George Mason University

News at Mason

Washington Post-Schar School Poll partnership expands into national battleground races

October 11, 2018   /   by Mariam Aburdeineh

When George Mason University’s Schar School of Policy and Government stepped into the arena and partnered with The Washington Post in 2016 to create a high-quality Virginia poll as a public service, the stellar results immediately confirmed its value.

“We believe the information being created by these surveys will be extremely useful to researchers and political observers for many years, and that’s a good public service. That’s part of our mission,” said Schar School dean Mark J. Rozell.

The partnership, which combines the first-rate reporting of The Washington Post and the intellectual capital of the Schar School’s experts, originally assessed public opinion during both the Virginia and presidential elections in 2016. It showed Hillary Clinton ahead of Donald Trump by six percentage points in Virginia about a week before Election Day, matching the final vote margin of 50 percent to 44 percent.

Today, The Washington Post-Schar School Poll is conducting major, high-quality surveys in Virginia and nationwide.

With polling for 2018’s battleground districts recently completed, and plans for additional surveys of these voters during the campaign, there’s a lot to look forward to, said Scott Clement, polling director of The Washington Post.

This month’s most recent poll surveyed 69 competitive battleground districts across the country—63 of which are held by Republicans—and found voters narrowly prefer Democratic candidates.  

“These are the districts that will determine control of the House after the elections next month,” said Rozell. “The national preference polls are not very useful for telling us how the House races are likely to break down, given there are so many one-party-dominated districts. We are one of the few polls looking at the races where polling results really matter.”

Accuracy has been the hallmark of these surveys and has contributed to The Washington Post’s A+ rating on FiveThirtyEight.

According to Clement, one reason for the effectiveness of the partnership is because it focuses on “filling gaps—areas where public opinion hasn’t been fully explored, both in terms of the issues [being covered], but also the groups and populations that are represented.”

The expertise Mason’s faculty members bring to the survey creation process, and their analysis of the results, are important contributors as well, said Clement.

Crafting the polls is both art and science, and Rozell is proud that scholars at Mason and elsewhere use the data for their academic research.

“Scholars have a deep interest in studying voting behavior over time,” he said. The battleground poll will be particularly insightful since it “will give useful data on how people voted and why.”

For future polls, it appears the sky’s the limit.

“The Post and the Schar School have big imaginations and ambitions, as far as conducting surveys,” Clement said. “They’re going to tell us things that we didn’t know.”