Legendary Utah pollster Dan Jones passes away

It’s with great sadness that we at UtahPolicy.com hear of the passing Friday of Dan Jones, the leading pollster in the Mountain West for many, many years.

Dan had been ill, and at times hospitalized, over the summer. But we all hoped the worst was behind him. Not so.

Dan, of course, has been the UtahPolicy.com pollster for several years.

But beyond that, LaVarr Webb, UtahPolicy.com’s publisher, and I, Bob Bernick, worked with Dan for many years at the Deseret News.

I wrote my first Dan Jones & Associates poll story back in the late 1970s as a young reporter covering Salt Lake City Hall.

And since then I’ve written more Dan Jones polls than any other reporter, ever.

Hundreds and hundreds of them when I was the DN’s political editor for over a quarter of a century.

I also know members of his immediate family, including his wife, Pat Jones – a long time state legislator and now a top person at the Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce, and several of his children.

They are all wonderful, wonderful folks.

Dan, of course, taught political science and polling at the University of Utah for many years; teaching at Utah State University before that.

The Deseret News, and later KSL Radio and TV, were the first media to contract polling with Jones way back in the mid-1970s, while he was still up at USU.

Jones was a character, that’s for sure.

But he was also a really, really dedicated pollster and family man. And he loved his students.

Utah politics, and Utah itself will not be the same without him.

I could tell you all kinds of Jones stories.

He worried, really worried, over every one of his surveys – always wanting to make them the best he could.

For years I would drive over to his offices at Trolley Corners, walk up the stairs and wait as his staff put the final touches on polls.

Then drive back and write up the most important data into a story for the next day’s paper.

For years, Dan and I and whoever was assigned at KSL to work on polls would meet for lunch at the old restaurant in the Marriott hotel on West Temple, working over poll questions before the surveys were formulated.

Dan would have great stories to pass along about Utah’s politicians and movers and shakers.

He, of course, knew them all well.

He’d call me often, back then.

Dan never introduced himself, just started off talking when you picked up the phone in that unique, gruff voice he had.

“Well,” he may say, “You won’t believe these numbers, but I promise….I Promise Bob, they are right, the data doesn’t lie. It’s right!”

For years Dan did exit polling on Election Day for KSL-TV. And I’d watch him live on Channel 5 when the polls closed at 8 p.m., and into the night as he would predict who had won which races and why.

Candidates hated to hear Dan announce live on TV that they had lost their races, well before many of the results were in.

And Dan would struggle over those predictions – because he knew he was disappointing the loyal followers and campaign staffers of the folks who were losing.

I pass along this one remembrance because it was classical Dan Jones:

There was a close U.S. House race, maybe in the 1980s. And Dan had done exit polling for KSL. I watched as an ashen-faced Jones declined to make a prediction at 8 p.m. – the race was too close.

I needed to get some reactions for my DN wrap-up story from Dan, so I called over to KSL, got one of the producers, and said I needed Jones to call me back.

The producer said Dan was in the men’s room, literally sick because he was so upset over not being able to call the race, as KSL wanted him to do – one way or the other.

Moments later, I saw Dan live on the KSL set, and he did indeed call the race.

He ended up correct, as he almost always was. And then he called me back during a commercial break, and I could hear the tension in his voice.

He was an honest man.

As he often told me, his credibility was all he really had, and that was very important to him.

He took great pride in his work, his family, and especially the political successes of Pat – the love of his life.

Dan did polling for everyone – Republicans, Democrats, the media.

And they all believed him.

Because they knew a Dan Jones poll was as accurate, as honest, and as unbiased as professionally polling could be – because that’s how Dan was.

Anyone questioned the accuracy and honesty of a Dan Jones & Associates poll at their own risk – because the data didn’t lie.

And never, never, ever would Dan Jones.

You will be missed my good, old friend. Rest in peace.