The University of Massachusetts Amherst

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Safeguarding Democracy

UMass Poll's innovative methods increase voter independence
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“In a political system that often rewards the activities of the small number of people who have the time, inclination, and means to engage in politics, polls give citizens agency and influence over their elected officials.”

—Tatishe Nteta

Outside of elections, polls are one of the surest ways for voters to get the attention of their elected officials and have their voices heard. But in an age of increasing partisanship, how do pollsters assure the public that their results are unbiased, representative, and accurate?

UMass Poll is tackling this problem through cutting-edge interactive techniques that let voters respond in more meaningful ways—and it’s becoming the region’s leading polling organization in the process.

“In a political system that often rewards the activities of the small number of people who have the time, inclination, and means to engage in politics, polls give citizens agency and influence over their elected officials,” says UMass Poll’s director, political science professor Tatishe M. Nteta. To reach more of a previously underrepresented population, UMass Poll has shifted almost entirely from phone-based to online polling and invented new ways to expand engagement.

“One issue with polling is it’s somewhat top down,” says Nteta. “Traditionally, pollsters determine the universe of responses people can give.” UMass Poll empowers people in a number of ways, including allowing them to formulate their own responses. “Instead of saying ‘what do you think of X, here are the answers,’ we ask respondents to enter one word that they think best characterizes each candidate.” The results are consolidated into a Word Cloud, a visually striking image that distinguishes UMass Poll from its peers and has attracted media attention, says Nteta.

Keeping voters engaged is vital in the run-up to the 2020 primaries and election, in which New England, home to a number of Democratic candidates, plays a key role. According to Nteta, UMass Poll is poised to become the go-to pollster in New England, based not only on innovation and reach but on transparency and trust. “We are first and foremost professors, not paid pollsters,” he says. “We are not concerned with our profit margin, but in providing an accurate snapshot of the attitudes, beliefs, and vote intentions of the residents of Massachusetts and New England to better understand the future direction of the state, region, and the nation.”

Ellen Keelan

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