As the United States barrels through an extraordinary presidential campaign year, the Emerson College Polling staff has been steadily measuring public opinion on issues ranging from politics to public health and social justice, and news outlets across the country are taking note.
In the years leading up to the 2020 presidential primary campaign cycle, the Emerson College Polling Center established a solid reputation as one of the nation’s most trusted public opinion research organizations. Its statistical and predictive accuracy during the 2018 midterm elections earned second place among pollsters to trust, as ranked by the renowned FiveThirtyEight. The following year, FiveThirtyEight gave Emerson Polling an A- for all polls conducted from 2013 to 2019 — the highest ranking among pollsters who use Emerson’s research methodology, which involves an intricate blend of SMS-to-web and web-based outreach methods. (Emerson Polling does not conduct live-operator telephone surveys, as many other polling operations continue to employ).
Based on its reputation for accuracy, this year Emerson Polling has been engaged to conduct research for a number of outside organizations, including WHDH 7NEWS, Nexstar Media Group, Inc. (a nationwide network of local news organizations), the women’s advocacy group All In Together, the University of Colorado-Boulder, the City University of New York, and Blanquerna School of Communication in Spain. Meanwhile, Emerson Polling’s findings are frequently cited by major news organizations ranging from USA Today to MSNBC, National Public Radio, the Boston Globe, Real Clear Politics, and numerous other national and local outlets.
“Emerson Polling is a microcosm of the innovation that we see across the College, and we hope in some small way that we are adding value to the Emerson brand,” says Emerson Polling Director Spencer Kimball, assistant professor of Communication Studies.
Other members of the Emerson Polling team include program manager Isabel Holloway ’19 and student analysts Camille Mumford ’20 and Kelsey Reardon ’22. Together they work with partners to formulate the surveys, distribute the polls across the country or in target states, analyze the response data, and publish results at emersonpolling.com. They would typically be assisted by a larger team of students, but this year, coronavirus-related restrictions have limited the number of researchers that can gather in Polling’s office in the Transportation Building.
Raul Reis, dean of the School of Communication, points out that polling is a vital tool for communication.
“In order to effectively engage with or inform any audience, it is important to understand that audience’s knowledge, opinions, and values. Under Spencer’s guidance, Emerson Polling has helped to set new standards for public opinion research in our society.”
Looking ahead, Emerson Polling will conduct 30 surveys in the four weeks leading up to the U.S. election. Looking back over 2020, they have conducted 63 studies — from the presidential primary and general election campaigns, through the coronavirus pandemic and the social justice movement. The following are just a small sample of their findings:
In February, Emerson Polling teamed with Boston’s WHDH News for an exclusive, eight-day tracking of the New Hampshire Democratic Primary, concluding with “Sen. Bernie Sanders holding his lead in the Democratic Primary with 30%, followed by fmr. Mayor Pete Buttigieg with 23%, Sen. Amy Klobuchar with 14%, Sen. Elizabeth Warren with 11%, and fmr. V.P. Joe Biden with 10%” — virtually mirroring that election’s actual results. [READ MORE]
That same month, as part of a yearlong, nationwide partnership with Nexstar Media Group, Emerson Polling accurately predicted the top four placements of the South Carolina Primary, which featured the first primary win by eventual Democratic Party nominee Joe Biden. [READ MORE]
In March, and also in partnership with Nexstar, the Polling team conducted a national survey of Americans’ concerns fueled by the then-emerging coronavirus pandemic. At the time, they found that 42% of respondents were very concerned about their personal finances, compared to 26% who were very concerned about their personal health. The same study also measured opinions of how President Donald Trump was responding to the crisis, with 46% approving, 45% disapproving, and 9% with no opinion. [READ MORE]
In April, Emerson Polling teamed up with colleagues at the Blanquerna School of Communication and International Relations Center for Global Communication to compare public perceptions in Spain with those studied in U.S. national and New York surveys. Among many other findings, the trans-Atlantic study revealed “differences between the two countries, as 81% of residents in Spain are confident that their healthcare system will effectively respond to the Coronavirus, compared to only 62% of Americans reporting confidence in their local hospitals to effectively handle the outbreak of Coronavirus.” [READ MORE]
In May, as part of an ongoing collaboration with the City University of New York School of Public Health, measuring public opinion in New York City and the state in relation to COVID-19, the Polling team determined that “nearly half (49%) of New York City residents believe [they] should wait until after June 1st to reopen all non-essential businesses, while 19% said openings should take place between May 16-31.” The study also measured increased household job loss across race and ethnicity from the second to sixth week of the pandemic closure, noting more significant impacts among Latinx/Hispanic, Black/African American and Asian groups. [READ MORE]
In June, following the news of George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis, Emerson Polling and Nexstar Media Group conducted a national poll of Democratic, Republican and Independent registered voters. They found a significant split, with “with 43% saying they trust the police to protect the country’s people without prejudice, 39% saying they do not trust the police to do this, and 19% being unsure.” [READ MORE]
This September, continuing a three-year long study with the Association of Marshall Scholars, Emerson Polling conducted a nationwide survey, gauging U.S. residents’ attitudes towards the country’s strategic and business allies. The longitudinal aspect of the study has also allowed for a study of changing relations with the United Kingdom before, during, and after Brexit. [READ MORE]