ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Brian Sanderoff has just unfurled across his desk a flag-sized, color-coded map of New Mexico’s congressional districts. By his enthusiasm, you would think he was 8 years old and the checkered rainbow before him an edible version of Candy Land.
“I love what I do,” he says.
As president of Research & Polling Inc., Sanderoff is best known by Journal readers and TV viewers for his market research studies and public opinion polls, especially during political campaigns. But he also analyzes census figures to help the Legislature with redistricting. This will be his fourth.
“Of course, I was only 5 years old the first time,” jokes Sanderoff, who admits to spending way too much time at work, or thinking about work, or planning how to improve the business.
If pressed, Sanderoff will also admit that at age 5 he was actually living in New York: “I never advertise the New York thing because people get a certain stereotype, and that’s not the upbringing I had.
“I grew up in towns called Glen Cove and Glen Head and Roslyn Harbor that are small villages of like 1,000 people, a very woody area.”
His family moved around as his father, a print shop owner, became more successful.
“I look back to my childhood,” Sanderoff says, “and quite frankly, it’s somewhat of a blur. … Started out in a modest apartment and then moved to a nicer suburban home and then a nicer one. The last couple of years we were in a really fancy place. But for some reason I knew that I would always come out to the West, I would always come out to a place like Albuquerque.
“Really, for me, I feel like my life started when I moved out here.”
Sanderoff came to Albuquerque when friends who had been here before asked him to go along this time. Against his parents’ dreams that he would be an Ivy Leaguer, Sanderoff joined his buddies in a 20-year-old vehicle that finally broke down permanently when they hit the Interstate 25 exit ramp at Central.
Upon arrival at age 17, Sanderoff registered at the University of New Mexico.
“We ultimately got kicked out of the dorms for playing our music too loud. They gave us a choice between getting rid of the concert speakers and leaving the dorms, and we chose the latter option. … The big debate back then was who was better — the Allman Brothers or The Grateful Dead. … We used to sit up on the top of the roof , which no longer can be accessed, and we would hang out at night and watch the moon rise and the sunset and do all these fabulous things.
“I haven’t hardly been back (to New York) since. I just fell in love with New Mexico, and it’s my home for life.”
Since graduation, Sanderoff has essentially had two jobs: working for former Gov. Bruce King and heading the business he has owned for 25 years this month.
Q: Do you still have that adventurous spirit you had as a youth?
A: I don’t have as much as I should, and I would like to get it back. I did have a motorcycle for 15 years. (He even won a Harley-Davidson during a high-stakes poker game at age 18.) … I can remember in my mid-20s when I’d be smoking, I can remember saying to my friends, ‘It doesn’t matter because I know I’m not going to live to an old age anyway.’ And the fact that I would say that with a straight face, looking back on it now, told me yeah, I had a streak. (He quit smoking at age 28.)
Q: Where did you go when you got kicked out of the dorms?
A: Louisiana and Zuni. … We slept with a gun under our pillows. It was pretty rough back then. We were at a certain house where the house behind it had a bunch of heroin junkies.
Q: How did you end up in the research and polling business?
A: As a class project, I got involved in a campaign, which was Bruce King’s campaign, his middle term for governor. … I was one of his top aides in government for four years. … I ran a number of government agencies that were in trouble and worked to improve their operations. … So in my mid- to late 20s, I was doing a lot of government troubleshooting. Then rather than a user of research, I decided I wanted to be a doer of it and started Sanderoff & Associates, which morphed into Research & Polling.
Q: What would you be doing professionally if all of this went away?
A: Sometimes I think that I would like to be an investigator who solves unsolved crimes. I think I would be good at that, and I think I would use information and databases and things in certain ways that perhaps are not being used to help solve crimes. I oftentimes think of that. I could see being a teacher, professor. … I enjoy communicating and sharing with people.
Q: Do you ever take time for yourself to get away from everything?
A: Not as much, and that’s a big criticism I receive from co-workers and my daughter. On my 50th birthday, I went to Europe with my kid for a week, seven, eight, nine days, and now I’m 57, so it’s been seven years (since the last real vacation).
Q: Is there anything you like as much as work?
A: I loved photography in college. I had a dark room for years. But then I let it slip away. I recently bought a fancy camera, and I’m going to get back into it. That’s my resolution. I’m even thinking of getting another motorcycle — perhaps a BMW cruiser. I love music, and I listen to all types of music. … I have my country station, I have my soft rock, I’ve got my classic rock, I’ve got three rap stations, and I’m getting a kick out of hip hop music that I never listened to before (getting satellite radio in his car). And so sometimes friends look over at my car, and I’m rocking out to some hip hop, and they look at me like I’m nuts.
Q: Why are you so passionate about your job?
A: What makes me tick is when I walk into the grocery store and Costco. Just last week, one lady, she comes up to me, and says, ‘You’re that political analyst aren’t you?’ And I say, ‘Yeah.’ ‘I just want to tell you how important you are to my family.’ Other people will say, ‘Thank you for making all that complicated stuff simple, easy to understand.’ What makes me tick is the glimmer in the eyes that I see of our clients when we say something or give them some insight that helps them make a better widget or improve the services to their customers or to improve the services to their patients. … And as a result if we give some decent advice, that translates into some actionable thing that might improve society, improve that company. That’s what makes me tick.
Q: Is there anything you would change about yourself?
A: I think the one thing I’d change about myself is that when I leave the office at the end of the day, I leave it at the office. That I’d then pursue other life’s interest and take them on, and travel more, and spend more time with friends, and maybe pick up that camera and maybe get that motorcycle I’ve been talking about.
The Basics: Born Brian Sanderoff on Nov. 16, 1953, in New York City, but grew up in small towns on Long Island; bachelor of arts degree in political science from the University of New Mexico; divorced; daughter Rachel, 26; no pets. The black German shepherd named Emo that Sanderoff was often seen with at the Starbucks on Jefferson NE near his office recently died. He was 15.