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As Franklin returns to teaching, Marquette Law School mulls poll's future

The future of the Marquette University Law School Poll is still to be hashed out.

But poll director Charles Franklin believes the poll's results over the past year bear out the methodology and says there's plenty of opportunity for future polling.

Franklin said in a WisPolitics.com interview that he'll return to UW-Madison in the spring to teach after taking a 12-month leave to head the polling project. Meanwhile, Law School Dean Joseph Kearney said he sees a future for the survey that he hopes includes Franklin.

Kearney said he was thrilled with the way the poll played out, both in providing a service to the public and journalists as well as some of his colleagues at Marquette. That included one specialist in criminal sentences who was able to use data from one poll measuring attitudes toward truth-in-sentencing.

The dean said there's no deadline for making a decision on the poll's future, partly because he and Franklin have been so immersed in their academic work that they haven't had time yet.

Kearney also said the law school remains interested in continuing to hone its public policy initiative.

"On the one hand, we did do some public policy polling; on the other hand there is a lot else to be done," Kearney said. "I expect there is some sort of future for the Marquette Law School Poll. We're not going to do it 14 times again in a year in any year. My hope would be that we could do that with Charles Franklin, who led the poll so brilliantly and we would be able to make common cause with him in one form or another."

The original plan had been for a year-long effort that would include surveying public policy issues in the spring before diving into the fall elections. But that all changed with the recall elections in May and June that helped build the poll's reputation nationally.

Still, Franklin said those questions about public policy are still out there and noted the state budget Gov. Scott Walker is expected to unveil in February will provide a whole new round of issues that could provide good topics for public polling.

He said there's a "never-ending supply of issues and concerns facing the state" and polling on those questions fits in with the law school's efforts that include the "On the Issues" series with Mike Gousha and Alan Borsuk's work on education.

"The polling is a part of that," said Franklin, who founded Pollster.com and co-directed the Big Ten Poll in 2008. "It's a way of giving a seat at the table for the public's opinions about these things, not just the elite's opinions that we bring in to talk to."

In looking back over the past year, Franklin says the lesson he's taking away from this election season's polling is simple -- trust the data.

Some conservative pollsters have been soul searching since this month's election after basing their surveys on a turnout model that assumed the electorate would be older, whiter and more Republican than it turned out to be.

Franklin, however, says the approach he used was to only weight results to make sure they match the proper demographics for things like gender and age. Franklin also used big samples interviewed by both cell phones and landlines.

Other than Senate candidate Eric Hovde's share of the GOP primary vote, the final Marquette Law polls were well within the margin of error on the May Dem guv primary, the June recall election, Tommy Thompson's final total in the Republican Senate primary, and the winning spread for both Barack Obama and Tammy Baldwin.

"In that sense our record of getting it right is a very important validation," Franklin said. "But what I don't like about the term gold standard is that it implies you'll always be right, and one day we'll get a poll wrong. It's inevitable that will happen."

The poll has had its critics on both sides throughout this year's elections, and some particularly questioned the 8-point lead it found for Obama among likely voters in its Oct. 25-28 poll. But the president's final margin ended up at about 7 points.

"I don't think there's any better validation of what we did than the outcome," Franklin said.

Listen to the full interview.

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