Remembering Andy Kohut, pollster and NewsHour regular

Editor’s note: Andy Kohut, founding director of the Pew Research Center and a PBS NewsHour regular, died Tuesday, his wife Diane Colasanto posted online. He was 73. Kohut had been suffering from chronic lymphocytic leukemia.

Kohut was a contributor to the NewsHour for four decades, beginning with his first appearance in 1982 with the “The MacNeil/Lehrer Report.” He collaborated with the NewsHour for nearly every election since then. In 2012 he teamed up with NewsHour to create the successful Political Party Test, which is still popular today.

Last week, Kohut’s son Matthew posted a heartfelt blog post about lessons he’s learned from his father. Below, PBS NewsHour Co-anchor and managing editor Gwen Ifill writes her remembrance.

Those of us who love to cover politics loved Andy Kohut. He was courtly, incisive and smart. And as he mined every election for insights into how Americans think, he never lost sight of the joys and the absurdities of our democracy.

He was a regular on the NewsHour for decades, never hesitating to offer insight and analysis, as well as cold hard numbers drawn from his Pew Research Center polling data. He was not guessing. He was not offering punditry. He was telling us what we needed to know.

Following the 2012 presidential campaign, the Pew Research Center surveyed voters to grade the performance of the candidates and the media. Hari Sreenivasan talked to Andy Kohut about those results.

In every presidential election year since 1988, he asked voters what they thought of the election just past. I think it’s fair to say that more than anyone else, he caught wind of and plotted the increasing pessimism that would come to define our politics and policy. “There is this tension between wanting something to succeed, and this inherent polarization that we have been tracking for so long and measuring in our polls,” he told Hari Sreenivasan in 2012.

Along the way, he marked the waxing and waning of Republicans, Democrats, the Tea Party and the press. He was the canary in the coal mine detecting the moment when the discontent Americans felt with government would spawn the latest crop of outsider candidates — from Ross Perot to Herman Cain to Donald Trump.

“People are angry at Congress at record levels,” he told Margaret Warner in 2010. “Sixty-five percent say they have an unfavorable view of Congress. That’s the lowest number we have ever achieved. Both political parties get low favorability ratings. Federal departments of government, both agencies and departments, get much lower ratings than they did 10 years ago. It’s broad-based.”

He also traced evolving American attitudes on gender, race and gay rights — often well ahead of the politicians who would be swayed into action years later. He kept track of shifting public opinion on war, terrorism and immigration. Perhaps more than any other single pollster, he could tell us where we had come from and where we were headed.

What did we appreciate most about Andy here at the NewsHour? He valued context. As a pollster, he knew the questions mattered. But as an analyst, he knew the answers mattered more. He did not assume ill will of any political party, and had a built-in bias against bias.

He fit right in here, and spent hours with us on election nights and at political conventions making sense of it all. We were so fortunate to have him as part of our family, and we will miss him terribly.