No more 'Quinni-who?' Poll puts once-obscure school on map

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Posted: Mar 18, 2016 9:36 AM
No more 'Quinni-who?' Poll puts once-obscure school on map

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — With each new Quinnipiac poll this campaign season, it's not just reporters and candidates who pounce on the latest numbers.

The development office for Quinnipiac University, the home of the respected polling center, blasts them by email to alumni and parents — a chance to share in the excitement of the latest poll to have their school's name on the lips of newscasters across the country.

"It's been an enormous source of name recognition, pride, credibility," said Don Weinbach, vice president of development and alumni affairs. "One would call it earned advertising."

Much as basketball put the University of Connecticut on the map, Quinnipiac officials say the polls have elevated the national profile of the school in a New Haven suburb, aiding its rise from a local college to a university that draws students from around the country.

The private university in Hamden enrolls 9,000 students, emphasizing professional training in programs such as nursing and business. The school began as a college in New Haven in 1929 and became a university in 2000.

Its men's hockey team reached national prominence with a run to the NCAA finals in 2013, and it is home to the world's largest collection of artifacts relating to the Irish famine, at the Ireland's Great Hunger Museum.

But it's the Quinnipiac University Poll that is credited most for spreading the school name and teaching people to pronounce Quinnipiac (KWIHN'-uh-pee-ak), a name taken from a local Native American tribe.

Lynn Bushnell, a Quinnipiac vice president for public affairs, said she notices the difference in the crowds' greetings when a group marches under an alumni banner in New York City's St. Patrick's Day parade.

"Twenty years ago, when we would march up 5th Avenue, people would say 'Quinni-what? Quinni-who?'" she said. "Now when we march, they say, 'Quinnipiac Poll says!'"

How much credit do the polls deserve for driving applications? It may be impossible to measure. But Bushnell said traffic spikes on the school website with the release of big polls, and the university has seen elevated numbers of applicants from the nine states where it regularly conducts polling.

The polling center was created in 1988 to teach students about survey research and in 1994, when current director Doug Schwartz was hired, it involved a dozen interviewers in one room conducting surveys with paper and pencils. Today, the poll has 150 computer-assisted telephone interviewing stations.

Schwartz points to two key races that helped establish the polling center's credibility.

There was the 1998 New York Senate race, in which a Quinnipiac poll accurately predicted Democrat Chuck Schumer's upset victory over Republican incumbent Al D'Amato, and the 2000 New York Senate race in which the poll nailed Hillary Clinton's margin of victory.

In the current presidential primary campaign, Quinnipiac's polls have been among those used by television networks to determine cutoffs for debate eligibility.

"I think it's an important public service that we are an independent poll," Schwartz said.

The poll has become so well known that some, including presidential candidates, have referred to it as "the Q Poll" — an abbreviation that pains school administrators.

"We always joke," Bushnell said, "nobody would call it the 'Y Poll' if Yale were doing it."