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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Monday, June 24, 2024

Tufts students to conduct Election Day exit polls

Students from Tufts and other Boston area universities will work to gauge the effectiveness of an innovative poll-worker program this November.

Students working in a program run by James Greiner, an assistant professor at Harvard Law School, will interview voters fresh out of the booth, hoping to measure voter response to the performance of other students, working as poll workers. It will also tackle typical exit polling questions, such as racial background, age and candidate preference.

Suffolk University Assistant Professor Rachael Cobb has trained the young poll workers in a new process that will target the expected higher voter turnout rate this election. The training program for the poll workers will draw on new methods of instruction, although Cobb refrained from divulging any details due to concerns that this article would impact interviewees' analysis of the poll workers.

The participants will be younger than the average poll worker. "Democracy depends on poll workers," Cobb told the Daily. "The average age of a poll worker in the United States is 72, so it's an aging population."

Associate Professor of Political Science Deborah Schildkraut, who has discussed the project with Greiner, said the pollsters' training will try to simulate the polling experience.

"They're interested in having smaller meetings where the poll workers get more hands-on training," Schildkraut said. "Rather than listening to a lecture, they might actually do role playing and these kinds of things."

The majority of the training will emphasize a professional approach that aims to teach students how to gather information from voters objectively, phrasing their questions so they do not imply certain answers.

Schildkraut said the students will measure voters' reactions to the new method of poll assistance with questions like, "Did people have long wait lines? Did they feel like the poll workers were knowledgeable and helpful? Did they encounter any problems with the regional ballot?"

Natalie Masuoka, a visiting scholar in political science at Tufts, said the program will address potential disparities in polling processes by comparing data from different polling locales in the Boston area to determine if "someone in South Boston [is] getting the same treatment as someone in the nicer areas."

Students will be polling from 6:30 a.m. until 8 p.m. so that their data encompasses varying demographics, such as students and the elderly, who tend to vote at specific times.

Schildkraut, who is helping Tufts students get involved in the program, said that some Tufts political science professors are making it a class requirement to participate as an exit pollster.

Although collaboration between schools for such a purpose is unusual, the process has gone smoothly so far, Schildkraut said.

"Professor Greiner has a pretty well-oiled machine, and it hasn't been difficult to get people to cooperate," she said.

The program affords students an opportunity to engage directly with the process of gathering poll data, grounding their classroom lectures on political science in reality, Schildkraut said.

"This is a great opportunity to see, you know, when you read in the newspaper about exit poll results, to see under the hood about where do these numbers actually come from and to recognize the benefits and the flaws with this kind of data and how difficult it is to do it right."

Working on the project will also help students make more informed decisions as citizens once they understand more accurately how poll data is generated, Schildkraut said.

"They'll be much more critical consumers of this kind of data in the future as they go along their lives as citizens," she said.

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