Mark Mellman – Chief Pollster & Adviser, John Kerry Campaign

Interviewer: Dr. Michael Nelson

Read or Download a complete transcription of the Mark Mellman interview.

by Ina Batzke

Westfälische Wilhelms-University, Münster, Germany

Mark S. Mellman is a Democratic pollster and campaign strategist. He initially got involved in the politics of polling as a graduate student at Yale, where he received his MA in Political Science in 1981.1 Shortly after, he took on his first official campaign advisory role for Bruce Morrison, at that time a candidate for the U.S. Congress from Connecticut. By helping Morrison win the election, Mellman established himself as a successful campaign adviser and went on to found The Mellman Group in 1986, a company he continues to lead in 2014.1 It specializes in polling for Democratic candidates and progressive organizations and serves both corporate and government clients.

After Mellman successfully advised several U.S. senators and over two dozen Members of Congress in the 1990s, John Kerry announced him as his chief pollster in the 2004 elections. The campaign tasked Mellman with testing possible election slogans and strategies, as well as appearing in public to discuss and defend John Kerry’s election campaign strategies. During the entire campaign, and particularly in the later phases of the election cycle, Mellman read the polls as an indicator for Kerry’s success. He was quoted in March 2004 as predicting: “Bush is in real and serious trouble” while claiming that Kerry is doing “[b]etter than any challenger in modern times has ever been doing.”3

During a conference at Stanford University only days after the election, Mellman explained that John Kerry’s campaign was designed to counteract Bush’s campaign.  According to Mellman, the Bush campaign had “used fear very well to make voters risk averse” and was built around the themes of “stability in leadership” and “stability in politics.” The Democratic campaign had countered with slogans such as “time for change” and “time for new direction.”  After Kerry lost the election in November, Mellman acknowledged that “neither of these were as compelling as steady, consistent leadership.” He further explained that “[v]oters were not feeling a level of sufficient pain to reject the incumbent…As we got closer to Election Day, there was a somewhat more positive feeling in the country, and that helped the incumbent.”4

Looking back at his statements during the campaign, Mellman admitted to “the cardinal sin of gloating, and gloating early and inappropriately.”5 Still, he believed that the 2004 election ranked as one of the closest elections ever. During the 2004 Annenberg Election Debriefing, he stated that while in the 70s and 80s, Democrats on Election Day had 15-point margins, “by the time we got to the 80s, those were 2 and 3 and 4-point margins. It is right to say that today this was the first election where the exit polls showed parity.”6

Even after John Kerry’s loss, Mellman continued his career as pollster and communication specialist. The American Association of Political of Political has honered The Mellman Group as “Pollster of the Year – Democrat” in 2013 and the Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call has labeled Mellman one of the most influential people in Washington when it comes to Congressional elections.7 Mellman is also particularly well-known in the Jewish-American community and has published two papers about Jewish American voting behavior.8

2 “Mark Mellman,” The Jewish Federations of North America, accessed June 1, 2014, Landers, “The Mellman Group,” The Center for Public Integrity, September 26, 2006, accessed June 1, 2014, “The Crisis in Iraq has reached Capitol Hill and middle America as Bush Faces his own Battle to Stay in the White House,” The Scotsman, 16 June 2004, accessed June 1, 2014,; “Kerry’s Legendary Lead,” The Hill, 12 June 2014, accessed June 1, 2014,

4 Lisa Trei, “Pollsters Dissect Bush Election Win,” Stanford Report, November 17, 2004, accessed June 1, 2014,

5 Louis Menand, “Permanent Fatal Errors. Did the Voters Send a Message?,” Postcard from Stanford. The New Yorker, December 6, 2004, accessed June 24, 2014,

6  Kathleen Hall Jamieson (ed.), Electing the President, 2004. The Insiders View. (University of Pennsilvania Press, 2005), 2.

7 American Association of Political Consultants, 2013 Pollie Award Winners. 2013, accessed June 24, 2014.; “Mark Mellman,” The Jewish Federations of North America, accessed June 1, 2014,

8Mark S. Mellman, Aaron Strauss, and Kenneth D. Wald,  Jewish American Voting Behaviour 1972-2008: Just the Facts. The Solomon Project. July 2012, accessed June 1, 2014,, and Mellman, Mark S., Aaron Strauss, Anna Greenberg, Patrick McCreesh, and Kenneth D. Wald, The Jewish Vote in 2004: An Analysis – A Solomon Project White Paper. The Solomon Project. 12 April, 2005, accessed June 1, 2014,