Students Take the Nation's Pulse in New Polling Course

News Story: October 13, 2014

Students in Sacred Heart University’s first-ever polling course are taking America’s pulse and finding out what issues make the country’s heart rate soar and what issues are breaking its heart.

The course, titled Polling and Research, introduces students to the art of polling, including political, public opinion and direct democracy, and to survey research, including market, public policy and social. Students have designed a survey, worked as pollsters, analyzed collected data and reported the results.

Anthony Sciotto, a senior political science major from North Babylon, NY, described the polling course this way: “It’s like being a film student and getting to go to Hollywood.”

“What we’ve tried to do with this course is give students both theory and practical experience. They benefit from hearing about the uses of polls but also doing the hands-on designing of different types of surveys, not only political instruments but they’ve done some market research, customer satisfaction, policy polls, social polls, political polls,” said Prof. Jerry Lindsley, the course instructor.

This semester, students designed a general public opinion poll, which included questions about steroid use in professional sports, the presidential election, new voting machine technology, the recent resignation of Cuban President Fidel Castro, the U.S. economy, healthcare and patriotism.

Dave Jones, a junior from Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake, New York studying political science, said polls have become increasingly important measures of opinion and he always wondered what was behind them. The hands-on experience in the course has given him an inside perspective of the process.

“People think it’s easy to design survey instruments in any field, whether it’s market research in the corporate arena or whether it’s in the social arena. It’s a difficult process and they’ve done a tremendous job,” Lindsley said. “Their marketable skills are greatly enhanced by being able to go to an employer and show them an array of seven or eight different quality products that they created in a semester,” he said.

Students say the course is particularly interesting and relevant today because it helps them gauge public opinion on the contentious battle for the White House, the sagging economy, the war in Iraq and other important issues.

“This is one of the more relevant courses to Political Science today. Polls provide one of our biggest sources of data. This class teaches us how to take the data we’re given by the media and study it analytically. It takes a microcosm of the country and gives a sense of direction. It represents the country on a small scale,” Sciotto said.

“I’m really into politics. I have a certain way of thinking and I was interested in seeing how the rest of the country thinks. Polls let you know how people are feeling, how the country is feeling about a certain issue. It gives you a good sense of how the community feels,” said Junior Steven Murphy, a political science major from Queens, New York.

The students in Lindsley’s course recently visited the Sacred Heart University Polling Institute, where they learned about data entry, statistics and computer analysis from polling professionals, and learned from the University’s public relations staff about the power of polling results and how they are disseminated to the media.

Funda Alp, SHU’s director of communications, told students that poll results are powerful because they can provoke thought, spark discussion and influence decisions and opinions.

Poll results inform candidates where they stand with voters, help corporations understand why consumers do or don’t purchase their products or services and educate everyday Americans on how their fellow Americans feel about particular issues. Poll results can also shape media coverage because it alerts them to issues foremost on Americans’ minds.

“Our results will be released to major media. I did something relevant not only to my class but to the nation,” said Samantha Hiltzik, a sophomore political science major from Westbury, NY.