Stockton polling center

Stockton Polling Institute at Richard Stockton College on Wednesday, March 20, 2013.

Edward Lea

Completing a 1,000-person poll takes a lot of phone calls, and only 408 surveys had been completed by 4 p.m. Wednesday at the Stockton Polling Institute at Richard Stockton College in Galloway Township.

Responses picked up at about 5:30 p.m., and, by 7:30 p.m., the 30 pollsters, most of them Stockton students, had tallied 498 completed surveys, almost the halfway point, a jubilant John Froonjian told them.

Froonjian said it typically takes about 25,000 calls to get 800 to 1,000 complete responses. A senior research associate at the William J. Hughes Public Policy Center at Stockton, which operates the Polling Institute, Froonjian said pollsters have made as many as 50,000 calls to complete a particularly difficult poll.

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After seven years of partnering with Zogby International, the college opened its own Polling Institute in September on the ground floor of N-Wing. The furnishings are simple: 30 stations with phone headsets and computers that generate the survey.

“It’s not fancy, but we make an effort to make it pleasant,” said Daniel Douglas, director of the Hughes Center. He pointed out the candy jar kept on hand for snacks and the occasional Stockton logo decal Froonjian awards to top performers.

The college began polling with Zogby in 2005 as a way to generate specialized South Jersey polling and give Stockton’s name more exposure statewide and nationally. But the goal was always to start an in-house polling center similar to those at Monmouth University in West Long Branch or Quinnipiac University in Connecticut, which last year partnered with CBS and the New York Times for presidential polling.

Stockton will focus on local political races and shore issues such as tourism and gaming. It recently completed a poll for the Lloyd Levenson Institute for Gaming, Hospitality and Tourism at the college and is currently conducting a statewide education-related poll.

The polling institute has also done one privately contracted business poll and will consider other private polling to generate revenue. But, Douglas said, they will not do so-called push-polls that try to influence opinion and would not accept anything that would make the college appear to support a specific candidate or cause.

An individual poll typically costs between $8,000 and $40,000, depending on the length of the survey and the size of the sample of people to be surveyed.

The institute also provides jobs and a learning opportunity for students. About 75 of the almost 100 people currently conducting polls are students; most of them are political science, social work or sociology majors. Others just needed a job and like the convenience and flexibility of polling, which is done at night and on weekends when they don’t have classes. Pollsters are paid $8 per hour and receive training on how to handle calls.

“It’s also research,” Froonjian said. “I’ll go through the results with them so they can see how we compile it. They are curious about the results.”

He said statistics professors have brought classes to see polling in action, and some professors have recommended that students consider working there to better understand their field. Douglas said that with several polls behind them, he is now talking more with professors on how to integrate the polling into classes and student internships.

Student worker Mary Phan, 19, of Haddon Heights, said she took statistics last semester, but understands it better now that she has started working at the institute.

“I can see them having an impact,” she said of the polls. “And since I live on campus, it’s really convenient.”

While pollsters develop a tough skin to handle the hangups and occasionally rude person, students overall said they like the job and like interacting with the people they talk to. The surveys specifically said that the polls are helping students at Stockton, which can help convince those called to stay on the line.

“One person demanded a student tell him the name of the lake on campus to prove he was a student,” Froonjian said. “But then he took the survey.”

Ariel Ceasar, 21, of Vineland, a social work major, came on board at the opening last fall. She emphasizes that they are not soliciting, but doing a public service.

“This is an opportunity to find out what the public thinks about issues,” she said.

She said getting responses can depend on the topic and whether people find it interesting. Sometimes people ask her what she thinks, but workers have been trained to remain friendly but neutral and keep the focus on the survey respondent.

“They like it where there is an open-ended question and they can give their opinion,” Ceasar said, “and it’s nice when they treat you like a human being and not an automated machine.”

Froonjian said the key is speaking clearly and sounding friendly and upbeat. He tells workers to speak on the phone with a smile because that will come across in their voice. Since many people now use cell phones, each survey also includes a percentage of cellphone numbers. Those surveys include asking people if they are in their car and if they can talk hands free.

Art history major Gina Rizzolo, 23, of Brick Township, said cell phone calls are harder because people are more likely to be out of the house or not answering.

“You get a lot that go straight to voice mail,” she said. “Or they ask you to call back at another time.”

Workers said after getting no answer or answering machines on call after call after call, they are genuinely happy when someone actually answers the phone, though that may not last.

“You do have to get used to people hanging up on you,” said Marina Barsoum, 18, of Mays Landing, a biochemistry major. “But otherwise it’s easy. You just have to be nice and have a good attitude.”

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