Yale votes ‘no’ on polling

For poll aficionados, Quinnipiac just rolls off the tongue more easily than Yale.

While Quinnipiac University’s recent series of presidential election polls has garnered national attention, polls bearing the Yale name are not nearly as visible — and in fact, Yale as an institution does not conduct polls. Although a few Yale professors run polls on their own or in conjunction with other universities, Yale — unlike Quinnipiac and other universities such as Princeton — has no formal polling institute or survey research center.

“Those sort of polls are already being done,” Yale political science professor Alan Gerber said. “Yale doesn’t have too much to add.”

Most recently, a poll about global warming and the presidential election was branded with the Yale name.

But the University itself didn’t conduct this poll. The poll was the brainchild of Anthony Leiserowitz, a research scientist at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies and the director of the Yale Project on Climate Change, who teamed up with Edward Maibach, a professor at George Mason University.

Yale’s name is attached to it just because Leiserowitz happens to work here.

“I did this poll and I am at Yale,” he said. “I am a faculty member at the School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. This is what I do.”

But polling is not what Yale does.

The resource advantage

Despite the disparity in the two schools’ endowments, when it comes to polling, Quinnipiac has been willing to devote far more resources than Yale.

On the most basic level, Quinnipiac possesses the enthusiasm for polling that Yale lacks. Quinnipiac’s polling institute, which runs surveys in individual states and nationwide, has been significantly expanded by Quinnipiac President and political buff John Lahey during his 21-year tenure, said polling institute director Maurice Carroll.

When individual researchers at Yale do want to conduct polls, they rely on private firms, said Donald Green, a professor of political science and director of Yale’s Institution for Social and Policy Studies.

Leiserowitz, who used a firm called Knowledge Networks, said he pays for the firm’s services with money obtained through grants. Yale does not foot the bill for personal research polling.

The cost of hiring an outside firm can vary depending on the firm, the number of questions, the number of people surveyed and the quality of the data, Leiserowitz said. For instance, a high-quality, nationally representative survey of 1,000 randomly selected individuals, with a high response rate and about 20 minutes’ worth of questions, can cost in the neighborhood of $50,000 to $60,000, he said.

Individual Yale researchers have made names for themselves in the world of survey research, Green said. Green, who is currently on the board of the American National Election Study, said other Yale professors have been on the board in the past.

Still, there is no way to locate the group of polls that have come out of Yale, Green said.

Princeton has a survey research center, but on a Web site like RealClearPolitics.com, which tracks the latest election polls, no Ivy League schools appear as authors.

Despite the absence of the traditional big-name universities, the polling scene is a crowded one. In fact, more polling companies are tracking the “horse race” aspect of the campaign than ever before, another reason why Yale does not really have a place in the market, Gerber said.

“[It’s] close to a saturated market out there, so it’s not obvious to me for Yale to enter the fray,” he said.

Making a name

At the end of the day, polling is far more central to Quinnipiac’s sense of self than it could ever be at Yale — and has been for years.

“Quinnipiac is as well-known today for its polling operation as for any other reason,” wrote The New York Times in January 2000.

The Quinnipiac Polling Institute, which started out as a fairly small operation, became fully established in the mid-1990s, Carroll said in a telephone interview.

Now, the institute has about 150 people making phone calls every night, Carroll said, drawing from a pool of about 400 students and community members trained to do so. Also on the institute’s payroll are seven full-time on-site staff members and three “traveling blatherers” who help design the polls, he said. The university funds the entire operation.

The polling institute draws significant media attention to a school that is not well-known elsewhere. An Oct. 16 article on the online magazine Slate, “What’s with all the ‘Quinnipiac University’ Polls?,” cited Quinnipiac’s large labor pool as the source of this “obscure” school’s success in the field.

This kind of positive focus on the university is one of the main reasons Quinnipiac polls, Carroll said — but the media attention Yale receives is focused elsewhere.

“Clearly Yale doesn’t need to make a name for themselves in that way,” Leiserowitz said. “I don’t know if that’s why other universities [start polling institutes].”

Though Yale might be good at conducting polls similar to Quinnipiac’s, Yale’s resources and faculty might not have much to contribute to the polling world in terms of producing more accurate or better-conducted polls, Gerber said.

Polling itself as an academic field is not all the rage any more, Green said. When he was in graduate school, Green said, survey research was a hot topic.

“I think that survey research as an academic field is on the wane,” he said. “It’s all well and good to do polls to get media attention but the fact of the matter is, polls are a dime a dozen.”

In a poll on Thursday, Quinnipiac researchers found that Sen. Barack Obama was leading the presidential race in Ohio, Florida and Pennsylvania.

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