The Strange Case Of A Virginia University And Its Polling

Alex Pappas Political Reporter
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In the days leading up to the Virginia Senate election this year, a strange thing happened.

A Twitter account affiliated with Hampton University, a traditionally black school in southeastern Virginia, teased an upcoming poll they had conducted. The tweet said the poll — surveying Virginia voters on the race between Democratic incumbent Mark Warner and Republican nominee Ed Gillespie — would be released before the election.

But the poll was never released.

And the tweet previewing the never-released survey? It was subsequently deleted.

That has Republicans in Virginia buzzing: Did the Hampton University poll accurately show Gillespie gaining on Warner, something that could have bolstered the Republican’s argument his campaign had momentum heading into Election Day?

Why was the poll not released to the public? On Monday, The Daily Caller asked a spokesman for the university.

“The Hampton University poll was scheduled to be released before the elections, however, it was held for further review,” said Yuri R. Milligan, the school’s director of University Relations. “It was then too late in the day — the day before the election — to release the poll.”

The university isn’t releasing the results of the poll.

“I don’t think the Center plans to release it,” Milligan told TheDC, “but I will check.”

It’s an important question because of the impact it could have had: Had the results of the poll showed the race tightening, Gillespie could have benefited. The Republican went on to shock the political world by only losing to Warner by less than a percentage point. Now his advisers wonder what could have happened had public polling showed a close race before voters went to the polls.

Prior to the vote, most polls showed Gillespie down double-digits. In fact, an Hampton University poll in August showed Gillespie down a whopping 25 points on Warner.

The polling of the Virginia race was so badly skewed in favor of Warner prior to the election that University of Virginia political science professor Larry Sabato called for a probe.

“I want an investigation of the polls in Virginia,” Sabato said after the election. “They were completely wrong.”

UPDATE: On Thursday, the Hampton University Center for Public Policy issued a statement defending itself.

“The Hampton University Center for Public Policy (CPP) actively polled likely voters about the Virginia Senate Race during the 2014 General Election season. After reviewing the final data from a poll conducted days before the Election, the CPP discovered statistical inaccuracies which led to an immediate review of the data and the mode of data collection.

The Center for Public Policy did not release the poll based on dramatically skewed results which showed Democrat Mark Warner, with a double digit lead over Republican Ed Gillespie, despite social and empirical data to the contrary.

Having done our due diligence, exercised internal control measures, and, wanting to maintain the integrity of our polling process, the Center for Public Policy made the responsible decision not to release the results.

The Center for Public Policy takes pride in a non-partisan approach to survey design, and, the impartial manner in which the results of our polls are communicated. It would be irresponsible to do otherwise.

The methodology used in the polls conducted by the Center for Public Policy has yielded accurate results that closely mirror final election outcomes. This well documented fact about past surveys will continue to drive the CPP to continue in the tradition of Hampton University of service and commitment to the community.”

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