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UMass Lowell a Training Ground for Political Scientists

Students Gain Polling Experience via Center for Public Opinion

UML Assoc. Prof. Joshua Dyck looks at a political map of the U.S. Photo by Meghan Moore
Political Science Associate Prof. Joshua Dyck, director of the Center for Public Opinion, studies an electoral map of the U.S.

06/30/2020


Contacts for media: Nancy Cicco, 978-934-4944 or Nancy_Cicco@uml.edu and Christine Gillette, 978-758-4664 or Christine_Gillette@uml.edu

LOWELL, Mass. – UMass Lowell students are gaining experience in political research, polling and data analysis, thanks to their involvement in the university’s Center for Public Opinion.

The nationally recognized center conducts surveys on political and social issues and presents programs that provide opportunities for civic engagement. Polls written and conducted this spring gauged the public’s views about COVID-19, Democratic primary races in key states and beliefs on a range of other political and pop culture topics.

All of these projects involved UMass Lowell students working alongside the center’s Director Joshua Dyck and Associate Director John Cluverius, faculty members in the university’s Political Science Department. Launched in 2011, the center is a member of American Association for Public Opinion Research’s Transparency Initiative. 

“One of the unique things is that we are a university survey research center run by faculty committed to making student engagement a core part of our mission,” Dyck said. “Most people probably know who we are for publishing horse-race polling numbers or surveys on other views, but our most important work is training future survey researchers and supporting projects proposed by UMass Lowell faculty.”

UMass Lowell students are reaping the benefits of this work. Lindsey Kilpatrick, of Manlius, N.Y., learned about the center as a member of the university’s Honors College through its Emerging Scholars Program. A double major in mathematics and political science, Kilpatrick also plays field hockey on UMass Lowell’s Division I team. This year, she contributed to a project that combined two of her passions: sports and politics.

Working in the center, Kilpatrick analyzed a subset of data from a survey that explored respondents’ attitudes about football, concussions and chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a degenerative brain condition caused by repeated head impacts. She wrote up her findings in “Friday Night Politics: Football Bans and American Polarization,” a research paper so accomplished, the professors are submitting it to academic journals for publication. 

The experience helped Kilpatrick land a paid internship this summer with a professional polling firm that conducts survey research for political candidates, businesses and nonprofits.

“I liked this project because it started off where I was most comfortable: the data analysis, the math. Then I eased into the writing of a formal research paper. Now, I’m at a job and I know what I’m doing,” she said. 

Dyck and Cluverius discuss the center’s work in every class they teach, from Introduction to American Politics to Quantitative Research Methods, so that students understand that research is “a living, breathing thing,” according to Cluverius.

“We have more and more students every year who are interested in polling and in being a part of the work we’re doing. And every time we bring students into the process, we create a better survey,” he said. 

Madeline Hertz’s time working with the center helped define her career path. The Andover resident, who earned her bachelor’s degree last month as a double-major in American studies and economics, plans to pursue her master’s degree in statistical research methods in the fall. She hopes to one day manage data for candidates running for public office.

Hertz started working in the center after taking a class in survey research methods with Dyck last year. Her first assignment was to enter data from a poll about Andover residents’ satisfaction with municipal services. But Dyck and Cluverius soon realized she could do more because she excelled at writing questions that were both clear and neutral. 

As a result, Hertz edited many of the questions in the center’s polls this spring of likely Democratic presidential primary voters in South Carolina and five Super Tuesday states. Poll results were widely reported by media outlets across the country and cited by various candidates’ campaigns. 

“Working with Josh and John was great. They’re fantastic, enthusiastic professors who were willing to include me in whatever they’re doing. I both realized that I’m really capable and really interested, and that there’s a lot more I can learn,” she said. 

UMass Lowell is a national research university located on a high-energy campus in the heart of a global community. The university offers its more than 18,000 students bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees in business, education, engineering, fine arts, health, humanities, sciences and social sciences. UMass Lowell delivers high-quality educational programs, vigorous hands-on learning and personal attention from leading faculty and staff, all of which prepare graduates to be leaders in their communities and around the globe. www.uml.edu