California’s premier pollster, Mervin Field, passed away Monday at his home in Marin County at the age of 94 after what was described as a brief illness. He was one of the architects of modern polling and focus groups that grew up along with the rise of modern media marketing.
After studying journalism at Rutgers University and the University of Missouri in the late 1930s, Field worked for two years in various capacities for the Opinion Research Corporation and the Gallup Poll.
Field taught himself the various technical aspects of survey methods while serving a three-year stint in the U.S. Merchant Marine during World War II. He started the Field Poll in 1947 and published over 2000 reports in the next 57 years before retiring in 2004.
He was credited in 1948 as the only publication to understand that Republican Thomas Dewey was about to lose to Democrat Harry Truman. With virtually all the media, every political observer from both parties and every national and state poll predicting a Dewey triumph, Field predicted Dewey and Truman were tied in California just weeks before the election. A few weeks later, Truman was elected by a squeaker.
Field saw his efforts as a series of town halls across California.
Field was a pioneer in developing state-of-the-art demographic sampling methodologies, question and interview techniques, and analysis to capture trend data regarding federal, state and local political candidates and officeholders. For decades, he defined California politics and was seen by the media as an influential voice on the national scene. Generations of journalists deferred to Field’s data and his insights.
The Field Poll continues to publish 40-50 three-to-ten-page texts and statistical data reports on political and social trends in California each year.
Since 1956, The Field Poll and The Field Institute have maintained a continuing relationship with the state’s publicly owned University of California and California State University campuses. For decades, he served as a member of the National Advisory Council of The Institute of Governmental Studies, UC Berkeley. All of his organization’s survey data are archived and available as an invaluable tool for academic scholars and public policy makers.
Field also designed and executed over 500 different marketing, consumer and public opinion research projects outside of The Field Poll. He wrote, taught and spoke extensively on many business and public policy issues as well as various aspects of survey methodology. He directed numerous studies that were introduced in U.S. District and other Courts, where he also offered expert witness testimony on a variety of business and governmental practices.
The American Marketing Association gave Field annual awards in 1956 for his “Field Index of Advertising Efficiency” and in 1971 for “Outstanding Service to the Profession of Marketing Research.” Perhaps the kindest words came from his competitors at the American Association for Public Opinion Research, who gave Field the 1979 Award for Exceptionally Distinguished Achievement. They stated:
Mervin Field has been chief architect of and a successful campaigner for a contemporary code of standards for public opinion research. He is a professional who seems to have always known that high quality work demands a comparable level of personal and corporate conduct. He is a model for the businessman in research, a distinguished political analyst, and the conscience of a profession…
The Field Poll’s own obituary notes: ” If he had any regrets in an otherwise rich and full life, it
may be that he never fulfilled his oft-expressed wish that he had become a stand-up comedian.”