Local Obituaries

Pollster Moore aimed to give voice to what the public was thinking

Jim Moore
Jim Moore Courtesy Jan Mathews

For pollster Jim Moore, politics was all about numbers, and his firm J. Moore Methods supplied the statistics that guided local and statewide campaigns in California for three decades.

“His skills are unmatched in California policy and politics,” said Carl Guardino, president and CEO of the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, which frequently retained Moore’s services. “I would take his numbers to the bank – and I did, 13 times.

Moore died Jan. 1 at his home in the El Dorado County community of Camino. He was 66.

Moore suffered from heart problems and had been in declining health for some time, but he was still working and his death took most people by surprise, said his partner Jan Mathews.

“Jim’s professional goal in life was to mathematically predict human behavior and he came damn close,” said political consultant David Townsend, a longtime friend who worked closely with Moore. “He was a trusted adviser who could always be counted upon to tell you the truth, even it it was bad news.”

Moore founded J. Moore Methods Inc. in Sacramento in 1983 and served as a primary pollster for the Democratic Party, working with Gov. Jerry Brown, former Assembly Speaker Willie Brown, former California Democratic Party Chairman John Burton, former State Treasurer Bill Lockyer and others.

He combined a background in math and physics with an interest in politics to develop a scientific approach to predicting how voters view and respond to political information, issues and candidates, Mathews said. He had worked as an area supervisor for the U.S. Census, and had developed a keen sense of demographics, she said.

Many polls are wrong because they sample the wrong people, Townsend said. Moore, he said, had a knack for knowing who was likely to vote in a given election, and his poll results were nearly always on the mark.

When Moore told him polls showed that Gray Davis would beat Dan Lungren by 20 percentage points in California’s 1998 gubernatorial race, Townsend said he and Davis were skeptical.

“Nobody wins by 20 points,” Townsend said, but on election day, Davis did.

In a 1992 presentation to the El Dorado County Taxpayers Association, covered by The Sacramento Bee, Moore said, “My job is to give voice to what the public is thinking, and there are only two ways: the ballot box and polls.”

Townsend said Moore’s polls were instrumental in guiding campaign strategy and messages. During the 2008 campaign for Proposition 1A, the bond measure to develop a high-speed rail system, Moore’s polling picked up on voters’ concerns at the beginning of the recession.

As a result, Townsend said, the campaign shifted from an emphasis on high-speed rail’s environmental benefits and focused instead on its economic benefits and potential job creation. The measure passed by 4 points.

Moore was born March 28, 1951, in Humboldt County and grew up in Arcata, Mathews said. He attended Humboldt State University and UC Berkeley.

His father was a physician, and John Burton, former California Democratic Party chairman, recalled in a statement regarding Moore’s death that their relationship went back to when their fathers were doctors together at Franklin Hospital in San Francisco.

“We reconnected when I served in the state legislature, where he did all of my polling, as well as the polling for the Democratic Caucus,” Burton said in a written statement.

“One of his most important political legacies,” Burton said, “was conducting polling and guiding efforts for the majority vote budget in the California legislature, forever changing the foundation of our state’s political system for the better.”

Moore became a political player in El Dorado County, where he, along with the late Bill Center, a former county supervisor, were leading advocates for slow-growth initiatives. Townsend said it was an unusual move for a pollster, but that’s where Moore lived and he cared deeply about the county’s future.

Mathews said Moore was concerned about over-development in the county, and he used polling as a way to educate voters. His polls revealed what people knew about the issue, what they didn’t know and “what they would think if they did know,” she said.

Center and Moore were the among the architects of Measure Y. Approved by El Dorado County voters in 1998, it requires developers to pay the cost of improving roads to handle the additional traffic their projects cause.

Moore embraced the county’s rural lifestyle. When a developer made a bid to purchase an old apple orchard next to Moore’s Camino home, Moore, determined that it should remain in agricultural use, bought the property himself, Mathews said.

He then set about deciding what to grow. After reading nearly all of UC Davis’ publications on grape growing, he decided to raise Zinfandel grapes. The Moore-Mathews Vineyard was planted in 2000 and 2001, and over the years the grapes have been sold to wineries in the Paso Robles and Napa areas, as well as El Dorado County, she said.

Mathews said a memorial for Moore is planned, but the date has yet to be determined.

Cathy Locke: 916-321-5287, @lockecathy