Kent State holds ‘Why Polling Still Matters?’ public forum

Anthony Calvaruso

The Politically Speaking forum series came to Kent State on Monday with a discussion titled: “Why Polling Still Matters?” in the Student Center Ballroom. 

In partnership with The University of Akron, the forum is part of a series sponsored by several area universities discussing Ohio’s role in the presidential election. The discussion featured John Green, the director of the Ray C. Bliss Institute of Applied Politics at the University of Akron, Ryan Claassen, an associate professor of political science at Kent State and Richard Serpe, the chair and professor of sociology at Kent State.

Each panelist took a turn addressing the audience from a podium with their thoughts on polling. Serpe focused heavily on the idea of recognizing who does not get sampled in a poll. He added that methods of polling such as telephone calls, online polls and robotic telephone polls can effect the size and variety of the group sampled.

“Please do not pay attention to a single poll. One poll is not public opinion, it’s only the opinion of those sampled,” Serpe said.

Green centered his address around what can cause discrepancies between poll results and what actually happens.

He noted that polls can record someone’s intentions, but that does not always translate to their actual behavior. He jokingly compared this to saying he often has the intention to follow a diet but his behavior does not necessarily align with that intention.

“One of the major reasons that polling predictions do differ, is that predicting the actual election is not just actions or intentions but predicting their behavior,” Green said.

The final address before the event was opened for questions came from  Claassen. He presented some data on the idea of a “post convention bump.” This essentially compared candidates polling numbers before and after their respective parties convention and showing how the events at the convention can cause some candidates to gain a bump especially from previously undecided voters.

Claassen also commented in regards to polling, “I’m not sure that the media always reports bigger margins of error in the way that they could.”

One common theme among audience questions was the role that cell phones and technology play in the results and reliability of polling. With the notion of pollers calling cell phones, Claassen mentioned that it is currently illegal to use auto-dialers, predictive dialing and any other form of computer generated calls to reach cellphones. This in turn makes it more expensive to reach cellphones as opposed to using computer systems to dial landlines.

Serpe also noted that primarily calling landlines when polling and surveying can create a bias in who ends up responding.

“In all survey work, there are biases in who you end up talking to,” Serpe said.

With at least half of the audience being college students, the notion of why polling is relevant to that demographic was important.

“Survey research and polling can tell us what people think,” Green said. “It’s important to know what people think particularly on important on issues of the day including things like how people might vote for president. This is really useful information so that then you don’t just have to depend on people you know.”

After the panel discussion ended, everyone was invited to stay after to discuss politics and polling.

“I thought it was really informational. A lot people don’t understand polling, how it works and how to read polls,” said Rachel Aul, a junior political science major. “I’m in a statistical class so I understand, but I can see how a lot of people don’t, so this was very informational.”

Anthony Calvaruso is the politics reporter for The Kent Stater, contact him at [email protected]