Andrew Kohut, Astute Interpreter of Opinion Polls, Dies at 73

By Roberts, Sam | International New York Times, September 10, 2015 | Go to article overview

Andrew Kohut, Astute Interpreter of Opinion Polls, Dies at 73


Roberts, Sam, International New York Times


Mr. Kohut, a leading pollster and an author, was widely respected for his nonpartisanship, expertise and clarity in interpreting the findings of surveys.

CORRECTION APPENDED

Andrew Kohut, a leading pollster who for three decades mined the public's views on subjects like sex, race and religion but who, as an impartial professional, rarely revealed his own, died on Tuesday in Baltimore. He was 73.

The cause was complications of chronic lymphocytic leukemia, his wife, Diane Colasanto, said.

Mr. Kohut (pronounced KO-hut) was the founding director of the Pew Research Center, based in Washington, and served as its president from 2004 until his retirement in 2013.

He was the president of the Gallup Organization from 1979 to 1989; founded Princeton Survey Research Associates; was the founding director of surveys for the Times Mirror Center in 1990; and, in 1993, became the director of what became the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press.

He continued to write, however; as recently as May, on the website RealClearPolitics.com, he assessed the electoral outlook of former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Among fellow public opinion professionals, social scientists, politicians and journalists, Mr. Kohut was widely respected for his nonpartisanship, expertise and clarity in interpreting the findings of polls and what they portended.

"As good as he was at writing questionnaires -- arguably the hardest and most important part of the survey process -- he was a genius at crafting a story about data that brought the evidence to bear with a minimum of words, using sharp declarative sentences that elevated the important findings out of the thicket of numbers," said Scott Keeler, director of survey research for the Pew Research Center.

In the introduction to one of several books Mr. Kohut co-wrote, he explained that what followed was drawn principally from survey data. "This is not a work of speculation, opinion or theory," he wrote.

Yes, he wrote in a 2012 Op-Ed article in The New York Times, income inequality had become a volatile political issue, but he cautioned: "While Americans are hearing more and more about class conflict, there is little indication that they are increasingly divided along these lines.

"People don't necessarily want to take money from the wealthy; they just want a better chance to get rich themselves."

And in 2008, explaining why pre-primary polls had exaggerated Senator Barack Obama's potential in New Hampshire, Mr. Kohut wrote in another Times Op-Ed article that the surveys had undercounted poor whites, who tend to look more unfavorably on blacks.

"In 1989, as a Gallup pollster, I overestimated the support for David Dinkins in his first race for New York City mayor against Rudolph Giuliani," he wrote. …

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