Oana Stancu, TV journalist at Antena 3 in Romania, and UGA professor Steve Smith.

Romanian and U.S. Experts Discuss Importance of Political Polls

Experts from Romania and the United States told about 40 students, faculty and journalists gathered at the National School of Political Studies and Public Administration in Bucharest in early May that political polling is now an integral part of election coverage in both countries.

The experts also gave tips on how to improve that part of the work of the media in both countries.

"We have a polling war underway in Romania," Dr. Vasile Dancu, president of the Romanian Institute for Assessment and Strategy (IRES), told the group in the opening session.

The competition is between the politicians and those who conduct the polls, but also among the polling organizations competing for attention, he said.

Politicians generally don't like polls, Dr. Dancu said. "No form of assessment is acceptable in Romania," he said.

Dr. Dancu said that, in his view, "Public opinion polls are a type of public discourse."

These comments were made following a methodological critique of polls offered by Dr. Lee B. Becker, director of the James M. Cox Jr. Center for International Mass Communication Training and Research at the University of Georgia.

Dr. Becker focused on the importance of questions wording in understanding polls and also discussed sampling options, including the use of registration lists as a means of identifying voters for election surveys.

Dr. Tudor Vlad, associate director of the Cox Center, gave the journalists and others in the audience a checklist for coverage of polls and also directed them to online resources to help them improve their political stories that make use of polls.

The May 7 and 8 workshop was the third in a series held by the Center for Research in Communication at the university in Bucharest and the Cox Center, a unit of the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Georgia.

Earlier workshops have focused on crisis communication and the responsibility of the media.

"The perception of bias and agenda in what we do" is one of the biggest problems facing American journalism, John Siniff, front page story editor of USA Today told the group.

"In covering elections, we try to be as objective as we can be," Siniff said. He said the paper does not endorse political candidates to avoid the perception of bias.

Cosmin Prelipceanu from Digi TV in Bucharest said the Romanian television stations in particular were facing pressure to cover politics with a point of view.

It is a formula that has been found to work in terms of audience appeal, he said.

Oana Stancu from Antena3 said that controversy also has been found to be successful in the Romanian television market.

"The ratings told us that debate brings two ratings points more than bare facts," she said.

Steve Smith, a faculty member in the Grady College at the University of Georgia and a former television newsman, said that, in his experience, the key decisions that are made in election coverage are centered around the allocation of resources.

"Where do you put the people?" he asked. That is what newsroom managers have to struggle with each day in the campaign.

Mirel Palada from the Company for Sociological Research and Branding (CCSB), in the closing session of the workshop, focused on competition among the various polling firms operating in the Romanian market.

Variation of only one or two percentage points in exit polls is treated as important in the competitive environment, he said.

Following the workshop in Romania, Siniff and Smith traveled with Drs. Becker and Vlad to Chisinau, Republic of Moldova, where they held a series of meetings with journalists.

The group visited Publika TV, a 24-hour news channel, and Adevarul, one of the leading newsapers in the country, before participating in a gathering of the local Press Club, organized by the Center for Independent Journalism and the Center for Press Freedom.

John Siniff of USA Today interviewed in Chisinau, Moldova by a reporter at Adevarul.

Both Siniff and Smith were interviewed by journalists at Publika. Click here for link to Siniff interview. Click here for link to Smith interview.

The group also had a luncheon meeting with Vlad Plahotniuc, a local media owner and first deputy speaker of the Moldovan Parliament.