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At Emerson, Jumping into Polling with Both Feet

Communication Management graduate student Abigail Silverman conducted her first poll last month, asking California voters who they liked for Senator and Governor ahead of the June 5 primary.

It wasn’t an easy state to start with.

“In a state as large as California, knowing what questions to ask in terms of what issues are important…it could vary so much in a state like that,” said Silverman, who also polled voters on the California Energy Commission mandate requiring all new homes and many multi-family residences be built with solar panels beginning in 2020. 

When her poll was conducted, a lot of respondents were still undecided, but Silverman had Sen. Dianne Feinstein and Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom taking the top slots by wide margins (which they did), and she had the actual #2 candidates, former Democratic state senator Kevin de León (Senate) and Republican businessman John Cox (Governor) at least tied for second in her poll, after the undecided voters.

Last week, she polled voters in Arizona, where Republican Gov. Doug Ducey has a dismal approval rating and a GOP primary opponent, and Democrats have a fighting chance to take over outgoing Republican Sen. Jeff Flake’s seat.

 “Arizona…is considered one of the most likely to flip states,” Silverman said of her decision to poll the Grand Canyon State.

Emerson College ePoll: Democrats with early lead in Arizona US Senate race; Republican Governor Ducey with low approval.

Emerson College Polling has gotten attention from national media outlets. Last month, FiveThirtyEight, a poll analysis and politics website, ranked Emerson as the second-most accurate pollster out of 19 conducting frequent campaign polls since the November 2016 election.

In 2016, Bloomberg News noted that Emerson College Polling predicted the winners of 16 races in eight states 94 percent of the time. And in the 2016 Iowa caucuses, Emerson was the only pollster to show a late break for Texas Sen. Ted Cruz over future president Donald Trump, which got the attention of FiveThirtyEight.

But beyond the accolades, Emerson College Polling also offers rare intensive, hands-on experience in the science (and art) of conducting automated and online polls.

Not only does Silverman choose which states to poll, she also crafts the questions, records herself asking the questions for the automated phone call, sets up the online poll, collects the results, and analyzes the data. She gets feedback and advice from Emerson College Polling advisor and Assistant Professor Spencer Kimball, with whom Silverman is taking a directed study this summer.

She even does media appearances. On Monday, she talked to KJZZ 91.5 FM, Phoenix’s NPR station, about the results of her poll, which has Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D) ahead of her Democratic primary opponents for the Senate seat, as well as three Republican rivals in a hypothetical head-to-head.

When she’s not studying Communication Management and Political Communication at Emerson, Silverman works in the communications office of a Massachusetts state representative. She said she’s enjoyed comparing opinions on things in other parts of the country vs. in Massachusetts.

“It’s been interesting to see how different states react to the same types of issues we have here,” she said. “Obviously, Trump’s approval rating is a lot higher in Arizona than here.

“Before I took this class, I just never realized how much work goes into these polls,” she said.





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