On the chilly nights leading up to Halloween 2013, forty Goucher students were tightly squeezed into their interview phone stations, busy pounding Maryland area codes into telephone sets at the Goucher Poll. The students alternated between tired patience and occasional excitement when a respondent agreed to complete the poll. Students speaking to Maryland citizens appeared engaged as they listened to citizens’ responses to important issues the state currently faces.
Many may not realize that the goal of the Goucher Poll is to be the premier survey center in Maryland. Each call students make during each semesters’ poll moves the Goucher Poll closer to its goal of providing the most accurate, holistic, and unbiased polling data of the Maryland political and social sphere.
The Department of Political Science and International Relations conceived the Poll about three years ago. An endowment from Sarah T. Hughes ‘17, the federal judge who swore in President Lyndon B. Johnson after President John F. Kennedy’s assassination, created the Sarah T. Hughes Field Politics Center and provided the funds to launch the poll. Hughes also worked on several very influential cases such as Roe vs. Wade and Taylor vs. Sterrett.
Mileah Kromer, Ph.D, the center’s director, created the poll when she came to Goucher.
“Goucher College has allowed me the freedom to build something from scratch,” Kromer said. Kromer is also an assistant professor of political science. In fact, the potential she saw to create a survey center at Goucher influenced her choice to come to the college after leaving Elon University, where she worked as assistant director of their poll.
Starting the new poll, Kromer knew that she didn’t want to constrain the responses to likely voters. It was designed to be a citizen poll and focus on social, economic, political, and policy issues. Looking for inspiration from her fellow pollsters – her past mentor Hunter Bacot, the director of the Elon’s Poll – and her graduate years in service methodology, Kramer developed questions targeted at the social climate of Maryland. She noted that she partly learned how to write good questions because she had to.
Another important aspect of the poll is that it involves students. Students in Kromer’s classes function as focus groups to help develop polling questions. Kromer will test questions on students, and she said if “anybody makes a face or doesn’t understand it,” she knows it’s a bad question.
Kromer noted that the state of Maryland made it easy for her to create a first batch of questions for the Fall 2012 poll. With an election and raucous public debate, Kromer dedicated to focus a large portion of the poll questions on immigration, gambling, and same-sex marriage. However, Kromer found the responses shocking compared to her polling in North Carolina.
“When I first saw immigration, gay marriage, Obama’s numbers, I thought I had done something wrong,” she recalled. However Kromer soon realized her polling data correctly reflected the more liberal Maryland.
Throughout the process, Kromer has appreciated the student participation in the poll.
“Goucher students are an absolute dream to work with,” Kromer emphasized. She finds students through the job fair and promotional emails and only requires students to be hard workers and friendly on the phone. The poll motivates its workers through salary, t-shirts, high-fives, gift cards, and raises. The best callers, according to Kromer, are the ones who can turn a “no” into a “yes.” In the past, Danny Hertzberg ’14 has gotten the most completed surveys. In the most recent poll, Camille Pappy ’16 rose to top Goucher pollster status.
“It was great being able to test the polling questions in class and then be able to actually listen to the citizens’ responses,” Pappy says.
This year, the Goucher Poll has generated some surprising data on Maryland citizens’ opinions. One of the first statistics Kromer noted were the results regarding the legalization of medical marijuana.
“Fifty-one percent support making marijuana use legal in the state, while 40 percent oppose legalization,” read the Poll’s third fall 2013 press release. “Ninety percent of Marylanders support the use of marijuana for medical purposes, if prescribed by a doctor.” Also, about half of Maryland didn’t recognize the website for Maryland’s Affordable Care Act state exchance – http://www.marylandhealthconnection.gov – even though Maryland was an early adopter and invested a great deal of money into advertising the exchange.
Kromer has lofty ambitions for the future of the Goucher Poll and its research.
“My goal five years down the line is to be the premier survey center in Maryland, and ten years to be like Quinnipiac or Marist’s poll,” she said. Perhaps just as importantly, Kromer hopes to produce as many graduates as possible that are interested in polling and survey research methodology.