American Politics Expert Paul Herrnson Joins UConn Faculty

Paul Herrnson, executive director of the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research with boxes of the center's data on July 31, 2013. (Peter Morenus/UConn Photo)

Paul Herrnson, professor of political science and executive director of the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research, joins UConn from the University of Maryland. (Peter Morenus/UConn Photo)

For Paul Herrnson, one of the foremost experts on the American political process, joining the University of Connecticut faculty as the new director of the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research is a natural fit.

“The Roper Center is the gold standard for archiving public opinion data,” Herrnson says. “It’s used by scholars, students, and journalists, as well as political party organizations alike. It’s a household name for people who do this kind of research.”

Herrnson, who comes to UConn from the University of Maryland, where he was director of the Center for American Politics and Citizenship, says that at a time when the number of polls is growing exponentially every year, his two principal goals at the Roper Center will be to maintain its mission, and to help develop the center as what he calls “a living archive of democracy.”

“I’d like to see greater use of the archive both nationally and internationally, and I’d like to see the Roper Center have greater visibility as well,” he says.

The Roper Center is the gold standard for archiving public opinion data. … It’s a household name for people who do this kind of research.

To that end, Herrnson, who will start at UConn this fall, plans to organize events on campus during election cycles, as well as work with faculty members from a variety of colleges and departments to harness their expertise in the shifting landscape of public opinion polls.

One of the major changes in the field recently has been technology’s effect on the way we measure public opinion, Herrnson says. The proliferation of cell phones has made traditional phone polling more challenging, while the explosion of online and social media surveys theoretically offers more insight into the public mood than ever, but with plenty of caveats about methodology.

“That’s why it’s so important to have something like the Roper Center, which attests to the quality of a poll,” Herrnson says.

Herrnson, who has written more than 100 journal articles and book chapters along with numerous books, isn’t only interested in public opinion research, however. He’s also an authority on elections and ballot design, having directed a National Science Foundation and Carnegie Corp. project aimed at studying voting machines and ballots that resulted in manufacturers making changes to how their machines operate.

“Voting is the most important thing we do as citizens,” he says. “To have been able to help election administrators make decisions about the best way to conduct balloting – there aren’t many experiences more rewarding.”

Herrnson, who has been widely quoted in the national media as an expert on political campaigning, money and politics, and congressional elections, along with other aspects of politics, says he’s looking forward to working alongside UConn faculty and students.

One of the things that drew him to the University was the dynamism evident in everything from a major tenure-track faculty hiring plan to the ongoing building projects at Storrs and the other campuses.

“Once I got to the UConn campus, I felt tremendous energy here,” he says. “The University’s in a period of major growth, and as someone who’s spent a lot of my career in institution-building, it’s exciting to be part of that.”

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