Andrew Kohut, a pollster who once led the Gallup organization and the Pew Research Center and became an industry leader in crafting and analyzing public opinion surveys of national and international scope, died Sept. 8 at a hospital in Baltimore. He was 73.
The cause was complications from leukemia, said a son, Matthew Kohut.
In a profession that can be a science and an art — a blend of empirical research and penetrating questions — Mr. Kohut spent his career taking the national and global pulse of politics and international affairs.
As the news cycle became increasingly intense, particularly in election years, he became one of the most visible practitioners of his trade. He served as a commentator on public-affairs shows and in the editorial pages of the New York Times and other media outlets. He also collaborated on studies and books with Madeleine Albright, the former secretary of state, and with specialists in political and economic science such as Norman Ornstein and Bruce Stokes.
Mr. Kohut, who was nonpartisan in his analyses, was admired for synthesizing results in a pithy way for journalists covering the horse race of a campaign or writing about trends involving the shifting beliefs of an electorate on matters such as the role of religion in politics.
His hallmark was forming what he called “gut-check” questions to understand the public’s true mood, so respondents would not simply parrot the words of a pollster.
“There’s a tendency to want to ask about the nuts and bolts and details about policy,” said Michael Dimock, president of the Washington-based Pew Research Center. “Andy wanted to address what the public was passionate or worried about, not to test what’s on our minds as policy analysts. He wanted to be conscious of the people being polled and let their voices come out, not to impose our language on their voices.”
Dimock said one question might be: The best way to ensure peace is through military strength, or the best way to ensure peace is through good diplomacy?
“Simple, clear options, and people know what you’re talking about,” Dimock said. “And they’re going to give you something really solid. It’s a perfect Andy question, a gut-check question.”
Albright, then an international affairs professor at Georgetown University, first teamed with Mr. Kohut in 1991 on a vast survey of European public opinion, just after German reunification and the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Albright said a question about boundary changes in Europe was tailored by Mr. Kohut: “Do you believe that a piece of your country is in a neighboring country?” She recalled one citizen of the former Soviet Union telling the focus group, “We used to be a superpower and now we’re Bangladesh with missiles.”
“That’s still germane with what is going on with Putin,” Albright said, adding that Mr. Kohut was distinguished by his “endless curiosity” and emphasis on the “importance of peoples’ voices in explaining their countries to themselves and then to us.”
A onetime graduate student in sociology, Mr. Kohut worked his way up the venerable Gallup organization in Princeton, N.J., and served as its president from 1979 to 1989. He left Gallup after its sale to a market research firm and co-founded Princeton Survey Research Associates, a polling business specializing in media, politics and public-policy studies.
Simultaneously, he commuted to Washington to oversee a politics and policy research group headed by Times Mirror, formerly the parent company of the Los Angeles Times and other major newspapers. He stayed on when the Pew Charitable Trusts began funding the organization in 1996, and he became the first president of the Pew Research Center, founded in 2004.
He led the organization until January 2013, during which time he played an instrumental role creating a series of initiatives that received much attention in the media.
Among them were the Project for Excellence in Journalism to study attitudes toward the media; the Pew Internet and American Life Project to explore the influence of the Web and technology in shaping American culture; and the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life to assess views on religion and its influence on public policy.
There was also the Pew Global Attitudes Project, which Mr. Kohut helped create in 2001 and was initially designed to study globalization and democratization. After the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 that year, the initiative pivoted in its focus.
It began to measure world opinion toward the United States and the sentiments of Americans toward the world, scrutinized the culture clash between Western democracies and Muslim countries, and studied the economic and political forces driving the aspirations and resentments of American allies and antagonists.
The son of a glass blower, Andrew Kohut was born in Newark on Sept. 2, 1942, and grew up in Rochelle Park, N.J. He graduated in 1964 from Seton Hall University and did graduate work in sociology at Rutgers University, both in New Jersey.
“I got into polling,” he once told the Washington Examiner, “because of lack of health insurance. My wife and I were having a baby and I was a graduate student and we didn’t have health insurance. I had an assistantship that paid very little money and I couldn’t afford to pay for the birth of this child. So I took a part-time job at Gallup.”
He was tutored in polling by Paul K. Perry, who became chief statistician and president of Gallup and was often credited with creating a new system to identify likely voters, among other notable reforms in the profession. Given his background in sociology, Mr. Kohut was immediately intrigued.
“People speculate about the nature of how people think about things, about their behaviors,” he told the Examiner. “And when I found out, boy! You could measure it? That was fascinating to me.”
He was past president of the American Association for Public Opinion Research and a recipient of its highest honor.
His first marriage, to Marybeth Lyhne, ended in divorce. Survivors include his wife of 16 years, Diane Colasanto of Washington; two children from his first marriage, Matthew Kohut of Washington and Amy Kohut of Louisville, Colo.; a stepson, Nicholas Cohn of Boston; a sister; and a grandson.
At home in Washington, Mr. Kohut was known for entertaining. He enjoyed cooking, specializing in the Italian cuisine that was a tribute to his mother’s side of the family. His prowess on the stove, more than his skill with polls, earned him a profile in Politico a few years ago.
“Cooking is totally different from what I do, different in the sense that it’s a matter of taste and not a matter of numbers,” he said. “The only similarity is that it involves organization, and I have some confidence in the area. It’s the only thing I’ve done that comes naturally I’m pretty good at it, better than the way I play tennis or play the guitar.”