A story in Tuesday's Style section left the impression that pollster Robert Teeter, president of Market Opinion Research, is the sole owner of the company. The principal owner is Frederick P. Currier, who is also the chairman and chief executive officer.
NAME: Robert Teeter. AGE: 47. OCCUPATION: Owner of Market Opinion Research, a political and commercial polling firm in Michigan. OFFICIAL CAMPAIGN ROLE: Pollster. UNOFFICIAL ROLE: Bearer of Bad Tidings.
In the end, it was Pat Caddell's numbers that told Jimmy Carter his number was up. Carter got the news of his certain, devastating defeat 48 hours before the 1980 election, when the pollster phoned Air Force One.
Pollsters are paid to tell it like it is in presidential campaigns. It's a sometimes depressing but essential role and one Robert Teeter knows well. He's Mr. Facts and Figures in a political environment otherwise long on wind but short on hard data.
It was Teeter, a consultant in the '84 election, who informed the Reagan camp that the so-called gender gap was real, after Richard Wirthlin, the campaign's official pollster, had played down the problem. Following Teeter's report, the Reagan staff began paying more attention to women voters, though the gap turned out to be negligible in the president's landslide victory.
Political observers point to several Bush weaknesses that Teeter's bad news numbers might uncover, from voters' rejecting Bush's upper-crust image to shallowness in the vice president's seemingly broad support.
"The one thing I'd want to know from Bob Teeter," says campaign-strategist-turned-lawyer John Sears, "is where George Bush's constituency is . . . People are assuming there is a core and I don't see it . . . Some people might hang around Bush because they think he's going to be the nominee. The first sign of trouble and they're gone."
Responds Teeter: "I'm not going to answer that in the newspaper . . . That's my job to think about!"
Then -- cautiously -- he relents. "I think his constituency is almost any wing of the Republican Party. George Bush is the only person I know who really has the chance to take all the different factions, put them on his team and go to the American people."
As 1988 approaches, it's Teeter who will pinpoint exactly where Bush's support is throughout the country. For $100,000 a poll he'll find out: What's the word on Bush in Iowa? How many Catholics know him in Michigan? Can he really capture the fundamentalist vote? Will blue-collar voters support a Connecticut-bred millionaire?
"People do not necessarily want to vote for the guy they work next to," says Teeter. "They want to vote for a leader."
How does he convince undecided voters that George Bush is that leader?
"We look at how they get their information. How many newspapers do they read? How many programs do they watch? Then you sit down and design a communications program from the polls that will take you through the campaign."
A one-time football coach at his alma mater, Michigan's Albion College, Teeter first flirted with politics as a volunteer at the 1964 GOP convention. By 1966, he was working full-time for George Romney's presidential campaign, and he soon joined the polling firm he would later own.
He's become one of most respected pollsters in the business, a moderate Republican who has worked in every national presidential campaign since '68 -- Rockefeller, Nixon, Ford and Bush in '80.
His company, Market Opinion Research, is based in Detroit, and part of his strength lies in his ability to look at perceptions and trends outside the Beltway. He defies the usual back-slapping, self-promoting demeanor of Washington consultants, looking more like a midwestern accountant than a political operative.
"In the world of consultants, where there is more paranoia per square inch than any other profession, Teeter has a good sense of himself," says Democratic pollster Peter Hart. "He never loses a sense of what counts."
The one thing the Reagan-Bush campaign staff loved about him in '84 was that when they commissioned a poll, he'd hand it over, which apparently was not always the case with Richard Wirthlin.
"Wirthlin would only give us part of his polls, along with a lot of his analysis," says Rollins, "and Teeter would give us all his numbers -- with some damn good advice. I felt I could analyze as well as any one of them -- with the exception of Bob."
For a basically low-profile guy, Teeter drew a lot of attention last September, when he added several Bush questions to a $70,000 Republican National Committee poll. Other GOP hopefuls didn't much like the RNC paying for a poll that helped Bush. Howard Phillips, chairman of the Conservative Caucus, filed a complaint with the FEC, which is pending. Teeter has called the whole episode a "misunderstanding."
So far, that's all the '88 polling he's done -- or will do for a while. "I'll watch the public opinion polls because it's interesting to see what kind of awareness is out there," he says. "But right now, from an actual polling standpoint, I do absolutely nothing.
"I mean after all, it is a little early . . . "