The Schar school and the Post collaborate on political polls in Virginia
BY DONNA IMADI, STAFF WRITER
Mason’s Schar School of Policy and Government has forged a strategic partnership with the Washington Post.
The partnership was established to, “conduct a series of political polls in Virginia over the next year … that will illuminate voter sentiment on a broad range of political and public policy issues,” according to the Schar school’s website.
Since November 2016, when the partnership was first announced, the Schar school and the Post conducted a 2016 post-election national survey concerning the “national mood” in the post-election cycle, bringing attention to Mason’s Schar school and projecting an impactful trajectory for the partnership moving forward. It was the only poll to receive an A+ in the presidential election cycle by the statistics-centered news website Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight.
Mark Rozell, the dean of the Schar school, said, “[The] poll brought an enormous amount of coverage because it said a lot about the mood of the country, it explained things counter to conventional wisdom – it got covered everywhere. A member of communications at Mason said, other than Miley Cyrus’ appearance on campus, it received the single-most media hits on a single event.”
Scott Clement, the Washington Post’s polling manager, said the Post was excited to work with the Schar school on topics like the pre-election Virginia poll.
“We are really excited about the partnership with the Schar school… We kicked off with a bang last year conducting a survey in Virginia. It proved to be accurate in a year where most surveys were not,” Clement said.
The Post and the Schar school now have a formal partnership to conduct polling throughout Virginia until the end of 2017. The partnership began when Rozell took the initiative to approach the Post, thinking, “It would be great to have regular polls on policy and election issues in Virginia,” Rozell said.
Rozell said that the partnership is not just another way to spread the school’s reach, but “it is great because it is a true collaboration.”
Mason professors have collaborated extensively to create surveys and design the questions that are presented in various polls.
“The Washington Post editors talk to our scholars, and for the national poll, they collaborated with some colleagues here to create some of the questions,” Rozell said. “What is important for us to be involved in, and where we leverage our expertise, is the development of the surveys and questions themselves.”
In addition to faculty involvement, the vision of the partnership is to involve students in the polling process, deepening the partnership in a way that “supports teaching going on at Mason,” Rozell said.
One of the potential opportunities to involve students in the partnership is a course on survey research methods. This course would involve a professor “bringing in someone from the Post to get students involved in the whole enterprise of survey research design and post-election survey analysis,” Rozell said.
He added that he was hopeful that an opportunity such as this may be available for the Spring 2017 semester.
Rozell said that a main motivation for his work in the Schar school is to find methods to project Mason’s identity and do public programming that involves the community in projects related to Mason’s scholarship. He added that the Schar school provides policy research that has been cited and used thoroughly throughout the political arena.
The aim of this project is to, “perform a public service by providing good polling through our resources and partnerships,” citing that “not all the polls are good. You don’t do this [polling or partnerships] just to get publicity, I want a good quality poll or we don’t do it at all,” Rozell said.
The partnership will pursue initiatives surrounding the upcoming Virginia primaries June 13, 2017, in either April or May – four to six weeks before the primaries.
“If it’s extremely competitive, we may be in the field twice before the primary happens,” Rozell said.
Clement noted that they are looking forward to examining Virginia’s attitudes heading into elections this year, such as the Virginia governor’s race.
“It looks like an interesting contest,” Clement said. However, he said that the polling partnership is not exclusive to big events and that the Post is, “always keeping our eyes out for other opportunities, like the post-election survey, to combine our expertise.”
Rozell similarly said the partnership will be open to doing more than the planned polls if need be.
“[The partnership will be] flexible enough that if there were pressing issues or events that sparked a need, we would jump in the field and do a survey in addition to the ones already planned.”
Rozell said that the partnership between Mason’s Schar school and the Post was “mutually beneficial.”
Rozell added that he is happy to have a reputable source like the Post to collaborate on a project like this, but added that he knows the Post appreciates having a large research university like Mason to work with as well.
Rozell further expressed the importance of the partnership at a period when media organizations have received criticism.
“Trust that the public has in academic institutions is more significant due to the stature, credibility, independence of thought, independent research and analysis that academic institutions have,” Rozell said.
Clement added that the Post is excited to focus on research with Mason.
“The Post is very excited about being partnered with a university like George Mason to both produce surveys and research together, but to also be part of the research process. As a young partnership, I am hopeful that we will move forward in that direction,” Clement said.
Further, he explained that the partnership is interested in both public policy and election surveys, expressing that they are both crucial to understanding American democracy.
It is evident that the partnership will be active in polling despite the election, as Clement said, “we try not to let go of public opinion once politicians are in office.”