Grinnell College National Poll

Providing students, faculty with hands-on research experience
Ben Binversie ’17

In fall 2018, Grinnell College partnered with J. Ann Selzer, a nationally renowned pollster from Iowa, to conduct the Grinnell College National Poll. The College undertook this pilot project as a way to provide research opportunities to students and faculty and to contribute to the national discussion about the direction of American politics. 

The first poll was conducted Aug. 29–Sept. 2. Administered by professional interviewers, the poll surveyed 1,002 randomly selected landline and cell phone numbers of U.S. adults ages 18 or older, including 779 likely voters in the 2018 general election. The initial findings were released to the public Sept. 5 and included a challenging path to re-election in 2020 for President Donald Trump, intense partisan divide about the National Football League protests during the national anthem, and widespread support for lawful immigration. 

One of the innovative aspects of the poll is the inclusion of questions about political activation. For example, the poll asked respondents how likely they were to attend meetings, rallies or marches, contact public officials, or help others register to vote in elections in the near future. Using these responses, the poll seeks to establish an activation index, which would measure individuals’ likelihood of political action and participation.

Grinnell faculty members have been an integral part of the poll since its inception. Barbara Trish, professor of political science and director of the Program in Practical Political Education and the Rosenfield Program in Public Affairs, International Relations, and Human Rights; Peter Hanson, associate professor of political science; and Xavier Escandell, associate professor of anthropology, all worked with Selzer to draft the questions for the poll. They are also incorporating the poll into their classrooms and research.

In her Political Parties course, Trish says students are using the poll’s findings to explore whether the policy positions of the parties as expressed in their platforms are consistent with those expressed by rank-and-file partisans. Hanson says the poll is a “very useful tool for teaching about quantitative reasoning and the national political environment,” and he is working with a student to write a blog post analyzing the poll’s initial findings. 

Escandell, as the faculty director for the Data Analysis and Social Inquiry Lab (DASIL), has overseen the cleaning of the survey data, preparing codebooks, and conducting preliminary data analyses. Escandell says DASIL, with the help of students, is “creating an interactive data visualization tool that will make the findings easily accessible to the public.” 

Through a special topics course, Political Polling: Analyzing the Grinnell College National Poll, taught by Ron Rapoport, visiting professor from the College of William and Mary, students have assessed poll data on key issues with an aim of understanding the social and political landscape of the 2018 midterm elections. 

The second poll was conducted after the November midterm elections. For more information visit the Grinnell College National Poll.

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