Martin School and Political Science Hosting April 13 Forum on Political Polling

By Ashely Cox

(March 31, 2016) — The tumultuous tone of the 2016 presidential race has focused renewed attention on the role of polling — and pollsters — in the political process. Traditionally, polls were internal documents used to shape campaign strategies, fundraising appeals and voter turnout. Today, however, polling has become a very public event — who's ahead, who's behind — supplanting issues, positions and personalities in driving campaign media coverage.

For many years, the standards of measurement used in polling became more accurate over time and usually had a high degree of accuracy. Lately, however, several recent polls, both nationally and in the last two Kentucky statewide elections, have differed considerably from actual election day results. So why are a growing number of poll results seemingly off the mark?

University of Kentucky students, faculty and staff, together with members of the community, are invited to explore this issue at a public forum titled, “Political Polling in Transition,” from 3:30 to 5 p.m. Wednesday, April 13. Sponsored by UK's Martin School of Public Policy and Administration, and the Department of Political Science within the College of Arts and Sciences, the forum will take place in the auditorium of the William T. Young Library, and will investigate polling relevance and reliability.

“Political polls are increasingly dominating the media’s coverage of political campaigns and, in turn, may impact perceptions of a candidate’s viability as well as campaign financing," said Merl Hackbart, professor and director of the Martin School. "However, the accuracy of political polls and their usefulness is being challenged as election results diverge from pre-election polls. This forum will explore the challenges to political polling and will consider how pollsters are adjusting their techniques to accommodate the transition from surveys of households with landline phones to the dominance of cell phones and other forms of digital communication."

This issue is not unique to Kentucky, but rather is a challenge facing political polling organizations across the nation.

Political strategists, pollsters and guest speakers Celinda Lake and Robert Blizzard, each of whom has been associated with candidates from the nation's two largest political parties, will speak on how they view their role, how they might strategize according to polling, and how they deal with clients.

Lake and Blizzard, joined by UK Political Science Associate Professor Stephen Voss, also will participate in a roundtable discussion moderated by Martin School Board of Visitors member Michael Ruehling. Ruehling, a former vice president for federal government affairs for CSX Corporation, also served for many years on the staff of the late former U.S. Sen. Wendell Ford (D-KY).

The panel will examine what went wrong in the polling numbers prior to the gubernatorial election in Kentucky last November, where just days before the election Jack Conway held a commanding lead over now Governor Matt Bevin. The roundtable will discuss theories about why it happened the way it did, the impact of technological changes on polling, insights and thoughts about the current presidential primaries, and more.

Lake, one of the Democratic Party's leading political strategists, has served as tactician and senior advisor to national party committees, dozens of Democratic incumbents, and challengers at all levels of the electoral process. Lake’s firm, Lake Research Partners Inc., is known for cutting-edge research on issues including the economy, health care, the environment and education. In 2008, Lake worked as pollster for then candidate, now Vice President Joe Biden. She has appeared on numerous television and radio news programs, including CNN, MSNBC, CNBC, Fox News and NPR, discussing her work and providing expert commentary.

Blizzard is a partner at Public Opinion Strategies, a national political and public affairs research firm described by The New York Times as “the leading Republican polling company” in the country. Over the years, Blizzard has directed the research efforts for hundreds of political candidates in nearly every state and for national party organizations such as the Republican National Committee. In recent years, he has led research efforts on how evolving technology trends are changing the video consumption habits of Americans for Google’s Politics and Elections Team. Blizzard’s firm is also part of the bipartisan research team that conducts the NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll.

This event, providing the ability for audience members to hear from, and interact with, leading strategists and polling experts from both parties on a vitally important issue, is free and open to the public.

 

Parking will be available in the visitor lot at the William T. Young Library.

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