Tennessee Poll by ETSU to measure statewide opinion on various topics

A statewide opinion poll has been established at East Tennessee State University through its Applied Social Research Lab (ASRL) in the Center for Community Outreach and Applied Research (CCOAR).

Called the Tennessee Poll by ETSU, it will primarily measure the opinions of residents across the state on topics related to health, education and a variety of other issues that directly impact their quality of life.  While some of the topics addressed will naturally cross over into the political realm, it is this broad focus that will differentiate ETSU’s poll from statewide polls conducted by other institutions, including Vanderbilt and Middle Tennessee State universities, whose polls are more politically focused, according to ASRL Director Dr. Kelly Foster.

“While our poll does ask questions about government and public policy, it is largely focused on issues of education and health and wellness,” said Foster, who is an assistant professor in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology.  “The survey measures both attitudes and behaviors.”

The 2015 Tennessee Poll by ETSU was recently completed, and Foster is pleased with the result of 600 completed phone interviews, which gives the poll a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points, meaning that Foster is 95 percent confident that the actual result lies within 4 percentage points of the stated result.  The completed interviews were well-balanced among East, Middle and West Tennessee.  This poll was internally funded by ASRL.

Foster has begun the process of analyzing the data, and ASRL will begin releasing a module, or a report on a specific topic, on a regular basis.  These modules will be posted on the ASRL website (www.etsu.edu/ASRL) and distributed to regional news media via email by ETSU’s Office of University Relations.  The first module will be released early this month and will focus on education and citizens’ opinions on the role of higher education.

The mission of ASRL, which is integrated with the master of sociology degree program, is to give students hands-on experience conducting research and to bring objective, high-quality research and evaluation resources to the faculty at ETSU and the citizens of Tennessee.

In keeping with that mission, Foster employs a number of undergraduate and graduate students who are trained to conduct both phone interviews and personal interviews in the community.

Three-fourths of these students have been with ASRL for at least one year, which can make a difference in the numbers of surveys completed, according to Dr. Scott Beck, professor of sociology, ASRL executive director and CCOAR director.

These students have been gaining valuable experience in polling through a variety of other projects.  ASRL has been contracted to conduct ETSU’s Alumni Phone-a-thon for the Office of University Advancement, which helps the university to save money by not having to use an outside firm.  Community-based projects have been completed for the Johnson City Police Department, the United Way organizations in both Bristol and Kingsport, the town of Jonesborough and its Community Chest, and several internal surveys for ETSU, among others.

Foster says this hands-on training helps the lab to act as a “training ground” for students wishing to pursue careers in applied sociology, as does the lab’s association with the American Association of Public Opinion Research (AAPOR), the leading organization for survey researchers in the U.S.  She notes that all three students who made up the first cohort of ASRL students graduated in May 2014 and all now have jobs in the field.

“There is a huge demand for information all the time,” Foster said.  “People who know how to deal with data and research have no problem in the job market.  Entry-level jobs are out there all over the place, and those willing to leave the area are getting good ones.”

Foster came to ETSU in 2012 from the University of Georgia, where she earned her Ph.D. and spent over six years specializing in survey research at the Carl Vinson Institute of Government and three years focusing on health-related survey methodology at the College of Public Health.  Her expertise is in research methodology, including survey research, questionnaire design, health-related survey methodology and new technologies in research methodology.

Foster served two years on the executive council of AAPOR, and is past president of the Southern chapter of AAPOR.  She has worked extensively with local and state governments on public opinion polling and citizen engagement.

For more information, contact Foster at 423-439-4374 or fosterkn@etsu.edu var subject = ?Subject=, or visit www.etsu.edu/ASRL.  ASRL is also on Twitter at @ETSUASRL.