A review of President Nixon's archives finds his aides used covert funding for an unprecedented White House polling operation, and he hid sensitive results - or even the polls' existence - from senior ad-min-i-stra-tion officials.
Though he pretended to rely on political instinct, Nixon used polls aggressively to shape policy and campaign strategy and manipulate popular opinion, two researchers conclude in the summer issue of the journal Public Opinion Quarterly.For instance, Nixon used internal polls to test alternate running mates for his 1972 re-election ticket, the researchers said. He didn't tell Vice President Spiro Agnew about it.
Among other findings by political scientists Lawrence R. Jacobs of the University of Minnesota and Robert Y. Shapiro of Columbia University:
- Fearing leaks, Nixon only gave the Republican National Committee and the Committee to Re-elect the President "sanitized" results of surveys they had paid for. Officials of both committees fought repeatedly, and unsuccessfully, with Nixon chief of staff H.R. Haldeman for full access.
- Haldeman set up a $300,000 "special account" in the White House for a polling operation so secret that not even Nixon's own pollster, Robert Teeter, was told about it.
Nixon also kept Teeter - later the chief campaign strategist for Gerald Ford and George Bush - from seeing results of a poll with questions about Watergate, the scandal that would topple his presidency.
"P. requested NO access including WH Staff," Haldeman wrote on a confidential Sept. 18, 1972, memo relaying Teeter's request for "Watergate Incident" data.
- Other memos indicated that White House lawyer Herbert Kalmbach, who would spend six months in jail for campaign-law violations, set up a Delaware shell corporation with private funding to hide administration sponsorship of polls.
Haldeman scribbled on a Dec. 21, 1971, memo that in a separate note, "H. approved . . . a shell."
- Nixon gave much polling work to firms perceived to share his beliefs and, hoping to sway a hostile Congress, pushed them to publicize positive findings while not disclosing White House sponsorship, the authors said.
"Polling was ammunition for a guy who was politically beleaguered," Jacobs said in an interview.
Jacobs and Shapiro searched presidential archives and interviewed former Nixon aides, including Haldeman before he died in 1993. Nixon, who died last year, refused to cooperate, Jacobs said.