Mr. Johnson was a Washington reporter for more than 50 years, beginning at the old Washington Star, where he won a Pulitzer for national reporting in 1966 for covering the struggles of African Americans in Selma, Ala.
When Mr. Johnson came to The Post in 1969, he already had an impressive journalistic portfolio, having covered military engagements in Vietnam, India and the Dominican Republic. In the early 1960s, he wrote a series about African American life in Washington that became the basis for his first book.
Along with David S. Broder and other reporters, Mr. Johnson brought a fresh depth and sophistication to The Post and to political coverage in particular. He became known for his shoe-leather reporting as he roamed the nation to gauge the thoughts, fears and hopes of the public.
“Haynes was a pioneer in looking at the mood of the country to understand a political race,” former Washington Post executive editor Leonard Downie said in an interview. “Haynes was going around the country talking to people, doing portraits and finding out what was on people’s minds. He was a kind of profiler of the country.”
In 1980, when many Washington observers thought the presidential election between President Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan would be close, Mr. Johnson discerned something else in his travels: a potential landslide for Reagan.
“The most striking aspect of this dreary presidential campaign so far involves people’s attitudes about Jimmy Carter,” he wrote. “After weeks of travel and interviews it’s literally true that I have yet to meet a single person who is happy about voting for him. . . . In one way or another the people I’ve met have all had reservations about another four years of Jimmy Carter in the White House.”
Mr. Johnson was an exceptionally graceful writer who brought a sense of humanity and a dynamic narrative drive to his stories. The voices of the people he interviewed could be heard on the page and gave perspective and personality to his reporting.
“He made his subjects come alive,” Gene Roberts, a journalism professor at the University of Maryland and a former newspaper editor, said in an interview. “His writing had a flow and a polish.”
Early in his career, Mr. Johnson began supplementing his newspaper reporting by writing books, many of which became bestsellers. He wrote about the Bay of Pigs, the military and the McCarthy era and was even the co-author of a spy thriller. But his primary focus was on how political decisions affected the country.
One of his most celebrated books, “Sleepwalking Through History: America in the Reagan Years” (1991) analyzed the 1980s with an unsparing eye toward Reagan and Congress. In one passage, Mr. Johnson described how oil producers in Texas greeted Reagan’s election in 1980: