Peter Hart discusses presidential campaign and preliminary polling

Peter Hart discusses presidential campaigns and what to look out for in the preliminary polling during the first First Tuesday event of this election season

“The role of the pollster has changed from just delivering numbers, to now being the person who will shape [a campaign],” says Peter Hart, Dean of American Political Pollsters at the First Tuesday event hosted by Professor Peter Steven Pearlstein on Tuesday, September 8th. 

Peter Hart pointing in front of a classroom

Peter Hart, Dean of American Political Pollsters, speaks to students during the last year's First Tuesday speaker series. Photo by Lathan Goumas/Strategic Communications

Each Tuesday this election season, Professor Pearlstein has invited a noted guest-speaker to talk with his Honors College and Schar School students and the broader Mason community about their first-hand experiences in the world of politics. All Mason community members are invited to attend and deepen in their insight into what promises to be one of the most contentious campaign seasons in recent history. 

As a pollster, Peter Hart reviews a candidate’s influence throughout an election, helping decide where to allocate money to reach demographics who may have been overlooked. 

Hart has been involved with polling since 1965 and has aided NBC-Wall Street Journal’s political polling since 1989. He has worked with over 50 senators, 40 governors, and multiple presidential candidates, and founded Hart Research in 1971. In addition to his experience in politics, he has also taught at the University of Pennsylvania, Duke, Berkeley, and Harvard University.

A pollster’s insight has become critical to a candidate’s campaign, and the presidential elections are no different. Characterizing this role, Pearlstein notes that “Campaigns are generally not about the issues, but the issues are used as a window into character." Polling gives an indirect indicator how the public is perceiving a candidate's character. 

“Every campaign is a reflection of the candidate. Trump may be talking issues, but what he is really stressing is a way of governing. When he said, ‘Make America great again’, he wasn’t talking about making America great again… it was a code language to say, ‘we’re going to go back to the America you felt safe in’ – a message [targeting] people who were 35 – 45 and above.”

The upcoming 2020 election will be unlike any we have seen before, as voters and candidates navigate a world in the middle of a pandemic. Hart predicts more uncertainty than ever with estimates regarding the results, as votes done by mail or absentee are counted after those done in person, and not before election night. 


The First Tuesday series is sponsored by the Honors College and the Schar School of Policy and Government. Events will continue to every Tuesday, 9am until 10:15am during campaign season. They are open to the whole Mason community by registration. 

Next week, Professor Pearlstein will be speaking with Mike Henry, former Campaign Manager for Senators Tim Kaine, Mark Warner, and Governor Terry McAuliffe

Date      Speaker
Sept. 8

Peter Hart
Dean of American Pollsters

Sept. 15

Mike Henry
Former Campaign Manager, Senators Tim Kaine and Mark Warner and Gov. Terry McAuliffe

Sept. 22

Rebecca Pearcey
Policy Director, Elizabeth Warren presidential campaign

Sept. 29

Rick Wilson
Co-founder, Lincoln Project Republican media strategist

Oct. 6

Amy Gardner
Political reporter and editor, Washington Post

Oct. 13

U.S Rep. Jennifer Wexton
Democrat, Virginia 10th District

Oct 20

Danny Diaz
Republican political and communications strategist, George Mason graduate

Nov. 10

Tom Davis
Former Republican Congressman from Virginia, Rector of George Mason University

Watch past events in the First Tuesday series