By Christopher Cadelago
December 9, 2016 – 11:37 AM
The Field Poll, which for more than a half-century has been the gold standard for public opinion research, is ceasing operations Friday, leaving behind a fabled track record of accurately reflecting the highs and lows of California’s biggest players and issues.
Field’s closure, announced by poll director Mark DiCamillo, comes less than two years after the death of Mervin Field, who founded the surveying firm after working for Gallup and serving in the U.S. Merchant Marine during World War II. Field operated continuously since 1947 as an independent, nonpartisan opinion poll service, and has issued tens of thousands of reports.
In an interview Thursday, DiCamillo, who spent 38 years at Field, said the poll’s chief underwriter, the France-based multinational advertising and public relations company Havas, recently informed him that the polling company would no longer be part of its future. Field Research Corp., however, will continue operating until early next year.
“It’s the end of an era,” said DiCamillo, adding that Friday would be his last day working at Field’s offices. “I am very fortunate to have met Merv 38 years ago, and it changed my life. Who would have known that I would become an expert on California politics as a profession? It’s just been a great ride.”
Over the decades, Field’s media subscribers used the poll, based on a cross-section of statewide voters, to inform Californians about everything from public policy trends to the latest election for governor, U.S. Senate, or lesser offices.
The firm’s periodic polls on ballot measures were especially helpful for assessing changes in voter attitudes over the course of campaigns. But as media companies faced shrinking advertising revenue, Field’s financial support diminished.
The Sacramento Bee had remained as one of its largest subscribers.
Field’s demise, coupled with the death last year of California Target Book editor Allan Hoffenblum, ends a chapter for state political watchers. It comes amid a break in the generational logjam that’s ushering in the next wave of statewide politicians, beginning with U.S. Sen.-elect Kamala Harris and the nominee to replace her as state attorney general, Xavier Becerra, and the survey’s ubiquity still makes it difficult to imagine the upcoming 2018 governor’s race without the Field Poll.
“It’s not just unfortunate, it’s tragic,” said Dan Schnur, who as director of the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics at USC oversees the USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times statewide poll.
“There are certainly other public opinion polls in California, but none of them with the history and the richness of content that Mervin and Mark provided over so many years.”
But Schnur said he’s observed in recent years that people increasingly refuse to believe news that doesn’t reinforce their partisan leanings.
“If you get your information from Fox News or Comedy Central, a legitimate public opinion poll like Field is an unwelcome intrusion into your version of reality,” he said.
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