Having conducted an initial survey
about the presidential candidates last
fall, Professor of Political Science and
Director of the Polling Institute Tim Vercellotti felt it was important to resurvey
some of those questions as the campaign progressed in the spring.
“We had begun looking at the 2016
election cycle with a poll in October and
measured name recognition and did
some match ups for the presidential
election. It was so far away—people
weren’t really tuned in. But now it feels
like there’s a lot more attention being
paid to the primary season,” he explained.
For example, Bernie Sanders wasn’t
widely known early on in his presidential run, but has since made a name for
himself, a change which was reflected in
the spring results. Also, the name recognition of Ted Cruz wasn’t originally
tested, as the field in the Republican
Party was much wider.
Conducting these important phone
surveys are Western New England University students from every major and
level of education. Regardless of their
career goals, each student takes away
valuable skills from the process.
“It’s fun to watch them evolve from
someone who might be nervous about
making a phone call, to a student who
is really confident and capable of think-
ing on his or her feet,” he said.
Students are trained in the computer
program used to record data, good survey practices, and the reasoning behind
the survey questions. Also included are
the techniques needed to work with different survey takers, from the heated
political junkie to those who are not
willing to participate. Students role-play
these scenarios in order to gain more
Once the survey cycle starts, each shift
begins with a debriefing. If there is a
question that’s giving student interviewers a hard time, there will be discussion.
If someone had a noteworthy call, the
group may discuss how to handle it differently next time. Vercellotti is always
on hand to help students work through
a challenging call.
“I can’t say enough good things about
OFFERS LESSONS IN THE
our students,” Vercellotti noted. “This
generation is depicted as one that hates
to talk on the phone. But they have a
grace in public speaking and persuasion
that belies the rap they get about com-
Not only is the Polling Institute a con-
structive training ground for students,
but it is also a valuable resource for
University faculty who want to gather
data for their research. Instead of ap-
VOLATILITY OF PUBLIC OPINION
IN AN ELECTION YEAR
“Students receive an introduction
to polling and a grounding in
American politics. They also
learn to deal with the public,
defuse difficult situations, and
think on their feet.”
—PROFESSOR TIM VERCELLOTTI
This year is an exciting one for the Western New England University
Polling Institute. Not only is it a presidential election year, but there
are also controversial questions that may end up making the ballot.
Because it conducts nonpartisan research on public policy issues at
the local, state, and regional levels, the Polling Institute has become
a trusted source not only for news media, but also for students and
faculty on campus.
plying for a grant to cover the cost of a
statewide survey, their questions can
be added to the Institute’s latest poll.
Much like the industries that are
changing with the rise of new technology, the area of survey research will face
new challenges and opportunities from
inventions that have changed society,
such as the Internet and smart phones.
“The Polling Institute will evolve
along with the rest of the field of survey
research,” said Vercellotti. “I think there
will always be room for telephone sur-
veys, but we have to consider hybrid
approaches like an online supplement
where we do surveys on smart phones
and tablets. Our students will have a
front row seat to these changes. It’s just
one more element of their experience
here they can draw on when they
leave.” n ©