In anonymous poll, a victory for Obama

In an election year when voters are being carefully — almost obsessively — monitored by countless pollsters, Yale can now count a few of them among its undergraduate ranks.

In an e-mail sent out last Thursday, an anonymous group calling itself the Yale Decides 2008 Team invited Yale students to participate in a poll aimed at determining student preferences in this year’s presidential race. Although the pollsters did not identify themselves or describe their reasons for conducting the poll in the e-mail, Bradford Galiette ’08 told the News that he and Sudipta Bandyopadhyay ’08 were behind the e-mail.

Results from the poll, which were released Monday night on yaledecides2008.com, showed that 58 percent of students favored Democratic Sen. Barack Obama, 21 percent supported Democratic Sen. Hillary Clinton LAW ’73 and 10 percent backed Republican Sen. John McCain.

The poll operators provided a vague description of their goals in the opening lines of the e-mail to Yale students.

“Participating in this survey helps build awareness of student opinions toward the 2008 Presidential election and promotes student involvement in the democratic process,” the e-mail read.

But neither the e-mail nor the Web site to which it linked identified who, exactly, had created the poll — or even whether the creators were affiliated with the University. The group did provide a contact e-mail address for questions.

In a phone interview, Bandyopadhyay said he was inspired to organize a poll by Yale Economics professor Robert Shiller, who earned national recognition for sending surveys to Wall Street bankers during a stock market crash in the 1980s and then conducting ground-breaking analysis.

“It is clear that this is one of the most historical elections in quite a while,” Bandyopadhyay said. “I want to get data to see what trends there are among Yale students in their preferences. I’m not sure if the data will show anything yet, but it will be important to collect for analysis later.”

Donald Green, a Political Science professor and director of the Institution for Social and Policy Studies, whose areas of study include polling, said the pollsters should have provided more information about themselves and their motives to e-mail recipients, especially since the survey required participants to log into the University’s Central Authentication System.

“It’s considered proper, when doing a poll, to state who you are and explain what you’re doing to the potential respondents,” he said.

Bandyopadhyay said he and Galiette sent the survey out quickly and thought providing an e-mail address for inquiries would be enough. Galiette said the pair used CAS in order to guarantee that only Yale students participated while maintaining participants’ anonymity.

Galiette is a former director of finance for the News and the co-founder of Yale for McCain. Bandyopadhyay is a former officer for the Yale College Republicans.

In a phone interview, Bandyopadhyay added that although the group did not actively publicize the results of the poll, he thinks the results will provide a service to the Yale community.

“The underlying purpose of the survey was to try to get a sense of student views toward Election 2008 beyond what has been done so far,” he wrote in an e-mail to the News. “Rather than simply asking the question, ‘Which candidate do you support?’ we also wanted to see if we could find out — for the benefit of the Yale community — why Yale students have the candidate preferences they do.”

The survey included questions about which issues students considered the most important in the election, what states students were registered to vote in and where on the political spectrum students fell on social and financial issues. There was a free-response section in which participants could provide additional comments of their choice on the election.

In addition to all undergraduates, the survey was sent to law students, medical students and School of Management students, Bandyopadhyay said. In the four-day period the survey was available online, 2,227 students participated.

Despite the high number of survey participants, of 23 undergraduates interviewed by the News, 19 said they simply ignored the e-mail. Those who did participate said they were unsure what the results would be used for.

Bandoypadhyay said he plans to expand his project both within Yale and to other schools, calling this initial poll a “proof of concept.” Bandoypadhyay said he has already organized with a friend at New York University, where he plans to distribute his survey next. He said he would also like to repeat the survey at Yale in the coming months, providing the possibility of a long-term study of the results.

Comments

  • Anonymous

    I think the fact that the pollsters didn't identify themselves or provide any information to reassure students that the survey was legit was damaging to their results, especially given that it came after two e-mails from Yale ITS warning against malicious "phishing" e-mails that asked for your personal information. I wanted to participate in the survey (having a strong opinion on the election) but held back for that reason.

    Also, didn't Yale students already vote in Wards 1 and 22 (and some in Ward 2) on February 5? What's the use of poll data collected after election day? It doesn't seem like they even know what they want to use it for either. In all due respect, this seems like a case of too much initiative with too little direction (not rare at Yale, to be sure).

  • Anonymous

    So, uh, how exactly did they get a list of all Yale email addresses? This is spam right?

  • Anonymous

    Re: comment by #2:
    Yeah, it's spam alright. They didn't have permission to spam all students, their email was unsolicited, and they didn't identify themselves. Spam, spam, spam.

    They also violated Yale's acceptable use policy, so I hope there's some follow up from ITS or the Dean's Office.