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Wirthlin (Richard) papers
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Collection Details
Table of contents What's This?
  • Access
  • Use
  • Acquisition Information
  • Preferred Citation
  • Biographical/Historical Note
  • Scope and Content of Collection
  • Wirthlin File Number System
  • Related Materials

  • Title: Richard Wirthlin papers
    Date (inclusive): 1967-2005
    Collection Number: 2007C27
    Contributing Institution: Hoover Institution Library and Archives
    Language of Material: English
    Physical Description: 248 cubic foot boxes, 2 oversize boxes (310.8 Linear Feet)
    Abstract: Polling data, reports, studies, correspondence, speeches, memoranda, and printed matter, relating to American public opinion on domestic political and foreign policy issues. Includes polls conducted on behalf of Ronald Reagan in conjunction with his campaigns for governor of California and president of the United States, as well as polling during his presidency.
    Creator: Wirthlin, Richard
    Physical Location: Hoover Institution Library & Archives


    The collection is open for research; materials must be requested in advance via our reservation system. If there are audiovisual or digital media material in the collection, they must be reformatted before providing access.


    For copyright status, please contact the Hoover Institution Library & Archives.

    Acquisition Information

    Acquired by the Hoover Institution Library & Archives in 2007, with additional increments through 2010.

    Preferred Citation

    [Identification of item], Richard Wirthlin papers, [Box no., Folder no. or title], Hoover Institution Library & Archives.

    Biographical/Historical Note

    Richard Bitner Wirthlin was born in Salt Lake City on March 15, 1931, the son of Joseph L. and Madeline Bitner Wirthlin. He earned his bachelor's and master's degrees at the University of Utah and his Ph.D. at the University of California, Berkeley. Wirthlin noted that he became interested in economics and politics while doing Mormon missionary work in Switzerland and Austria in 1951.
    An economist turned political consultant and pollster, Wirthlin began conducting survey research in 1964. Many of his early clients were political candidates in Utah and Arizona, where he taught economics at Brigham Young University and Arizona State University.
    Wirthlin's company, originally based in Los Angeles and successively named Decision Making Information, the Wirthlin Group and Wirthlin Worldwide, also did polling for Margaret Thatcher and Barry Goldwater, among other political clients. The company was sold to Harris Interactive in 2004, with Wirthlin serving on its board until retiring in 2007. Wirthlin's companies showed how to integrate different kinds of data - polling, census, political - to measure the electorate's opinions and moods.
    Wirthlin first met California Governor Ronald Reagan in 1968, and conducted his first survey for Reagan in that year. He did a number of additional research projects between 1968 and 1976 for Governor Reagan. When Reagan decided to run for the Republican presidential nomination in 1980, he turned to Wirthlin and his company. When Reagan won the White House, Wirthlin moved to Washington, D.C., and continued to provide regular survey research and counsel on strategy and communications through the first term, for the re-election campaign in 1984, and through the second term until Reagan left office in January 1989. It was the most comprehensive program of public opinion research ever undertaken by a president of the United States.
    "Richard Wirthlin, Pollster Who Advised Reagan, Dies at 80,"  by Adam Clymer, New York Times, March 17, 2011. Accessed: November 11, 2011.
    "Background on Wirthlin-Reagan Books," Hoover Institution Library & Archives correspondence with Bryce Bassett, 2002

    Scope and Content of Collection

    The papers include a significant amount of polling data, reports, and studies, relating to American public opinion on domestic political and foreign policy issues, often political candidates or general mood of the electorate at a particular moment in time during the 1970s and 1980s.
    A large portion of the collection is based on political polling studies. The deliverable for each study consisted of computer cross-tabulations of the survey data, and sometimes charts, graphs, and written analysis and interpretation of the survey results. Organized in bound volumes, the books offer a unique snapshot of public opinion on particular topics. Large studies were divided into multiple books, so one project may have 2 or 3 volumes.
    Along with overall studies, flash results are documents that contain quick analysis and charts from major national studies. Flash results were prepared quickly after the survey, and given to the client as a "topline result" from the poll, before the full analysis could be prepared and the cross-tabs printed and bound and analyzed.
    The books are arranged in the system created by Wirthlin's firm, in a numeric sequence by client, described in detail below. The books are divided into two groups by topic, Reagan Books and Political Polling Books. When an additional increment of materials arrived at the archives at a later date, two more groups were created, Incremental Reagan Books and Incremental Political Polling Books.
    In addition to the books, the papers contain Wirthlin's Files, which include correspondence, speeches, memoranda, interview transcripts, calendars, and printed matter, relating to Wirthlin's work, Ronald Reagan, and American public opinion on domestic political and foreign policy issues. Of particular interest is the document Personal and Public Perspectives on the Reagan Presidency, written by Wirthlin in 1991 and found in box 269. The Files contain many similar materials to the books, so researchers should be sure to check both sets of materials for documentation on a particular topic.

    Wirthlin File Number System

    A numbering system was developed by Wirthlin's firm to keep track of the books on the company shelves and inventories. Most books have the number on the spine of the book. The Hoover Institution Library & Archives has retained this 9-digit system of organization so that all the studies for one client are shelved together, in chronological order. The 9-digit number looks like this: 699-002-056.
    The format is DGG-CCC-NNN, where:
    D = division of the company that conducted the study. 1 was media, 2 government, 4 marketing, 6 political. Everything in the Hoover Institution Library & Archives collection starts with a 6.
    GG = geographic area of the study, where the survey was conducted. Statewide surveys had two digit numbers from 01 (Alabama) through 51 (Wyoming). 98 meant a "regional" survey, something conducted in more than one state, but not nationally. 99 meant a national survey.
    CCC = client number within that region and division, assigned sequentially starting with 001
    NNN = study number, for that client, within that region and division, assigned sequentially starting with 001
    So, 699-002-056 translates to "the 56th study conducted for the company's 2nd national political client."
    699-002 is the Republican National Committee, for whom Wirthlin worked before Reagan became president, so the first national Reagan study in 1980 is numbered 699-002-011. Pre-dating that were studies done for "Citizens for Reagan" in 1975, the 7th national political client, hence 699-007. In 1979, Reagan's second run for the nomination was considered by the firm as a new client, so "Reagan for President" became 699-016. It kept that number for Reagan/Bush, and later Reagan/Bush '84. Because each state has its own sequential client numbering system, statewide surveys done for Reagan have a different middle client number in every state. In Alabama, the RNC was 601-006, in Arizona 603-021, and in California 605-067, etc.
    Each research project also had a four-digit project number, used internally within the company to keep track of all the phases of the study and the billing. A version number was added because a given project number or file number could have several volumes, sometimes dozens. Many of these books have a book number handwritten on the title page or elsewhere.
    In addition to standard state two-letter postal codes, there are a number of organizations referred to in common abbreviations, including:

    Republican National Committee (RNC)

    Decision Making Information (DMI)

    National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC)

    National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC)

    Republican Congressional Campaign Committee (RCCC)

    Related Materials

    Ronald Reagan subject collection, Hoover Institution Library & Archives
    Citizens for Reagan records, Hoover Institution Library & Archives

    Subjects and Indexing Terms

    United States -- Foreign relations -- 1981-1989
    California -- Politics and government -- 1951-
    United States -- Politics and government -- 1981-1989
    Public opinion -- United States
    Presidents -- United States -- Election -- 1980
    Presidents -- United States -- Election -- 1984
    Presidents -- United States -- Election -- 1976
    Reagan, Ronald