed. We live for data.

“For our purposes, a smaller polling firm turned out to be the right choice for two main reasons. First, I know that anytime there is a question on the campaign that I need answered, I can get them on the phone right away. I never feel that we are just one of many clients, and for the most part it feels like we are the one and only focus of their firm. Secondly, with a small firm I always feel that our campaign is front and center in their minds. When I call to ask a question on the numbers, I don’t get the sense that they are looking through a few dozen banner books to get the answer.” The Coffey campaign is not alone in their deci-

sion to “think small.” From national to statewide campaigns as well as down-ballot races, small poll- ing shops are helping guide candidates to victory across the country.

A good campaign team can be the difference be-

tween a successful November and sitting back and thinking about what might have been. Hiring a small polling firm is not a guarantee of success, but any campaign will serve itself well to not overlook the smaller firms and consider the advantages that they may bring to the table. There will always be larger firms that are a better fit for some campaigns, but every candidate and every manager should consider all factors when deciding what type of consultant will best fit their team.

Stefan Hankin is the founder and president of Lincoln Park Strategies. His clients have included presidential candidates, Fortune 500 companies, associations, and non-profit organizations. He can be reached at Stefan@

December 2010 | Campaigns & Elections 67

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