Department of Public Policy
B.S., University of Scranton, Political Science, 1985
Ph.D., Rutgers University, Political Science, 1994
Teaching & Research Interests
Survey research methods
Dr. Kenneth Dautrich
Bringing Real Life Experience to the Classroom
Professor Ken Dautrich’s attraction to the field of political polling and survey research began serendipitously as an undergraduate student, when he volunteered to conduct a public opinion poll to help a friend running for public office. Dautrich learned the basics of public polling in a political government course, but hadn’t realized how complicated the process could be. Yet that experience whetted his appetite to learn more.
When he enrolled in a master’s program in political science at Rutgers University, there weren’t any courses about conducting surveys, so he began working at a polling organization affiliated with Rutgers. After earning his master’s degree, he worked at Response Analysis Corporation for three years, before returning to Rutgers to earn a Doctorate. He intended to establish his own survey research company after graduation, but fate stepped and he was invited to develop and run a Masters of Survey Research (MSR) program for UConn’s Department of Public Policy.
One of his goals was to bring real life polling experiences into the program, so he continued working in the field while teaching at UConn.
“I’ve done hundreds of hundreds of polls since I began teaching at UConn, and that experience is a huge asset to my students,” Dautrich says. “The Graduate Program in Survey Research is a hands-on, nuts and bolts program. Students learn how to write questions, administer them, draw samples, analyze data, create and utilize response categories, and write reports. It would be hard for me to imagine teaching those skills without actually doing them. I use examples in class from real life projects that I’ve done.”
Dautrich’s work in the field is impressive. He has worked on the 2004 and 2008 election polls for Time Magazine, and continues to conduct annual surveys for the First Amendment Center at Vanderbilt University. He has worked as an election night exit poll analyst at NBC News and has provided commentary on the election process for WNPR. Yet nothing compares to the gratification he gets from teaching at UConn.
“When you conduct and teach survey research, you’re constantly learning because it’s an evolving field,” Dautrich explains. “I love to teach — it’s fun to work with students who are inquisitive, have a lot of energy, and are getting ready to start on a new career. I’ve made many connections with students over the years, and have watched them evolve into leaders in the research industry – both nationally and internationally.”
UConn is the only university in the country that offers a Graduate Program in Survey Research online. Dautrich enjoys the many benefits of the online program, including the wide variety of students it attracts from across the US, South America, Central America, Europe, Eastern Europe, and Asia.
“An online environment also encourages greater levels of student participation in the discussions, which are on discussion boards and blogs,” he adds. “That allows people to think about their answer and articulate the answer before they hit the send button. Rather than a handful of students dominating the discussion, there’s much more diverse conversation among all the students in the class.”
Dautrich teaches courses in “Political Polling” and “Surveys in Market Research” — both areas are critical components that drive modern society.
“Polls have become a central part of the American political landscape,” Dautrich says. “Over the course of a presidential election you can’t pick up a newspaper or watch a television news show without a reference to another political poll and the trends in the polls. You can’t separate polling from American politics and you certainly can’t deny that polls have an impact on what candidates and elected leaders do.”
Dautrich’s course in market research teaches students how to conduct surveys for commercial research purposes, which is a 25 billion dollar a year industry. “Market research deals with questions about how much people are willing to pay for a product, how aware they are of a particular brand, how satisfied they are with one brand versus another,” he explains. “Market Research is an enormous part of how companies around the world do business. All Fortune 500 companies have huge departments focusing on market intelligence and use surveys to gain that intelligence and to make critical decisions about their business.”
Online discussions between students new to survey research and students with experience in the field facilitate an exchange of knowledge that enhances the learning experience.
“Students without experience benefit from the online dialogue with students who have experience in the field, and ask lots of good questions that make those of us with more experience rethink the way we do things,” says Dautrich. “They learn from each other in a win-win situation.”