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Missouri State Students Begin Public Opinion Polling for Community Organization

As the fall semester begins this week at Missouri State University, 15 graduate and undergraduate political science students will participate in creating, conducting and analyzing a public opinion poll for the Foundation for Springfield Public Schools. The professor of the class says he hopes to establish Missouri State University as one of the first public institutions in the state to conduct public opinion polling. KSMU’s Missy Shelton reports.

The class is PLS 576 Quantitative Methods of Political Science and Public Policy. Doesn’t sound very interesting…but Dr. Brian Calfano is hoping it will be interesting and engaging for his students.

“It’s not like any other course they’re likely to be encountering at Missouri State or any other institution. This approach is very unique.”

Calfano says for the first time, students in this course will conduct a public opinion poll for a community organization.

“The class itself is going to collect data, as any polling organization, professional or academic would do. I’ve been in consultation with polling operations with a variety of institutions around the country so we definitely feel we’re using best practices in this process. We’re going to establish the poll and present the findings from it.”

The poll the class will conduct this semester will focus on the Foundation for Springfield Public Schools. Students will conduct a telephone poll consisting of 20 questions to assess public awareness of and support for the public schools’ foundation. Nancy Fazzino is executive director of the foundation. She says the data the students collect will be useful.

“This is going to give us an insight to what the community knows about us. There are some of the things we think we know. We think we need to increase awareness of the foundation, not as many people as we’d like are aware of the foundation and what we do. We also want insight from the public about what they feel about a public schools’ foundation, if they really understand the importance of foundations in the future for schools and what that means to our community.”

Funding for the poll comes from grants and lapsed university funds from last year. The poll will be conducted at no cost to the Foundation for Springfield Public Schools. Fazzino says she’s grateful for this partnership because the foundation could not afford to pay for polling. The partnership between the university and the foundation gives Missouri State students the chance to work with issues that are important to a community organization. Elizabeth Strong is associate director of citizenship and service learning at Missouri State University.

“This gives our students the opportunity to have real questions from real community partners instead of just theoretical questions from a textbook that don’t resonate with the students.”

Eventually, Calfano says he wants the class to conduct polls assessing public opinion on upcoming elections. With the U.S. Senate race looming in the fall of 2010, Calfano sees ample opportunities to do this by partnering with area media outlets.