Pollster, pundit Dan Tuttle, 81
By Beverly Creamer
Advertiser Education Writer
By Beverly Creamer
Daniel W. Tuttle Jr., who spent almost half a century as a Hawai'i political commentator and pollster, died Dec. 23 at his home in Arcadia Retirement Residence from complications of pneumonia.
Tuttle was 81.
Trained as a political scientist, Tuttle had a long career teaching political science at the University of Hawai'i, but also helped introduce polling to Hawai'i in the years before and just after statehood. In the late 1960s, he ran his own small polling firm, Public Affairs Associates.
Applying his academic skills to assessing local politics, Tuttle became known as a commentator whose prophecies were right on the mark.
For more than 25 years beginning in the 1960s, he also wrote a political column for the Sunday Honolulu Advertiser during the years when George Chaplin was the newspaper's editor.
In the same era, he also commonly joined Bob Sevey on KGMB-TV in assessing election-night returns.
"He was the first guy to bring polling into the media, particularly the broadcast media," said fellow commentator Dan Boylan. "He polled with his students from the university and did it marvelously. He was way ahead of everyone else and that made him a standby at KGMB for many years.
"He was just way ahead of his time," said Boylan, a history professor at the University of Hawai'i-West O'ahu.
Boylan said that the unique thing about Tuttle was his interest in local politics — not something that a typical academic would focus on.
"The status system and the payoff in academe is not in doing something local. It's doing something national," said Boylan. "But Dan kind of risked it and got interested in Hawai'i politics and made a real contribution. He made it possible for everybody to look at Hawai'i politics more systematically, particularly with all his work on polling."
As a young professor at UH in the 1950s, Tuttle polled with his students, introducing them to scientific methods that gave highly accurate results. He excelled at evaluating voting patterns within precincts to predict larger changes over time.
"The students would go up and down the street with the ballots for the same candidates they would be voting on later," said his wife, Elsie Tuttle. "Then they would come back in a few minutes with a shoe box with a slot and let the people insert their ballot. This was a leftover from World War II under martial law when people felt their privacy was invaded and they were forced to give answers to questions they didn't want to."
In 1981 Tuttle predicted that Republicans were gaining strength in Hawai'i — a conclusion he arrived at by comparing polls he had been taking since statehood, asking the question "Which party appears to offer the best program for Hawai'i in the years ahead?"
By the early 1980s, Tuttle discovered the number of people responding "Democrat" had dropped below 50 percent for the first time.
Tuttle and his wife came to Hawai'i in 1950 on a year's contract to escape the cold Midwest winters where they had grown up and gone to school — and ended up staying a lifetime. He taught through 1966, retired from UH the first time and became executive director of the Hawai'i Education Association. A few years later, he rejoined UH in the College of Education and taught until 1989, retiring a second time, said his wife.
Tuttle was a taciturn, serious commentator, not prone to humor.
"He had a wry wit, but he couldn't tell jokes," said his wife. "He never tried."
Tuttle is survived by his wife, Elsie E. Tuttle; two sons, Daniel III and David, both of Honolulu; and daughter, Kay Tuttle Hancock of North Bethesda, Md.
Borthwick Mortuary is handling arrangements and services are pending at Central Union Church's Atherton Chapel.
Reach Beverly Creamer at email@example.com.