Kathy Frankovic - 1964 Scholar

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Kathy earned a bachelor’s from Cornell and a PhD from Rutgers. After teaching political science at the University of Vermont, Kathy joined the staff of CBS News, where she served as the point person for the network’s polling branch and for its collaboration with The New York Times poll (the oldest print/broadcast polling partnership in the United States). From 1996 to 2008, she was senior producer for CBS News election broadcasts. After the 2000 election, she directed the network’s Election Night decision team, and successfully projected election results for elections from 2002 to 2008. She retired from full-time work at CBS News in 2009; she now consults for CBS News, YouGov, Harvard University, Open Society Foundations, and other survey research organizations. She also consults for polling interests abroad, most recently for the emerging democracies of Georgia and Myanmar.

She has been president of both the World Association for Public Opinion Research (WAPOR) and the American Association for Public Opinion Research (AAPOR). She has won many awards, including the 2008 AAPOR Award for Exceptionally Distinguished Achievement, that association’s highest honor; and the 2011 Roper Center Mitofsky Award, for Excellence in Public Opinion Research. Throughout her career, she has stood at the forefront in her field.  In 1982, her paper "Sex and Politics: New Alignments, Old Issues” was published in Political Science and Politics as one of the first academic analyses of the gender gap.

Kathy Frankovic says opinion polling serves many important purposes. Governmental leaders need fair and unbiased data to help them understand the needs and desires of the electorate. Polls serve as a check on government excesses and identify problems that government must solve. Opinion polling, especially polls designed with larger sample sizes, can represent the minority populations as well as the majority, and describe similarities and differences between and within groups.  Polls that show agreement across subpopulations can identify common ground and a possibility for compromise which might not have been be apparent otherwise. Polling can overturn incorrect assumptions that may steer policy decisions in the wrong direction. Polls work especially well if they are released publicly and conducted frequently. Asking the same questions at regular intervals can generate reliable information about the state of the country and the direction it may be taking.  For more about Kathy's views on polling, click here.

As a Presidential Scholar in 1964, Kathy didn't expect to make a career of polling, but she was always interested in politics and journalism. In college she majored in government—especially in Southeast Asian politics—and went on to graduate school in political science, focusing on Burma, but also studying American politics and political behavior. She learned data analysis, and her PhD dissertation examined the impact of religion on American politics.

While working on Ed Muskie's presidential campaign in 1972, she met several journalists from CBS News.  "So four years later, when I was teaching at the University of Vermont, I called one of them up to see if there was some way I could work on the 1976 campaign.  I offered to work for expenses," Kathy says. "I didn’t get a call back until 1977, but then the Election Unit at CBS News was looking for someone with a PhD to manage the CBS News Poll.  I interviewed, heard back, took a year’s leave of absence from UVM (extended to two years to get through the 1978 midterms) and never looked back.  I was better suited for this career than I was for academia."   

One might argue that her long and distinguished career actually began  back in 1964 when she received her Presidential Scholar medallion from Lyndon Johnson.  "The day of our White House event was the same day as the Senate’s cloture vote on the 1964 Civil Rights Bill, ending the filibuster against it," Kathy recalls. " My senators (NJ) were very busy ensuring that the Southern filibuster would be broken, and could see me only briefly.  My roommate was from the South; her Senator spent lots of time with her that day!"

Kathy admits that she wasn't always positive about her Presidential Scholars' experience, but her views have shifted over time.  As she reviewed some of the material her family saved from 1964, she attained a fresh insight:

It occurred to me … how incredibly lucky we were to be born just at the right time. The Presidential Scholar program was set up in a way to ensure that women and men were essentially equally represented (that wasn’t necessarily an obvious decision in 1964). Perhaps since LBJ had daughters, equal representation mattered. The summer before, I had participated in the Telluride Summer Program (TASP). That was the first year girls were permitted in any of the programs. And in the co-ed programs, there was equal representation. In other words, my timing was most fortunate. A few years earlier, and neither of those experiences would have happened!