Editor’s note: This is a companion piece to the Register’s
Top 50 story on politics
As in the days of the 18th century and New Haven’s first mayor, Roger Sherman, political thought in Greater New Haven remains connected to the national scene.
John Lahey, the recently retired president of Quinnipiac University, saw an opportunity in capturing political beliefs of residents across the Northeast and the country as he came to the school.
In 1988, he said established the Quinnipiac University poll, drawing on a fledgling effort from marketing professor Paul Falcigno and his own experience at Marist College as a way to spread the word about the school further into the state and into New York and New Jersey.
It has been an effective promotional tool over the years, he said, as Quinnipiac has reached beyond the tri-state area — applications increase from the states in which the poll makes calls.
Doug Schwartz said he came in to run the poll in 1994 after working as a pollster for CBS News.
The Quinnipiac University Polling Institute has grown significantly during his tenure, Schwartz said. It had just 12 stations when he was hired and he didn’t envision its current status. They now poll in 10 states, New York City and nationally.
“It just kept going. It’s consistent, but gradual growth,” said Schwartz.
The poll has become part of their brand, a well-respected, authoritatively-quoted source of information, Lahey said. Its success stands to reason, he said.
The media is always looking for content and information, and the New York-based polling drew the attention of both outlets, ranging from smaller papers upstate to the city, and politicians, including then-Gov. Mario Cuomo, quite quickly.
“I knew coming to Quinnipiac the significance, and the use the university could use a poll for, to get media coverage, and get exposure with political leaders at a very high level,” said Lahey. “I very much knew the value of the poll, and so I was not surprised at all how successful we were.”
The university now does little advertising as the poll suffices, Lahey said. “This is our best advertising,” he said. “It keeps the brand out there.”
Lahey said he believed the poll has affected national politics.
Politicians seek to stay abreast of the will and thoughts of the people, and the poll provides information about what people believe, particularly about issues, in a non-partisan, accurate fashion, Schwartz said.
“We’ve been really on top of the news, so if there’s a big issue … we’re out there with high-quality polling data,” said Schwartz.
“I have seen politicians over the years turn on a dime after they saw the Quinnipiac poll on some issue,” said Lahey. “A lot of our issues that we have been polling have clearly been a public service, so good, objective data is out there, and I know we’ve influenced positions that politicians have taken from time to time.”
Some aspects of politics, no matter the names and faces, are the same everywhere.