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Students restart Polling Society

by Jackie Tempera / Beacon Staff • January 17, 2013

Pursuing the goal of informing students on political, societal, and cultural issues, the Emerson College Polling Society has re-emerged after a seven year hiatus. 

“This fall with the presidential elections, the club really reawakened,” said Spencer Kimball, club advisor and scholar-in-residence in the communication department. “Students were interested in polling after my capstone research and polling class.” 

After receiving funding from the communication studies department in the fall, the club of 18 students issued the first round of polls. Topics ranged from the race to succeed Sen. John Kerry, the “fiscal cliff,” and post-traumatic stress disorder.

The club spends between $350 to $500, depending on the number of desired respondents, to purchase lists of registered voters’ contact information from Aristotle Inc., said Kimball. 

Through another analysis program, Statistical Package for the Social Sciences, which students learn to use during Kimball’s research and polling class, club members record questions using their own voices and send them out to about 15,000 participants nationally or statewide, said Kimball. 

The recordings are automatically played to recipients when they are called, and vocal recognition software records the respondents answers. After this data is collected, a team of students sifts through “full responses”calls in which respondents answer all of the questions  and restructures the data so that it more accurately reflects the group, state, or area being investigated. For example, if a certain set of questions reaches more Republicans or women than exist on average in the United States, the group will rearrange the data to properly reflect the country’s average, said club member Mike Dunlevy. 

“I’m one of the guys who crunches the numbers,” said the junior political communication major. “I like being a part of something kind of behind the scenes that can showcase communications students’ work, like a play would showcase an acting major’s.”

The club was started in 1997 by former Emerson professor David Paleologos, who is now a pollster at Suffolk University. In 2005 the club came back for about a year before fizzling out, according to Kimball. 

Members of the group say they hope to attract more members and viewers now by researching a wide variety of topics.

The results of the society’s most recent survey, which focused on gun control in light of recent national tragedies like the Newtown, Conn. school shooting, will be published Jan. 22, said club member Felix Chen, a communication studies major. All results are posted on emersoncollegepollingsociety.com. 

“It’s a great way to market the school, connect with news organizations, and get our name out there,” said Dunlevy. 

Organizations such as Yahoo News, The Atlantic Wire, and The Lowell Sun have used the group’s data in various news articles.