Louis Harris, the nation’s best-known 20th-century pollster, who refined interpretive polling methods and took the pulse of voters and consumers through four decades of elections, wars, racial troubles and cultural revolutions that ran from tail fins to the internet, died Saturday at his home in Key West, Fla. He was 95.
From the 1950s, when he founded Louis Harris & Associates, until he retired in the early 1990s, Mr. Harris with remarkable accuracy forecast the elections of presidents, governors, members of Congress and scores of other public officials. Along the way, he used polls to sharpen their images, change their speech patterns and focus their attention on issues of interest to voters.
He also documented trends in U.S. life, from the women’s movement and the ups and downs of the economy to evolving attitudes about marriage, religion, the arts and countless other matters.
He preferred to be called a public-opinion analyst rather than a pollster, a word that he believed trivialized what he did, which went beyond gathering data into new realms of interpretation — useful to clients of his consulting firm and more meaningful to millions who watched his analyses on the CBS and ABC television networks or who read his nationally syndicated newspaper and magazine columns.
His results were sometimes wrong. And critics questioned his early practice of using his polls to promote candidates — notably John F. Kennedy in his 1960 presidential race — for whom he worked as a campaign strategist. But he gave up political advocacy after a few years to concentrate on public polling and analyses for the newspaper and television jobs that made him a household name in the United States.