FAU Polling Initiative receives national media attention after Donald Trump tweet

BEPI results on voters posted on Republican presidential candidate’s feed before Florida primary voting


People wait in line for Donald Trump’s rally on March 13 in Boca Raton. Patrick Martin | News Editor

Yehudah Rodman, Contributing Writer

Political polling conducted at Florida Atlantic University has been in the news lately, even being recognized by a controversial billionaire.

Donald Trump, the reality TV star and real-estate mogul, turned Republican presidential front-runner, recently posted a poll conducted by FAU’s Business and Economic Polling Initiative, or BEPI, to his Twitter timeline. For most of Trump’s 6,000,000 plus followers on the social media site, this was likely their first exposure to FAU.

Screenshot of Donald Trump's tweet on BEPI poll.
Screenshot of Donald Trump’s tweet on BEPI poll.

BEPI was founded in 2014 by FAU’s College of Business to track consumer and social trends among Hispanics, the largest minority group in the U.S. But in recent months, BEPI has expanded beyond Hispanic issues to conduct polling of all Florida voters ahead of the March 15 presidential primaries.

Despite a growing number of national political polls, there is still a need for regionally based polling initiatives to cover the Florida primaries.

We focus our political polling on Florida and bring with it our knowledge of the area and its politics,” says  Kevin Wagner, Ph.D., a political science professor at FAU, and a fellow at BEPI. “This allows us to design effective polling instruments and interpret them with an understanding of our political context.”

The necessity for a polling initiative focusing on Hispanic issues has been the primary focus  of BEPI, particularly in light of the growing influence of consumers and voter from Spanish-speaking backgrounds, says Monica Escaleras, Ph.D., the founder and director of BEPI.

“Since our inception, we have been in the media with our Hispanic surveys,” says Escaleras in an interview in her small, cluttered office on the first floor of Kaye Hall in FAU’s Business College complex.

“We are interested in what affects our society, not just economics.”

Escaleres has appeared in both English and Spanish-language media to discuss data collected by BEPI relating to a variety of issues facing the Hispanic community.

In July she appeared on CNN En Espanol to discuss the increased Hispanic health care coverage as a result of the Affordable Care Act. In the same month, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-Rhode Island) quoted a BEPI poll on Hispanic views on climate change in a presentation on the floor of the U.S. Senate.

The shift into political polling has increased the national media coverage of BEPI and Florida Atlantic University.

Several major media outlets, including The Washington Post, Politico, MSNBC, and Fox News have all covered BEPI’s polling of the Florida Republican primary.

This initiative is promoting FAU in the local, national, and international press, and will continue to bring positive visibility to the College [of Business] and the university,” says Daniel Gropper, dean of the College of Business.

Other universities, such as Quinnipiac University in Hamden, Connecticut and Marist College in Poughkeepsie, New York, have become household names during political season because of their nationally respected polling initiatives.

“It can help us attract students, attract donors and even attract athletes to the university,” said  Escaleres. “In that sense, it’s good for all of us.”

BEPI’s success isn’t just attributed to filling a void left by larger, national polling centers.

Faculty and students involved in the initiative utilize innovative methods to ensure their surveys are reaching the widest number and most age-diverse set of recipients like online polling.

Strict federal regulations prohibit the use of “robo-calling,” a preferred method of polling for BEPI and many other pollsters, to mobile phones.

This presents an issue when trying to collect data from millennials, a cohort that is rapidly forgoing landlines in favor of cellphones.

To adapt, BEPI employ a combination of automated machine-calling to landlines and online surveys to ensure their polls represent an accurate sample of Florida’s population.

Although there is some criticism of online polls, Wagner believes they are necessary to adapt to the reality of today’s electorate.

Internet polling allows us to access voters who are often hard to reach by telephone,” he says, “especially the younger generation who are known to be cord cutters.”

But despite the national media attention, faculty members involved with the initiative insist that BEPI remains about the students.

Since the start, students have been involved in every aspect of the polling, from authoring the survey questions to collecting and analyzing the data.

This semester, 15 graduate and undergraduate students are participating in BEPI.

Ryan Gondek, a 27-year-old senior majoring in business economics, joined BEPI because he wanted more out his college experience than just a degree.

“I was tired of getting by just doing the bare minimum,” Gondek explains, “I wanted to do more with my college career than just going to class, doing homework, and taking tests.”

Some students earn academic credit for participating in BEPI, while others volunteer to enhance their college experience.

Dulani Wijeweera, a 25-year-old Master’s student at the business school, joined BEPI to bolster her resume and gain pivotal research experience. Last April, students participating in BEPI were awarded first and second place at FAU’s Undergraduate Research Symposium.

In late February, they participated  in the statewide Florida Undergraduate Research Conference, and faculty organizers hope to enroll the polling initiatives student participants in a national competition in Las Vegas scheduled for April .

Once election season passes BEPI will continue to cover important issues that relate to the Hispanic community, but recent success with political polling suggests that will continue, as well

A recent survey conducted by BEPI sponsored exclusively by the South Florida Sun-Sentinel presented an opportunity for the initiative to continue growing its strong reputation, while offering long-term financial viability and the prospect of expanding its data collection. Although a large-scale polling initiative is an ambitious endeavor, the critical information being collected by BEPI is putting FAU on the national map.

Yehudah Rodman is a contributing writer with the University Press. To contact him on this or other stories, he can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter.