Behind the Scenes – an Undergraduate Perspective

Note: As an academic polling center, our primary mission is teaching. Thus the Eagleton Center for Public Interest Polling (home of the Rutgers-Eagleton Poll) involves a number of graduate and undergraduate students in our operations. The following post is by Jack West, one of our Aresty Research Assistants for 2011-2012. Jack provides a brief peek behind the scenes at his own reaction to working with the Rutgers-Eagleton Poll.

Behind the Scenes at Eagleton

As democratic citizens in the Information Age, we are constantly bombarded with poll results.  Is Obama doing a good job?  Do you support gay marriage?  Did Kim and Kris only do it for the money?  It seems like if it exists, there is a poll inquiring about it.  Before I started my time at the Eagleton Center for Public Interest Polling, I had become so desensitized to polls that I took them for granted.  Now, after a semester working behind the scenes as a Research Assistant for the Eagleton Poll, I realize how much work goes into each and every one of the myriad polls released every day.

Even the process of creating a poll is much more complicated than I expected.  Question wording, question order, and answer options can all affect the results of a poll to a significant degree.  When drafting a questionnaire, pollsters have to constantly monitor themselves to ensure the impartiality of their final product and produce accurate and truly representative results.  Although the final findings are simple and organized statistics, the steps taken to get there are complicated and tricky.

Thankfully, Professor Redlawsk and his graduate student associates handle a majority of the pre-poll planning.  The undergraduate “grunt work,” as Professor Redlawsk affectionately calls it, really kicks in after the actual polling has been completed.  For the week or two following data collection, our poll headquarters are a blur of copying and pasting, creating grids, looking through the archives to find trends, and coding.  Although it is grunt work, it has still been a rewarding and educational experience.  The thrill of seeing a table you created included in a press release more than makes up for the tedious time spent creating it.  (Also, I am now officially an expert at Excel!)

Ideally, all of this planning, drafting, sorting, and coding results in a finished product that captures the feelings of the public.  In the end, the work of the Eagleton poll, and polls around the world, helps society gain a more complete understand of its overall current attitudes.  From Obama and Christie to Kim and Kris, the public just wants to know, and the Eagleton Institute is dedicated to finding out for them.

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