Friday, February 2, 2024

Polling by new UTSA Center for Public Opinion Research to gauge local voter perspectives

Polling by new UTSA Center for Public Opinion Research to gauge local voter perspectives

JANUARY 30, 2024 — What issues do people in greater San Antonio care about? That’s what UTSA’s new Center for Public Opinion Research (CPOR) aims to discover.

Researchers established the new polling center to learn about the perspectives, opinions and priorities of people living in the San Antonio region.

“This is a full-scale academic public opinion research center that can produce localized polls that represent the major concerns and issues faced by San Antonio and Bexar County residents,” said Bryan Gervais, CPOR director and associate professor of the UTSA Department of Political Science and Geography. “We looked at a lot of survey research centers and polling institutes across the county that were housed in academic settings as models, and we identified two elements that were going to be particularly useful to us: service to the university and service to the community.”

“Students are going to be central to everything we do here. This type of hands-on learning will make them more competitive in the job market.”

Located in the UTSA College of Liberal and Fine Arts (COLFA), the CPOR debuted last fall. The center has three primary objectives:

  • To conduct high-quality public opinion polling of the San Antonio/Bexar County population that will serve as a barometer of local public opinion;

  • To facilitate research objectives of external and internal clients through sample vending; and

  • To provide experiential learning opportunities that equip UTSA students with transferable skills.

The center will conduct its own polls of the local population while providing local samples to other researchers and organizations — including local government — who wish to better understand area residents.

Over time, the center aims to recruit a local panel consisting of thousands of residents, Gervais said.

“The panel will be crucial,” he added, “It will enable us to provide samples and conduct polls at a fraction of the cost required for a standard survey, where you are recruiting respondents from scratch every time.”

UTSA students will help run the center and conduct phone surveys on various topics from school choice to political campaigns. The center expects to train and employ more than two dozen student workers this year.

“Students are going to be central to everything we do here,” Gervais said. “This type of hands-on learning will make them more competitive in the job market.”

Gervais noted the country is in an era when public trust in polling has diminished, and the polling industry is increasingly facing challenges.

“We like the challenge,” he said. “We want to be innovative and experimental. Our students have a lot of fresh ideas, and they will play a big part in developing the innovative approaches we employ.”

Jon Taylor, professor and chair of the Department of Political Science and Geography, said that having a public opinion research center at UTSA and in San Antonio has been a dream of his for a while.

“There is no one south of San Antonio doing public opinion polling, and the thought behind this for us was we have a real opportunity to measure public opinion not only in the San Antonio metro area but, much like our counterparts in Houston and Austin, to measure public opinion throughout the state,” said Taylor, who also serves as the associate dean for faculty success in COLFA.

Gervais echoed these thoughts.

“You look at a city like Houston, which is served by high-quality longitudinal studies like the Greater Houston Community Panel,” he said. “Due to a lack of polling infrastructure here, organizations, agencies and researchers have had to rely on sub-standard survey practices to study San Antonio area residents. We want to change that.”

Periodic polls of San Antonio residents will begin in 2024, coinciding with the runup to the presidential election. Through a multi-modal approach, the center has also started to recruit residents for its San Antonio panel.

“San Antonio deserves to have a center like this, and it should have a center like this,” Gervais said.

The new UTSA Center for Public Opinion Research hosted an open house to share the work they are doing for the San Antonio community.

⇒ Learn more about UTSA’s Center for Public Opinion Research.

The 10-member CPOR advisory board includes:

Ginny Garcia-Alexander, associate professor in the UTSA Department of Sociology and Demography

Charles A. Gonzalez, former member of the United States House of Representatives, TX-20

Joe Izbrand, UTSA chief communications officer and associate vice president for strategic communications and external relations

Sharon Nichols, director of the UTSA Urban Education Institute and department chair of educational psychology

Teresa Niño, UTSA vice president for university relations

Manny Peláez, District 8 councilman

Alanna Reed, director of communications and engagement with the City of San Antonio

Robert Rivard, co-founder and former editor of the of San Antonio Report and former executive editor at the San Antonio Express-News

Steve Wilkerson, associate vice provost and chief analytics officer at UTSA

Jason Yaeger, senior associate dean for research and graduate studies in COLFA

Michelle Gaitan

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