Ann Selzer, “Best Pollster in Politics,” to speak at Community Hour

Saiham Sharif

Campus tends to grow livelier during election season. Many candidates come to campaign in Iowa and some find themselves on Grinnell College’s campus, either invited by students or self-motivated to make an appearance. Although the campaign season offers community members the opportunity to engage in politics, sometimes the facts get lost in the process.

Ann Selzer, a pollster from the Des Moines Register, could provide a solution. This upcoming Tuesday, Feb. 13, Selzer will deliver a speech titled “What Comes Next: Understanding the Election of 2016 and What it Means for the Future” in JRC 101 at 11 a.m. Selzer was called the “Best Pollster in Politics” by FiveThirtyEight. Her name entered mainstream media when she predicted that Obama would win the Iowa caucus in 2008, while few others did.

Sponsored by the Rosenfield Program in Public Affairs, International Relations and Human Rights, the political science department and the statistics department, the event addresses multiple layers in politics. Peter Hanson, political science, was the primary organizer of Selzer’s talk. He was assisted by the statistics department, who helped apply for grant funding to bring Selzer to campus. During her visit, she will also speak to students in statistics classes and give a talk about women entrepreneurship in JRC 209 at 4 p.m. that same Tuesday.

“We’re very fortunate that Ann lives in Des Moines and she’s one of the nation’s best pollsters,” Hanson said. “She cares a lot about the state of Iowa and higher education in Iowa. We recognize that we have this very valuable opportunity to bring her in campus, especially because she’s so close by, and on her part, was willing to do that because she wants to reach out to college students in Iowa and introduce them to both the study of statistics and politics,” Hanson said.

Hanson also commented on Selzer’s ability to find the connection between popular politics and data.

“One of the interesting things about Ann Selzer is that she crosses into two worlds. So, she’s a political pollster and is interested in the attitudes of the electorate. And to do that work she draws upon statistics and her work is an illustration of the way in which quantitative fluency and the understanding of Big Data can really empower people.  Both departments are sponsoring her visit, I think, in recognition of the fact that this is the way two different fields come together.”

As the title of the event implies, Selzer will discuss the mistakes pollsters made in 2016 and how they can learn to better make decisions.

“She’s an expert of public opinion,” Hanson said. “She can talk about the attitudes of voters, … how pollsters missed his victory, when pollsters were predicting a Clinton win.”

With changes in communication over the past few years, the task of pollsters has become more difficult.

“People have become dependent on cellphones and are less likely to answer calls from numbers they don’t recognize. This is made it very difficult to reach voters and learn what their attitudes are. It’s a very challenging time to be a pollster,” Hanson said.