A polling game for politicos

For the Graduate School of Political Management, this election has become a game for political junkies.

The political community applied an unconventional approach to election polling with a weekly Horse Race poll this fall, surveying about 170 GSPM students, alumni, full-time faculty and adjunct professors to track presidential candidates’ strategies and performance – not voter preference.

Launched Aug. 5, the poll was designed to bring together the program’s politicos, professor of political management Chris Arterton said. He and TransparaGov, Inc. CEO David Rehr, also an adjunct professor in GSPM, spearheaded the project and executed its data collection.

“We came up with the idea because our people are in the thick of it all day – involved in campaigns and working in the capital,” Rehr said. “We’re the foremost political, legislative and strategic graduate school in America, so why don’t we look at how they view the previous week and what advice they would give?”

In the past month since the first debate, the participants concluded that former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney has bested the president. In the week proceeding Oct. 30, Romney received a 3.72 rating in comparison to Obama’s 3.15. The scale ranks candidates from one to five, with one being “very ineffective” and five meaning “very effective.”

Contrary to prominent polls, such as the POLITICO/George Washington University Battleground Tracking Poll, “participants are not saying who they will vote for, [but instead] who is doing a successful job,” Arterton said. “It’s remarkable; Democrats would say Romney did better, and Republicans, Obama.”

Arterton said the goal of the poll was to represent the thought of political professionals at GW, who are often campaign experts.

“I don’t consider this to be a poll in the strictest sense,” he said. “We are calling it an ‘insiders’ poll, representative of opinions only of this group of people.”

The Horse Race also provided a forum for alumni to voice their opinions.

Arterton said alumni, who are often hard to engage, responded positively to the project and had a high response rate each week.

The survey also allowed participants to provide suggestions to candidates’ campaigns based on the previous week’s performance. This sort of qualitative data, Rehr said, is rare in political polls.

“The best part is getting the insights on what advice they would be offering,” said Rehr. “It’s really good stuff.”

Responses often directly addressed the candidates. One Democratic respondent told President Barack Obama to “go after Romney” in a debate.

As the vice presidential debate approached, a Republican insider recommended:, “Ryan: Let Biden talk. If you give him enough slack, he will run to the end of the leash, and we all know what happens next.”

The poll, in its first year, gave students an opportunity for sharp political analysis, putting classroom skills into practice.

“We are going to continue to look toward our community for their engagement,” Rehr said. “It’s been a lot of fun.”

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