A look into the Quinnipiac Polling Institute
By Mackenzie Campbell
With 40 days until the midterm elections, the director of the nationally respected polling institute at Quinnipiac University gave an inside look into the most critical times during an election period.
Every four years, the United States holds midterm elections, general elections near the midpoint of a president’s four-year term of office.
Federal offices that are up for elections are seats in the United States Congress, and all 435 members of the U.S. House of Representatives.
While the participation is not very high during the midterms, they can be very important.
Midterms are capable of changing the political landscape and these changes impact the president’s ability to pursue an agenda during the second half of his term.
Students, faculty, and staff were invited to join in on a conversation on Tuesday afternoon to discuss what the Quinnipiac University Poll can tell voters about the 2018 midterm elections.
Douglas Schwartz, PhD, director of the Quinnipiac University Poll, and Mary Snow, polling analyst and spokesperson for the poll, presented their work to the students.
They shared a behind-the-scenes look into the nationally acclaimed organization and discussed what students can learn from polling data in the upcoming election.
Mary Snow is a polling analyst that joined the Quinnipiac University Poll in July.
“I first learned about the Quinnipiac poll when I was a reporter at CNN,” said Snow. “Our political unit had strict guidelines about polls that could or could not be used in our reporting.
“Quinnipiac University was on the select trusted list, and while I am no longer reporting I am still interested on why people make the decisions they do when it comes to electing leaders and voting on issues.”
“As you can imagine there is no shortage of topics for us to ask about in these tumultuous times,” Snow said.
After sharing a personal experience with her first poll, Snow summed up her findings. “The moral of the story is that races don’t always fit neatly into a single narrative or a single tweet. They are complicated.”
Dr. Douglas Schwartz shared his experience of the 2016 presidential election with Quinnipiac students.
“There were several forecasts giving Hillary Clinton high chances of winning, calculating the odds of someone winning an election is not what we do,” said Schwartz. “Polls are considered more of a snapshot in a certain window of time that provides indicators.”
Schwartz believes that another issue is the sheer amount of polls on the scene and who is most reliable. The Washington Post recently reached out to the Quinnipiac University Poll to help determine the reliability of a poll.
Schwartz advises students and the media to look to see how an organization conducts their polls.
“Most surveys conducted online are not scientific. They are based on people who volunteered to participate and therefore the results are not representative to the population, the way a random sample is.”
“While polls are giving indicators, what we can’t know is what will happen between now and November,” said Schwartz. “What headlines may sway opinions but also what the turnout will be and that will be closely watched among you, young voters who are a coveted group for campaigns.”
Schwartz opened the floor to the students and asked why they were motivated to vote in the midterm elections.
“I am motivated to vote [in the midterm elections] because I think that we need change,” said senior Rachel Beaulieu.
Another student added, “I consider voting a civic duty that we all should strive to achieve.” When asked what issue was most important to him going towards the ballet box he said, “I couldn’t tell you an important issue, I am not a one-issue voter.”
In a recent national poll, voters were asked how motivated they were to vote in the 2018 midterm elections.
“Sixty-five percent of the people we polled said that they were extremely motivated to vote in the midterm elections,” said Schwartz.
Some students believed that there are barriers in place that make them unmotivated to register to vote in the midterm elections, such as living in Connecticut and the difficulty registering to vote while at college.
Professor Scott McLean, a political science professor, reminded students that it isn’t too late to register to vote in the midterm elections.
“If you have a cell phone and go to the secretary of state's website, you can fill out a form on your phone today,” said McLean.
Mary Snow stressed, “It is so important because it is a referendum on the Trump administration's policies.”
“One thing that I would convey to all of you is to hold off on any predictions,” said Snow. “Use your best judgement.”
Snow thinks that the midterms are important because it is the first time we've seen elections to congress after President Trump was elected.
“What about all of these policies that have been put into place, now you, the voter, has the opportunity to weigh in,” Snow said.
“On of the things that we do to reach young people is we call back at least five times over separate days,” said Schwartz. “Because young people are hard to reach and their opinions matter.”
The Quinnipiac University Poll has a standard question asking if voters support or oppose stricter gun control laws in the country. Their experiment simply changed the language used in the question by changing one simple word, control.
“The word control has a negative connotation,” Schwartz said.
“We found that it was different, that if you ask people about gun control they have a more negative reaction,” Schwartz said. “If you ask them about stricter gun laws it is a more positive reaction.”
“Just one word could affect how people feel about an issue.”
Schwartz stressed that when creating questions for polls it is always a team effort, “No one person can write questions for a survey, we all have our own biases and we do our best to keep them out.”
Whether you follow polls such as Quinnipiac's, Schwartz reminds students that their votes matter. Across the country, 36 states are holding elections for governor, local politicians matter, making students votes in local elections matter.
“There are different issues in different states,” said Snow. “It is a very complex picture.”