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Training Proficient Pollsters

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Michael Cobb
Michael Cobb.

Who will be the next president? Is climate change for real? And seriously, do more people believe in ghosts than racism?

Associate professor of political science Michael Cobb knows how to find out what people really think. He’s an expert in polling — from creating the questionnaires, conducting the surveys and collecting the data to analyzing, interpreting and sharing the results. And he’s preparing students to be proficient pollsters.

Cobb has been teaching public opinion and survey classes at NC State since 1999. In 2010, he began teaching students how to conduct surveys, resulting in The Pack Poll.

“I want students to understand not only how polls are made, but also to appreciate their relevance in a democracy,” he says.

Students lucky enough to work with Cobb learn all that’s involved in polling, from conducting the initial research to sharing results with the public. With support from the Humanities and Social Sciences undergraduate research awards program,* students like Joseph Bond gained experience that he says will make him more competitive in the job market.

“Conducting research as an undergraduate allows you to develop some great skills,” says Bond, a political science and communication major. “You also meet some good people and connect with great professionals. … It’s worth it to go after the big problems and try to find solutions.”

For Cobb, it’s a matter of teaching students how to be better consumers and producers of polling survey opinion data.

“My job is to teach the students everything about the enterprise,” says Cobb in a recent NC State Technician article about the Pack Poll.  “I teach them how to understand and measure attitudes with a series of questions, rather than to assume a single indicator can adequately capture complex opinions.”

Cobb has conducted surveys for the State Board of Elections, Duke Energy, the Raleigh Police Department and the North Carolina Center for Voter Education, among others. He also conducts surveys to study academic topics such as public opinion during wartime, foreign trade policy and judicial election rules.

Cobb has recently been discussing polls and surveys on Raleigh television station WRAL.

*Funding for the CHASS undergraduate research awards program was provided by the NC State University Foundation, Inc. and the College of Humanities and Social Sciences Office of Academic Affairs.