Wednesday, March 31, 2010


Poll results analyzed by University of Iowa graduate students in a little room in Schaeffer Hall have made a big impact on national politics.

During the 2008 election season, the UI political science department launched the Hawkeye Poll, with its public opinion results about the presidential candidates featured in such national media outlets as the Boston Globe, Dallas Morning News, and Washington Post.

The poll provides a platform for academic research on political and public policy topics, including elections, policy issues, attitudes and beliefs about Iowa, and the national political environment. UI graduate students gain experience in survey research that connects to their academic work as they serve as trained callers and analyze survey results in their classes.

“You go through this whole long process and it becomes worth it when you see your questions and you actually have the data and get to run analyses,” said graduate student Amanda Keller, whose dissertation is about donations people make to political and charitable organizations. “It always amazes me that graduate students and professors can work together and create this thing that people are interested in.”

Fred Boehmke, faculty advisor for the Hawkeye Poll, says most of the responsibility for running the poll falls on about 12 students.

The students are allowed to place their own research questions in each survey in exchange for managing tasks such as recruiting and training callers, designing sampling strategies, and helping write press releases.

“Giving students opportunities to develop a set of skills that can be used in future jobs will give them a big leg up in writing grants in the future, because they know all the steps,” Boehmke said. “It shows them the inside component of how research is done and data is generated. It teaches you to be proud and humble about data, because you see how data is generated.”

Graduate student Nicholas Martini said it is “awesome” to put your own questions in the survey because it leads to better research.

Two Hawkeye Polls this academic year asked respondents for their opinions on the chance of an economic turnaround in 2010 and the United States’ involvement in global issues. Martini and fellow graduate student Nathan Darus both provided their interpretations of the results for either a press release or a news story.

“You read about all these polls and I had never really experienced it. When I saw the Hawkeye Poll (in national newspapers), it felt really good,” said Darus, who is in his second semester working with the poll.

The 2008 election season was one of those experiences that won’t be forgotten.

The students stayed busy helping produce a series of polls. Since the Iowa Caucus was the first contest for eventual presidential candidates Barack Obama and John McCain, the poll results appeared in countless media outlets.

Everyone wanted to know the opinions of Iowans because Iowa can help springboard a candidate’s campaign. Obama won the Iowa Caucus and never looked back on his way toward becoming president.

“They really wanted to pay attention. They knew what was going on,” Martini said of Iowans. “Even though they were getting bombarded with so many calls they thought it was great that Iowa was in the spotlight.”

The Hawkeye Poll hopes to have Iowans in the public eye during the 2012 election season. The future of the poll is dependent on graduate students.

“We’re setting it up for long-term sustainability that builds on the work and effort of graduate students, but also gets incorporated into the graduate research curriculum,” Boehmke said.