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Harvard’s School of Public Health is partnering for the first time with political news organization Politico this year to conduct national polls about health and domestic policy.
The Harvard Opinion Research Program, run out of the School of Public Health, will assist Politico Pro—a subsidiary of the company that offers paid subscriptions for in-depth policy coverage on various topics—by providing academic research and historical background to better explain polling data.
Full-time workers and Ph.D. students conduct the polling on health and social policy, according to HSPH and Kennedy School professor Robert J. Blendon, who has directed the Harvard Opinion Research Program for over 20 years. The program has partnered in the past with news outlets including the Washington Post, USA Today, and the Boston Globe.
Blendon said he approached Politico this time around because he was concerned by the increasing polarization of political parties this election cycle and wanted to work with an organization focused on politics.
“It really is an effort to take more academic research and combine it with journalism so you end up with a better understanding of what’s going on in the country,” Blendon said.
Politico Pro's health care editor Joanne L. Kenen ’79, a former Crimson news editor, wrote in an email that the partnership will add “a data-driven dimension to our reporting in an incredibly exciting election year and the opening phase of the next administration.”
Blendon has advised Kenen and other Politico staffers in the past on polling.
Kenen wrote that “[Blendon] understands the intersection of health care policy and politics as well as anyone, so when he broached this idea, it took me all of about three seconds to realize it was a great opportunity for POLITICO and the policy sections at POLITICO Pro.”
The first joint poll was released last weekend and focused on trade. Blendon said his group reviewed polls dating back to 1992, when presidential candidate Ross Perot took a strong stance against free trade, and discussed their findings with the trade team at Politico.
Looking forward, Blendon—who has taught a public opinion polling course at the Kennedy School—stressed the need to ground academic research in present-day issues.
“When [professors] do surveys, we often describe issues the way we describe them to you in a classroom. But they may not be the way they’re being discussed in Congress,” Blendon said.
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