The word pioneer gets thrown around a lot in our industry, but Sergio Bendixen was truly the embodiment of a pioneer when it came to polling and the public opinion research industry in this country.
He really had a vision before it was confirmed by the U.S. Census, before it was confirmed by conventional practice, of understanding that the country’s demography was changing rapidly.
Until his innovations there had been a blind spot in public opinion research: the perspective of those who did not speak the English language.
Bendixen’s own background and heritage as a bilingual, bicultural Peruvian-American, who had lived in California and Southern Florida, gave him that understanding.
He pioneered what was called bilingual polling by recruiting and training bilingual telephone operators to conduct interviews in language of preference. That was an innovation that for either cost reasons or capacity reasons really had never been done before.
As a result of doing surveys in Spanish, the data became much richer and much more accurate. The view points of the non-English dominate populations that we were looking at contrasted very much with the English-dominate perspective – even within cultural groups.
For instance, if we were talking to English-dominate Hispanics about a certain issue, we found that their Spanish-dominate counterparts, who were also Hispanic, didn’t necessarily have the same viewpoints or perspectives. It opened up important nuances to think about when looking at the different ethnic groups who make up the population.
Over the years, we found other groups including Chinese- and Arab-Americans were receptive to being polled in their native languages. So he started conducting polls in the various different languages spoken by the various different groups that make up the United States.
That came out of a collaboration with New California Media, which is now called New America Media, where we did some of the first, multi-lingual, multi-ethic polls on issues of national importance.
But Bendixen, who passed away in May at the age of 68, was also a groundbreaking consultant. His secret to success was was recognizing that there was nothing more important than the personal relationship with the client.
A lot of times in American culture, client relationships tend to be bottom line and rather impersonal. But Bendixen always preached and practiced that the best way to service clients and to make sure the needs of the clients were being fulfilled – whether it was a corporate client, NGO, non-profit or candidate — was the cultivation of that personal relationship.
Moreover, Bendixen always believe that he and the firm and the work we do is a work in progress. Consulting, for him, needed a fully realized approach. For instance, he had a career where he was a television commentator on Spanish-language media for many years.
He always talked about how his experiences there made him a better public opinion researcher. And how his experiences as a consultant made him a better communicator, and how all of those experiences taken together gave him a kind of 360-degree view of different issues.
It wasn’t like he stayed in one lane. He recognized that utilizing all of those experiences in their totality was the way to be a more effective consultant.
Fernand Amandi is principal at Bendixen & Amandi International.