How did Quinnipiac University turn into a major national polling service?

Answers to your questions about the news.
Oct. 16 2008 6:05 PM

What's With All the "Quinnipiac University" Polls?

How an obscure school in Connecticut turned into a major opinion research center.

Quinnipiac University.
Quinnipiac University

A Quinnipiac University poll released Tuesday found Obama ahead in four battleground states: Colorado, Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin. These results were published on Pollster.com, by the Associated Press, and in the Denver Post, among other news outlets. How does an obscure university in Connecticut maintain a major national polling service?

Easy access to a willing labor pool. The grunt work of surveys—conducting telephone interviews—is performed primarily by Q-Pac students on work-study, or those who major in a subject that dovetails with polling, like political science, communications, or psychology. For their efforts, the students are compensated $9.50 an hour. Then a small team of experts (mostly former journalists) analyze the survey results and communicate them to the press. The university foots the whole bill, funding the center like an academic department.

Quinnipiac started conducting local surveys in 1988 as an outgrowth of a marketing class. In 1994, the university hired a CBS News election-night analyst to expand the relatively casual polling services into a full-time operation. It did this, at least in part, to make a name for itself. (And the "Q-Poll," as it's called by those in the know, does attract publicity. A 2007 New York Times article on the university's basketball coach noted that Quinnipiac is "best known for its polling institute.") Q-Pac started polling New Jersey in 1996 and Pennsylvania in 2002; now it partners with the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal to conduct surveys in swing states. (The two papers donate money to a scholarship fund for journalism students rather than paying for services directly.)

Quinnipiac wasn't the first university to get in on the survey game. Marist College (of Marist poll fame) in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., started enlisting students to conduct polls on local elections in the late 1970s and national ones in the 1980s. At the time, much of the opinion research on elections came from the campaigns, so the media cottoned to Marist as a source of independent information. The Marist poll, unlike the Q-Poll, taps into funding sources outside the college. (Trivia: John Lahey, the current president of Quinnipiac who presided over the creation of Q-Pac's survey operations, was actually vice president at Marist beforehand.)

It's not uncommon for schools to have polling operations. Muhlenberg College in Allentown, Pa., has an Institute of Public Opinion that conducts political surveys. And at dozens of colleges, students engage in less glamorous survey work—like telephone research for the state health department or the DMV—principally as an educational opportunity. Polling isn't exclusive to little-known schools, either. There's a Princeton University Survey Research Center, which was founded with a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Got a question about today's news? Ask the Explainer.

Explainer thanks Scott Keeter of the Pew Research Center, Lee Miringoff of the Marist Institute for Public Opinion, and Doug Schwartz of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute.

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

Blacks Don’t Have a Corporal Punishment Problem

Americans do. But when blacks exhibit the same behaviors as others, it becomes part of a greater black pathology. 

I Bought the Huge iPhone. I’m Already Thinking of Returning It.

Scotland Is Just the Beginning. Expect More Political Earthquakes in Europe.

Lifetime Didn’t Think the Steubenville Rape Case Was Dramatic Enough

So they added a little self-immolation.

Two Damn Good, Very Different Movies About Soldiers Returning From War

Medical Examiner

The Most Terrifying Thing About Ebola 

The disease threatens humanity by preying on humanity.

Students Aren’t Going to College Football Games as Much Anymore, and Schools Are Getting Worried

The Good Wife Is Cynical, Thrilling, and Grown-Up. It’s Also TV’s Best Drama.

  News & Politics
Weigel
Sept. 20 2014 11:13 AM -30-
  Business
Business Insider
Sept. 20 2014 6:30 AM The Man Making Bill Gates Richer
  Life
Quora
Sept. 20 2014 7:27 AM How Do Plants Grow Aboard the International Space Station?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 19 2014 4:58 PM Steubenville Gets the Lifetime Treatment (And a Cheerleader Erupts Into Flames)
  Slate Plus
Slate Picks
Sept. 19 2014 12:00 PM What Happened at Slate This Week? The Slatest editor tells us to read well-informed skepticism, media criticism, and more.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 20 2014 3:21 PM “The More You Know (About Black People)” Uses Very Funny PSAs to Condemn Black Stereotypes
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 19 2014 6:31 PM The One Big Problem With the Enormous New iPhone
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 20 2014 7:00 AM The Shaggy Sun
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.