Celebrating the Life of Sergio Bendixen

Sergio Bendixen, a pioneer in multilingual opinion polling among Latinos and the first Hispanic to run a U.S. presidential campaign, died on Friday, May 26, 2018. He was 68.

Born in Peru, Bendixen immigrated to the U.S. at age 12, according to Fernand Amandi, Bendixen’s friend and business partner. Fernand and Sergio jointly operated the Coconut Grove-based opinion research firm Bendixen & Amandi International, for which Fernand continues as managing partner.

Bendixen graduated from the University of Notre Dame in 1970. He got his start in politics campaigning for George McGovern for president in 1972. His efforts organizing conservative Dade County Democrats for Jimmy Carter in 1976, credited as key to Carter’s improbable victory, landed Bendixen on the national political map.

Mike Abrams, Bendixen’s friend of 40 years, called him “the single greatest political mind I’ve ever met,” and said that all of Bendixen’s grandest political plans started humbly – sketched out on a napkin over lunch. “He could be a little Machiavellian to his political foes, but his loyalty and compassion for friends far outweighed any of that,” he said.

Bendixen rose quickly in the world of political consulting, serving as national campaign manager for Democratic presidential hopeful Alan Cranston in 1984, then later helping to run Bruce Babbit’s 1988 presidential campaign. Bendixen then delved into polling, where he chronicled perhaps the most significant demographic change in Miami politics: the emergence of Cuban-American Republicans.

Upon his return to Miami, Bendixen became well-known on Spanish-language television, where he delivered results from his surveys and explained U.S. politics to Latinos.  Over his professional life, he worked for all the big national Hispanic networks: Spanish International Network (SIN), Univision, CNN en Español, and Telemundo.

But Bendixen was also pivotal in revolutionizing domestic politics. He was “the go-to guy” for polling the Hispanic community, said Cecilia Muñoz, a longtime immigration advocate and former director of the Domestic Policy Council in the Obama White House, who said his forceful push to include Latinos in the political process changed the country. In 2008 & 2012, Bendixen’s firm produced Spanish-language ads for Obama that targeted diverse nationalities, rather than treating Hispanics as a homogenous bloc.

“Sergio led the way in capturing the opinions of and understanding how Hispanics in America thought and felt about the most important issues in our time,” said Fernand Amandi. “He was largely responsible for giving Hispanic America a voice.”

Two years ago, Bendixen’s firm did what for years had been unthinkable: conduct a scientific poll in Cuba – secretly, for Univision, Fusion, and the Washington Post – to gauge the popularity of then-President Barack Obama’s new U.S. opening toward the island. It was the first independent poll in Cuba since Fidel Castro came to power in 1959.

In his semi-retirement, Amandi said, Bendixen still closely followed politics. But he also made time for his other passions: following baseball’s Detroit Tigers; Alianza Lima, a Peruvian soccer club; and the Peruvian national soccer team, which Bendixen hoped would return to World Cup form.

Although he never married or had children, Abrams said his best friend was fond of all young people in his life, especially his nieces and nephews. He hired Abram’s son, David, when he left rehab and continued to be a personal and professional mentor until David’s death. “He was one of those full personalities that are so rare,” Abrams said. “If you are their friend, you feel lucky and fortunate.”

Bendixen is survived by his brothers, Arthur Bendixen and Robert Bendixen.

 “Bendixen brings to Cranston’s campaign the statistical precision of an engineer…Even in victory, he is tightly controlled.”

Newsweek, 1983

“…Bendixen probably is the most talented, imaginative and versatile political organizer to emerge during the initial stages of the nascent 1984 presidential campaign.”

“In Washington” column by Robert Walters – Newspaper Enterprise Association

“Sergio is incredibly well-organized, very sophisticated and savvy about the ins and outs of politics, and his background in engineering gives him an analytic capacity that is unusual in a campaign manager.”

Alan Cranston, 1983

“…Mr. Bendixen [is] regarded as one of the brightest young strategists in the Democratic party…”

The Baltimore Sun, 1983

“If you want to know what Latinos or Latino Americans are thinking, ask Sergio.”

The Sun Sentinel, 2003

“Bendixen is, despite his enormous clout among Democratic politicians, the most underappreciated and underreported man in American politics.”

Real Clear Politics, 2009

“…Sergio Bendixen was truly the embodiment of a pioneer when it came to polling and the public opinion research industry in this country…Until his innovations there had been a blind spot in public opnion research: the perspective of those who did not speak the English language.”

Campaigns & Elections, 2017

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