Dotty Lynch, political pollster who later worked for CBS News, dies at 69

Dotty Lynch, who became a leading authority on Dotty Lynch, who became a leading authority on the concerns and political attitudes of American women, first as one of the earliest female pollsters to advise presidential campaigns and later with CBS News as an analyst of polls and current-affairs trends for two decades, died at a hospital in Washington. She was 69. Photo Credit: American University / Jeff Watts

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WASHINGTON -- Dotty Lynch, who became a leading authority on the concerns and political attitudes of American women, first as one of the earliest female pollsters to advise presidential campaigns and later with CBS News as an analyst of polls and current-affairs trends for two decades, died Sunday at a hospital in Washington. She was 69.

The cause was complications from melanoma, said her husband, R. Morgan Downey.

Over a career spanning four decades, Lynch collected, parsed and interpreted voter polling and survey data. She became best known, during her work in the 1970s and early 1980s for the Democratic Party, for illuminating the opinions of female voters.

Contrary to the long-held assumptions of some older-school political operatives, women did not simply vote the same way as their husbands.

"She's the person who raised the consciousness of the party leaders on the voter gap between men and women," Democratic political consultant Bob Squier told The Washington Post in 1983. "She translated it and made people aware of it."

After joining CBS as political editor in 1985, Lynch covered presidential campaigns, national political conventions, presidential and vice presidential debates and midterm elections. She managed an in-house team of researchers who provided polling and analysis to anchors and correspondents such as Mike Wallace, Bob Schieffer, Diane Sawyer and Lesley Stahl.

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"She proposed stories for Dan Rather and any other reporter who wanted to cover politics," Stahl said by email. "She knew everyone. If I, for instance, was working on a story, I would ask her who I should call for background or for on-camera interviews. We all knew she had the keys to the kingdom: She had the contacts, knew what all the polls were saying and how to interpret them. She helped shape our pieces and made sure we were accurate."

Lynch was enthralled by politics from a young age. When she was growing up in Brooklyn, her closest childhood friend was the daughter of Hugh Carey, the liberal Democrat and future New York governor who won the first of seven terms in Congress in 1960.

To help Carey and presidential candidate John F. Kennedy that year, Lynch recalled, she dressed in red, white and blue and belted campaign songs from the back seat of a Cadillac that roamed the congressional district.

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After receiving a master's degree in sociology in 1968, Lynch began her professional life as a researcher for the NBC News election unit -- one of the few jobs available at the time to women with an interest in politics and journalism. She and Stahl, a future "60 Minutes" correspondent, were among the staff members assigned to write comprehensive candidate summaries used by on-camera reporters.

In 1972, she befriended future U.S. Senator Gary Hart, then serving as campaign manager for Democratic presidential candidate George McGovern. Hart introduced Lynch to Patrick Caddell, a Harvard senior who was already a sought-after political adviser to Democrats, and who became an influential campaign operative within the party.

Lynch spent much of the 1970s apprenticing as a pollster under Caddell, whose clients included McGovern and Jimmy Carter when he sought the presidency in 1976. Lynch left Caddell to advise Sen. Edward Kennedy's ill-fated 1980 presidential challenge.

After a brief stint as the Democratic National Committee's director of survey research, Lynch led her own polling and analysis business from 1983 to 1985. Her specialty was explaining the "gender gap" -- a perceived division between male and female views on political issues and candidates -- and its potential impact on voting patterns.

Lynch advised Sen. Kennedy (D-Mass.), and other prominent Catholic legislators on how to discuss abortion as a political issue.

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She achieved her most visible campaign role as a polling adviser for then-Sen. Hart during the Colorado Democrat's high-profile but short-lived White House bid in 1984. (Three years later, Hart would drop out of a second White House run after revelations of his extramarital affair with model Donna Rice.) In Hart's first campaign, Lynch crafted a strategy to place the senator in commercials with women and encouraged him to accent in his speeches the economic and political power of women.

"We wanted to make it clear that women are not expected to conform to the economic system but that the economic system should conform to women," she told The New York Times.

Despite an early grassroots surge for Hart, he was outmatched by the organizational depth of the establishment candidate, former Vice President Walter Mondale, whose team Lynch ultimately joined.

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