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Warren Mitofsky, 71; Standard-Setter in the Polling Industry

September 06, 2006|From the Associated Press

In four decades of election polling, Warren Mitofsky pioneered the science of quickly showing voters in the United States and abroad who won their elections and why.

Mitofsky, who also helped develop a widely used telephone sampling method and set survey-research industry standards, died Friday in New York City of an aortic aneurysm. He was 71.

Mitofsky developed the election projection and analysis system used by CBS News and later by a consortium of news organizations. He first conducted an exit poll in 1967 in a Kentucky governor's election for CBS News. He conducted the first national exit poll in 1972 and covered nearly 3,000 electoral contests in all.

"It's because of Warren Mitofsky that America -- and the world -- has become accustomed to learning who won an election quickly and reliably," said Kathleen Frankovic, director of surveys at CBS News.

Mitofsky was executive director of the CBS News election and survey unit from 1967 until 1990. In 1976, he and editors at the New York Times established a polling collaboration that became a model for rival partnerships.

A native of New York City's Bronx borough who graduated from Guilford College in Greensboro, N.C., Mitofsky worked early in his career for the U.S. Census Bureau, designing surveys that looked at poverty and other social concerns.

While at CBS, Mitofsky and fellow researcher Joseph Waksberg invented a way to sample households by telephone to efficiently reach people with unlisted as well as listed phone numbers. The random-digit dial method now is a survey-research standard. Waksberg died in January at 90.

Mitofsky directed exit polls in the 1990 and 1992 U.S. elections for the first network election pool, Voter Research & Surveys, which later became Voter News Service. In 1993, Mitofsky founded Mitofsky International and conducted exit polls in many countries.

He conducted his last exit poll in July in Mexico and accurately projected the virtual tie in the presidential election between Felipe Calderon and Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador. On Tuesday, Mexico's top electoral court named Calderon the president-elect.

After Voter News Service disbanded because of problems covering the 2000 and 2002 elections, Mitofsky International joined with Edison Media Research to conduct U.S. exit polls for the Associated Press and television networks.

In the November 2004 election, the surveys were criticized for leaked results that in some cases did not accurately project the outcome. Mitofsky complained that leaks of such preliminary data were irresponsible but acknowledged that some of the final samples did not produce accurate vote estimates.

Mitofsky's survivors include his wife, Mia Mather, of New York City; two children, Bryan Mitofsky of Montpelier, Vt., and Elisa Clancy of Hyde Park, Vt.; four grandchildren; and his sister, Lenore Leby, of Williamsport, N.Y.

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