Polling capacity is an exciting development

The results of a first-ever election poll conducted by Colorado Mesa University students are exciting — not for what they tell us, but because they signal that a new era of meaningful opinion research on regional issues is underway.

The results themselves — gauging voter sentiment on the U.S. presidential race, Colorado’s U.S. Senate race and four ballot measures — lack any significant value until elections returns validate their ability to accurately portray the political landscape.

Even if these polling results are skewed (and we’ll know soon enough), there’s tremendous value in the effort to cultivate a representative random sample. It’s a good baseline experiment for what the university hopes to do — provide valid public opinion to policy makers in the region when they make decisions in Congress and the statehouse.

The poll was the first done by a newly created Social Research Center at CMU, which is being formed in cooperation with the Pennsylvania-based Center for Politics and Public Affairs at Franklin & Marshall College.

CMU approached Rocky Mountain PBS to partner in the polling project, which gives students and faculty “an opportunity to engage in relevant, practical research,” CMU President Tim Foster said.

Colorado College has achieved acclaim for its State of the Rockies project and its Conservation in the West poll. While CMU’s inaugural poll was political in nature, its long-term plan is to focus on issues of greatest importance to Western Slope residents, be they social, economic or political.

Political polling may be the toughest of the bunch because it requires identifying likely voters. And then methodology comes into play. Take the recent Brexit vote as an example: phone polls predicted a big win for the “remain” camp, and a win for “leave” came as a surprise. But the sample was confined to people with landlines, skewing the results, according to experts.

Such are the challenges of polling. CMU students will learn how difficult it is to get statistically valid results. The opt-in nature of online polling makes it difficult to get a truly random sample. It also excludes respondents without regular internet access. Cell phones can be difficult to penetrate because of caller ID.

But polls are important because they give the public a voice on issues that can be dominated by policy makers and pundits.

The most exciting aspect of this project, as described by CMU political science professor Justin Gollob, is that it attempts “to build longitudinal data so we can track changes in western Colorado.”

In a rapidly changing world, understanding public perceptions on a variety of topics can help lawmakers and policy makers identify battles worth waging and broker win-win solutions.


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