It’s been a hectic year for David Paleologos—and he couldn’t be happier.
As director of the Suffolk University Political Research Center (SUPRC), Paleologos, in partnership with the Boston Globe, saw the most recent Suffolk poll, which showed a tightening New Hampshire race between Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, quoted everywhere from CNN to CBS to Reddit. That poll garnered the kind of traction that surprised even Paleologos.
“Some polls get a lot of action and some don’t, but the reaction to that last poll was amazing,” Paleologos says. “Our polls are carried from Fox News to MSNBC and everywhere in between, so what we’re doing is working. At least we’re getting some outreach.”
Outreach is an understatement. In the 13 years since Paleologos founded the Political Research Center, his perceptive research and meticulous analysis have made the University’s polling results among the most studied and discussed nationwide. Through the years, SUPRC has partnered with WHDH-TV, Boston’s NBC affiliate; the Boston Herald; and USA Today, which teamed with Paleologos for the critical 2014 midterm elections. Larry Kramer, the newspaper’s former president and publisher, cited Suffolk’s “political expertise and analysis” for its ability to “recognize and explore the diversity of public opinion” in this country.
While several media outlets approached Paleologos and SUPRC to seek a partnership, the Globe was “really on the fast track,” he says. That collaboration will last through the 2016 primaries and general election.
“The Globe is obviously a great media platform to be partnered with. I think it will be a mutually beneficial partnership,” Paleologos says. “I think it will be great for Suffolk students and faculty, and I think the Suffolk polling, because of the accuracy and the national appeal, will benefit the Globe. I think it will work on both ends.”
This, of course, has been an especially unusual presidential campaign season, especially among Republicans. Established names such as former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul are struggling, while unpredictable political novices Donald Trump and former neurosurgeon Ben Carson dominate the polls. These uncanny results have surprised even a seasoned pollster like Paleologos, who founded SUPRC in 2002.
“We haven’t had the kind of trajectory, up and down, that we had so many times in the last presidential election, where it was Michelle Bachman–top of the polls, and then she falls. Then it became [Herman] Cain, up to the top of the polls, then back down,” Paleologos says. “We’ve seen the trajectory up for Trump, and he’s maintained it. Sometimes he comes down in the polling around the debates because someone else will have a better performance. He might slide a little bit, but he’ll still lead. In between debates, because he’s so good at media, he’ll get his poll numbers back up.
“That runs counter to [Carly] Fiorina. She scored well during the debates because she performs well, but she doesn’t have a sustainable strategy between the debates,” he adds. “So you don’t have the kind of volatility with the candidates. You’ve had the same six or seven candidates on the Republican side at the top of the heap, and then the same six or seven on the lower tier. They haven’t dropped out, but they haven’t broken through.”
That eye for the vagaries of political fortune helped put Paleologos and the Suffolk University Political Research Center on the national radar during the 2008 campaign. Like every other pollster on that perplexing night, Paleologos picked then Illinois Sen. Barack Obama and Sen. John McCain of Arizona to win the New Hampshire primary. And like every other pollster, Paleologos got it wrong–both then-New York Sen. Hillary Clinton and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney ended up winning the Granite State. Yet Paleologos literally won for losing. His polls were the only ones that were correct within the margin of error. Legendary NBC newsman Tom Brokaw singled out Paleologos’ insight on national TV.
“It turns out that was the poll that was correct and the others were wrong,” Brokaw told MSNBC’s Chris Matthews. “So my investment advice to you is to invest in the Suffolk University poll.” While preparing to do an interview to explain how he’d gotten it wrong, Paleologos was told by a news director, “Tom Brokaw just lauded your poll.” When Paleologos finished that interview, he was swarmed by reporters who wanted to know how Paleologos did it and when his next poll would be.
For SUPRC, there will be many more polls before a new president is elected next fall. Each poll, Paleologos believes, benefits the media, voters, and the candidates themselves.
“The candidates have an opportunity to learn from the polling and to improve. It’s like looking at a medical report; when the tests come back and it says you have too much of this, and not enough of this, you adjust and become a healthier person,” Paleologos says. “With polling, candidates see their positives and negatives and get to strengthen and better themselves. Ultimately, as a researcher, I hope the research that’s out there better informs [voters] and candidates, and makes it a better process for everybody.”