Partner, Benenson Strategy Group
Industry: Political consulting
Key previous position: Pollster for Hillary Clinton
Notable fact: Commissioned as a Kentucky Colonel
Amy Levin is intent on making opinion research work better. Utilizing strategies that are equal parts qualitative and quantitative, the creator of Breakthrough Campaigns, an independent division of Benenson Strategy Group, is determined to bring her craft into the future. To do this, Levin and her 12-person “softball team of change” as she calls it, are championing techniques focused on storytelling, not “advocacy-speak.”
Levin was immersed in politics early. Her mother, Susan Bass Levin, was mayor of her hometown of Cherry Hill, New Jersey. Upon graduating from Harvard, Levin dove straight into a career in polling. After a brief stint in media consulting, she returned to Benenson in 2009, and she has recently launched Breakthrough, which is still in its formative stages.
Levin’s work has affected elections big and small, and districts red and blue. At BSG, she and her colleagues have advised political clients such as Obama for America; Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign; the Democratic campaign committees; advocacy groups such as the ACLU, the Service Employees International Union, and AARP; ballot initiatives like the Arkansans for a Fair Wage campaign; and Medicaid-expansion efforts in Utah, Idaho, and Maine.
Her process combines data-driven analysis with qualitative research in an effort to determine how voters actually think and speak. To do this, she breaks out of traditional focus groups, with their two-way mirrors and propensity for group-think, opting instead for online tools that allow respondents to answer in private, on their own time, and without social pressure. Levin also touts her jury-style research groups, in which participants pitch their stance to a panel of peers, allowing her clients to gain insight into the ways voters think things through, as opposed to the ways consultants do.
“My view on a lot of things is you have to meet people where they live. … When you’re so focused on the horse race and you’re not listening to what voters are thinking, that’s where we are going wrong,” Levin said.
As traditional polling is dwindling and the industry is being forced to adapt, Levin plans to combine that qualitative richness with scientific innovation.
“If we are going to continue being successful, the left-brained thinker in me knows we have to be very rigorous and recognizes that the science needs to keep improving. … That, to me, is the No. 1 thing going forward.“
—Mary Frances McGowan