UMass Poll, which employs Internet technology to take the pulse of citizens, is a new initiative for the UMass Amherst Department of Political Science with a threefold mission: offer a public service to the state, expand faculty research, and create opportunities for undergraduate research. “As part of its mission, the flagship campus should be gathering citizens’ opinions on important issues and using that to inform policy makers,” says Brian F. Schaffner, director of UMass Poll and chair of the Department of Political Science.
UMass Poll made its debut in December 2011 when it released a poll on the 2012 US Senate race between Democratic challenger Elizabeth Warren and Republican incumbent Scott Brown which received widespread news coverage. Schaffner’s hope is to build a budget for four to six polls to be taken each year. “We want to be the source for understanding public opinion in Massachusetts and throughout New England and the country,” he explains.
Gauging public opinion in the days of increasing numbers of cell phone-only households and caller ID has forced pollsters to adopt new methods. “Telephone polls are not the gold standard they once were,” says Schaffner. UMass Poll partners with YouGov, an international firm that uses sophisticated techniques to ensure representative samples of the target population. The surveys are online, making them convenient and the interview process more dynamic. “With online polling we can do a lot more, such as show a video or picture to elicit opinions,” Schaffner says.