Poll group leads local coverage

In fall 2004, Michael Hagen went to the offices of “The Philadelphia Inquirer” and told the editors he had an idea.What came from that idea was a joint venture by the Institute for Public Affairs

In fall 2004, Michael Hagen went to the offices of “The Philadelphia Inquirer” and told the editors he had an idea.What came from that idea was a joint venture by the Institute for Public Affairs at Temple and “The Inquirer,” which has become the Temple/Inquirer Poll.

The relationship, Hagen said, allows for “The Inquirer” to gain a detailed understanding of the polls that the IPA conducts by having Hagen disseminate the information to them, while giving the poll immediate exposure in the paper.

Joseph McLaughlin Jr., who is an associate fellow at the IPA, an assistant dean for external and governmental affairs for the College of Liberal Arts and an adjunct professor in the political science department, said, “It gives ‘The Inquirer’ an opportunity to write a story based on its own interpretations of the data.”

“Polls are frequently reported poorly,” Hagen said. “Polls are terrifically valuable for some things, but they can be used inappropriately.”

Hagen has been the director of the IPA since 2004.

The Temple/Inquirer Poll is, according to Hagen and McLaughlin, the only poll of its kind among Philadelphia’s universities, and one of only a few in the region. Others include the Allentown Morning Call/Muhlenberg College poll and the Keystone Poll done by Franklin & Marshall College that is partnered with, among other outlets, “The Philadelphia Daily News” and the “Harrisburg Patriot-News.”The IPA’s most recent poll, which came out in September, focused on likely voters for the upcoming midterm congressional elections in Pennsylvania.

The poll, which appeared in the Sept. 24 issue of “The Inquirer,” showed that at the time of the poll, Rick Santorum was trailing Bob Casey Jr., by 10 percentage points.

While a joint Allentown Morning Call/Muhlenberg College poll published Oct. 10 showed Santorum within 5 percent of Casey, Hagen questioned whether this indicts a positive trend for Santorum.

“It’s too soon to say that from one poll, something has changed,” Hagen said.

McLaughlin also said he wonders whether
the new poll shows a possible closing of the race or not.

“It’s hard to say,” McLaughlin said. “Casey has been in the lead consistently.”

Along with a Senate race that may unseat
a high-profile Republican, several local U.S. representatives are in tight races, including two Republicans from Pennsylvania: Jim Gerlach, of the 6th Congressional District and Curt Weldon of the 7th.Pennsylvania’s contentious legislative races are symptomatic of the widely-held view by both the Republican and Democratic parties that the state is up for grabs, according to both McLaughlin and Hagen.

“Pennsylvania is a battleground state in presidential campaigns,” said Hagen. “Both parties feel the state is in play.”

Because the upcoming midterm elections
could shift the power in Congress, and Southeastern Pennsylvania’s elections could play a big part in that, media coverage of the poll has been steady.

According to Alix Gerz of Temple’s Office
of Communications, Hagen was featured in several Pennsylvania newspapers, and the polls’ results were used on both Fox News and CNN.

While news outlets may be interested in what polls are out there, some students feel differently. “Really, I think most people don’t pay any attention to what polls have to say,” said Danielle Mayfield, a freshman biology major.

In Hagen’s opinion, the fact that the poll focuses on issues instead of just who is leading in races is another reason why people may be interested in their results.

“We focus less on the horse race, and more on the issues people are focusing on,” Hagen said.

Depth is something Colleen Eaglehouse, a senior public health student, said she feels more polls should incorporate.

“I think if they tell you a little bit more about what’s going on, that can help a lot,” said Eaglehouse.

Hagen said he welcomes the attention reporters pay him when polls come out.

“In a way it’s like teaching, because reporters don’t know enough about polls,” said Hagen. This isn’t the first time a Temple/Inquirer poll has received attention by the media. In 2004, during the presidential campaign, a poll Hagen and his coworkers coordinated focusing on the Philadelphia suburbs was featured on the BBC, Newshour with Jim Lehrer, and on the Web site of the “Washington Post,” among other outlets, according to Gerz.

Hagen said he hopes the attention paid to their polls shows a positive trend in how his work is viewed.

“I hope we are gaining in stature. Reporters from high quality publications are calling to talk to us,” said Hagen. “I’d like to be in a position to help the press interpret polling information.”

The Temple/Inquirer poll is not the only one done on campus. The Institute for Survey Research, one of the programs associated with the IPA and founded in 1967, does large-scale in-person survey studies.

According to its Web site, it is one of only three university-based facilities capable of doing this kind of work.

“They specialize in things that require personal interviews and those that possibly require re-interviews, if people consent,” Hagen said.

Nolan Rosenkrans can be reached at paxtang@temple.edu.

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