Quinnipiac Poll goes remote amid the election

Students and professors discuss the role of public opinion polls in a democratic system

Chatwan Mongkol and Tanner Soybel

The Quinnipiac University Polling Institute remains a vital source of information gathering for the upcoming presidential election despite changes in the way it operates.

Doug Schwartz, associate vice president and director of the Quinnipiac Poll, said it has been polling on the presidential election for over a year.

“We have actually already entered our busiest time of the year, including increasing the number of polls we do at once,” Schwartz said. “Over the last six months, preparations for us included selecting states to poll in that we thought would be the most interesting and important, and staying on top of the news events.”

Schwartz said the polling methodology has not changed, since the track record for polling presidential elections going back to 2004 has been excellent. One thing that changed this year is how the interviews are conducted.

Even though the university has reopened with many restrictive guidelines to prevent COVID-19 transmission, the polling institute has not reopened since its closure in March.

“We are using an outside call center that was already set up for remote calling prior to the pandemic,” Schwartz said. “We aren’t anticipating any impact on our polling. Using an outside call center means that we have been able to continue our polling operations, basically business-as-usual.”

The polling institute has begun testing its calling capabilities, which will be available for both student and non-student employees. Even though student interviewers have not started working on the actual survey, their training process has already begun.

Aliya Zubi, a senior psychology major, worked at the polling institute for six months during the presidential primaries. Zubi’s duties included calling a given phone number and recording the participant’s answers into a computer system. Zubi said many people thought the job was easy, but she disagreed.

“You often go hundreds of calls without getting a person willing to participate in a survey, which can be very discouraging despite it being normal,” Zubi said.

Not only that, but Zubi also had to keep the interviews going without giving out any unnecessary information as many people did not answer the questions in a straightforward manner.

Though Zubi is not employed by the poll this semester, she stressed the importance of the polling institute and its work.

“I feel as though the work done by the polling station is incredibly important,” Zubi said. “It is important to Quinnipiac itself because it has become the thing we are most known for. It gets the name of our university out there and helps us to become more known by the general public.”

In addition to being a vital part of the university itself, Zubi said the polling institute is also a significant national resource for election news.

“For the democratic debates held last year, the Quinnipiac Poll was one of few polls used to determine whether a candidate had enough popularity to be allowed to debate,” Zubi said. “This is the largest way our poll influenced the election.”

Jennifer Sacco, professor of political science, said public opinion polls play a huge part in elections from informing the candidates about their campaigns to helping scholars and the public make predictions of the outcomes. Sacco said they can also offer an additional snapshot of public opinion against which vote totals can be compared.

Sacco said a few things can be indicated if the vote totals and the public opinion poll results are significantly different — change of voter’s mind, dishonesty when answering surveys, flaws of the polling methodology and interference of the vote totals.

“Scientific polling is vital to democracy especially when you suspect there are attempts to undermine the true vote,” Sacco said.

Fodei Batty, associate professor of political science, echoed the assertions that the polling institute holds national importance.

“Public opinion is an important guide for learning how well a country or society is doing in a democracy,” Batty said. “Elections alone are not enough because they rarely focus on specific issues and do not convey the reactions of voters to specific policies in between one election and the next.”

Batty said there would be no real democracy if public opinion polls like Quinnipiac’s did not exist in an election process, as they help to transmit voters’ opinions and preferences to decision-makers in a democratic system.

“Thus, if polling did not exist, any election would (be) like one in an authoritarian regime,” Batty said.

With the presidential election coming up on Tuesday, Nov. 3, Sacco said the future of the republic and the Constitution is at stake and encourages young people to vote.

“Students should pay attention like their futures depend on it, because they do,” Sacco said. “Get your news from a wide variety of reputable sources, know that just because you read something popular on the internet does not necessarily make it true, make sure you are registered to vote — today.”


Update: a previous version of this story incorrectly identified Jennifer Sacco.