Eagleton Institute reaffirms importance of polls


The presidential primaries are in full swing, and it is critical that the candidates discuss the topics most important to voters. One of the ways to find these issues and bring them up to the national forefront is through polling.

The Eagleton Institute’s Center for Public Interest Polling at Rutgers seeks to deliver objective information on the beliefs of New Jersey residents.

The Eagleton Institute of Politics conducts surveys through three media: online surveys, telephone surveys and in-person surveys, according to the institute's website.

Highly trained professional pollsters conduct heavy research before posing poll questions, said Kathy Kleeman, senior communications officer for the Eagleton Institute of Politics. Pollsters must avoid asking leading questions.

“(Leading questions) imply their own answers. There are scholars and professional organizations that develop standards for what a good organization is,” Kleeman said. “Most of the workers (at the institute) are students."

The Eagleton Center for Public Interest Polling, home of the Rutgers-Eagleton Poll, was established in 1971, according to Eagleton's website. It is one of the oldest and most respected university-based state survey research centers in the United States. 

Its mission is to provide scientifically sound, nonpartisan information about public opinion, according to its website.

While Eagleton is best known for public opinion polling for news media, it has also conducted research for all levels of government, nonprofit organizations and University faculty and staff, said Ashley Koning, assistant director of Eagleton.

“Polls are part of a very important cycle in communicating information about politics," she said. "Polls are often used by the media for news stories as factual evidence of where public opinion lies, as well as by politicians to gauge public knowledge, interest and attitudes towards certain issues and policies.”

Polls help decide which issues policymakers choose to address, and help to show which side of an issue the public sides with, she said.

Polls exercise direct influence on policy by providing the policymakers that craft legislation with information about what the people want, said David Redlawsk, director of the Eagleton Center for Public Interest Polling. Polling is also important in deciding secondary issues that may not take up the main stage.

“Participating as a respondent in polls can be considered an act of civic engagement in and of itself — respondents contribute to the political dialogue by answering survey questions about their society and get their voices heard in a fair and democratic way at little personal cost," Koning said in an email.

In one the Center for Public Interest Polling's most recent polls, survey respondents said being heard was a major reason for their participation in the survey

Issues that are not brought up in the voting booth on Election Day can be decided through public opinion, Koning said.

"Public opinion undoubtedly played a significant role (in the legalization of same-sex marriage)," she said. "If we did not poll the public on this issue and quantify opinion toward same-sex marriage, would legalization have seemed so inevitable so soon? Polling tells us, for better or worse, where the public stands on issues of the day.”


Irfan Shaik

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