Politics

Mervin Field, longtime California pollster, dead at 94


Mervin Field, whose Field Poll tracked the ups and downs of California politics for decades, died today in his Marin County home. Field was 94.

The closely-watched Field Poll launched in 1947 and continues to this day. The most recent Field Poll was released in late May, and bore Fields' byline along with that of his protege Mark DiCamillo, who has directed the poll since 1995. The May poll was one of 2,500 reports Field's organization has published.

Field's surveys often made a splash during election season, and not always for the right reasons. KQED's John Myers writes:

His 1948 statewide poll on the presidential race close to Election Day originally showed President Harry Truman and GOP nominee Thomas Dewey tied in the Golden State. Field thought the result was wrong, reassessed the data, and proclaimed Dewey ahead by 5 points. Truman, of course, defied the skeptics and won California by half a percentage point. Field quickly offered a mea culpa for second-guessing his data.

The pollster also found himself in the thick of the news cycle in California’s 1982 governor’s race.

Field’s final pre-election poll showed Tom Bradley, the Democratic mayor of Los Angeles, as likely to beat George Deukmejian, the state’s Republican attorney general. Deukmejian, of course, pulled out the victory.

Nevertheless, Field's polls were typically on-target and were closely watched across California and the country.

Field was born in 1921 in New Brunswick, N.J. He met polling pioneer George Gallup in 1937 as a high school student and quickly developed an interest in polling. Three years later, he was working as an interviewer with Claude Robinson's Opinion Research Corp.

After moving to California, Field launched a poll to get his name in the media and win business doing consumer research.