Announcing Project 240

On Wednesday, August 19, 2015, the Paramount Theater and Castleton University announced an exciting joint effort to involve the larger Rutland community in discourse throughout the entire 2016 election season. The goal is to provide a way for community members and students to come together and discuss, reflect, and engage about the issues explored during the election process. The non-partisan series will include over 17 events (14 of which will be free) from September 2015 to election night in November 2016. (For event details, please visit www.project240.org)

In an era of divisive politics, Project 240 aims to provide a positive space where the community can come together to explore election issues, instead of be divided. For its part of the project, the Castleton Polling Institute will provide insight on the sure to be dizzying array of public opinion data available in the media. Additionally, we’ll present our own polling data to help share Vermonters’ opinions about the election.

Project 240 is an unprecedented, ambitious community effort. Whether or not you are interested in politics, the events are sure to be an entertaining and fun way to connect with your neighbors and the Rutland community. The first event is on September 16, 2015–come out and join us!

Why Transparency Matters

The Castleton Polling Institute is proud to announce our admittance as the 55th charter member of the American Association for Public Opinion Research’s Transparency Initiative (www.aapor.org/ti). This membership aligns with the Polling Institute’s commitment to data quality and integrity.

The information being disclosed by Transparency Initiative members is designed to help those who utilize data better understand how the data was collected. By understanding the methodological “hows”, users and readers of the data can better understand whether or not the results presented are precise enough or a good enough fit for their purposes.

The choices made when collecting data, from who is being asked the questions to the wording of the questions and so on, all impact the results. Every study and survey comes with limitations and, by knowing the choices that those who collected the data made, it can help the users and readers evaluate whether or not the results are useful for them.

As we venture further into the 2016 Primary Election season, the usefulness of this type of methodological information becomes more apparent for the average citizen. Articles with headlines that can seem sensational (“clear frontrunner” or “surged ahead”) tend to utilize poll data to support these claims. By accessing required transparency disclosure items, readers can find out information like: who was asked to participate in the poll, what the exact wording of the questions was, when the poll was conducted, and what the margin of (sampling) error was. These items can help the reader understand why, for example, today’s headline about a candidate’s “surge” might seem strange as he/she just was caught in a scandal yesterday; the information in the transparency disclosure might tell you that the poll was conducted two weeks ago.

Of course statistics and data seem to be of national interest during election season, but providing basic methodological details is important to understanding the context of data collected for any purpose on any topic. You’ll see methodological details on this blog site and our website as we share data. Castleton Polling Institute is excited to join with our colleagues in promoting the importance of transparency in our work.

Professional Survey Research?

Those of us who work in the survey research industry as professionals are often met with quizzical looks when we initially meet people and tell them what we do for a living. We provide high-quality research and data collection services to all sorts of entities like the media, businesses, organizations, government, and academics for a living.

The services we provide are akin to those of a professional contractor hired to build your house. Yes, you can go the route of do-it-yourself (DIY). Just as there are the Lowe’s and Home Depots of the home improvement DIY, survey research has its own free or cheaply available tools to allow you to DIY your own survey (e.g., Survey Monkey).

Accessing these tools can work really well for some purposes and some users. Just as most people wouldn’t think twice about changing the paint color in their own living room, sometimes a DIY survey is a good fit for purpose. Just as some people are better skilled house painters than others, some are also more skilled DYI survey researchers.

However, in reality, there is often a limit to one’s DIY capacity. Many projects and purposes are just too large, complex, or important to attempt without consulting a professional.

Professional survey researchers are highly-educated and experienced in collecting data to best serve their clients’ research needs. We are members of organizations like the American Association for Public Opinion Research (www.aapor.org) that provide standards for survey research. We utilize methods that are scientifically tested by methodologists and statisticians to design surveys and collect data.

We work to combat the “survey fatigue” (see previous blog post from July 6, 2015) by working to make the survey-taking experience actually pleasant for respondents. We know the sources of error and how to provide our clients with data they can be confident in while understanding the inevitable limitations.

We hope that you’ll consult us when you have data that needs to be collected and it is too important, large, or complex to DIY. We’re also always happy to help work on those smaller projects too—just like a building contractor, we’re here to save you from the uncertainty and frustrations that predictably come with DIY.