Polling it all together

Some U students skip classes at will without fearing repercussions-especially in large classrooms of required general courses.

But imagine coming to the U for 24 years and never missing a class.

Dan Jones knows what it feels like. He has been a professor at the U since 1980 and never missed a day.

Imagine a teacher so involved that he makes occasional phone calls to check up on his students after they are absent.

Jones does it.

While juggling an unusually busy schedule as associate interim director of the Hinckley Institute of Politics, professor of three political science courses and Utah’s most trusted pollster, Jones puts forth a special effort to accommodate his students.

His load was particularly heavy this year because of the elections.

“It was the most difficult election period I’ve ever gone through in the 45 years [I’ve polled],” Jones said. “I work a lot of hours…but I never went to a class unprepared.”

A typical day for Jones involved arriving at the U by 7 in the morning to teach his 7:30 a.m. class, leaving for his polling headquarters around noon or 1 p.m. and working into the night-usually returning home around 10 p.m.

The complexity of his schedule was compounded by two other concerns.

First, Jones recognized his age is playing an increasingly relevant role.

“I’m no spring chicken,” he said.

In addition, Jones’ wife, Assistant Minority Whip Patricia Jones, was up for re-election this year. She won in District 40 with 60 percent of the vote as a Democrat.

Despite his vast array of calls to duty, Dan Jones has managed his time wisely and stayed on top of his busy schedule.

The Professor

“I really enjoy teaching,” Jones said. “I’m from the old school, so I expect perfect attendance from my students.”

Ryan Barnes, a student in Jones’ public opinion, polling and elections class, said Jones frequently reiterates his focus on attendance.

“Every day, that’s part of the lecture,” Barnes said. “Him never missing class is something for him to be proud of, and he expects the same from students. That probably ruffles some students’ feathers, but I’m OK with it. He expects everyone to have the same passion.”

Lauren Buchman, a student in Jones’ U.S. Government class, said she too has encountered his zeal for attendance.

“He’s taken me aside personally and told me how concerned he is about attendance,” she said. “I started taking this class and was planning on not showing up very often, reading the textbook a few days before the exam and just sort of coasting through, but he’s definitely gotten me to go to class.”

Jones said his focus on attendance stems from his desire to help his students succeed.

“I will always give a student an interview who asks to see me,” he said. “I want to be friendly…I feel it’s very important to get to know them if you’re going to write letters of recommendation.”

Jones said he has written more than 268 recommendations in the past few years, and each one was different because he knew about the student.

Attendance has been a vital part of getting to know those students.

Another part of his concern with attendance is that, while students do pay tuition, taxpayers will pick up about 70 percent of the bill for in-state students to attend the U and 60 to 65 percent for out-of-state students. Therefore, they should be responsive to the public that is funding them and “pay the taxpayers their due.”

In turn, Jones said it is his responsibility to give students a reason to come to class.

“You’ve got to make sure the class is one of interest and might even be provocative,” he said. “It has to make them think and challenge them.”

Jones said it is more difficult to find a captive audience in required courses such as American Institutions because many students are not political science majors.

“[My classes] average over 90 percent plus attendance,” Jones said. “I just called a young man now who hasn’t been to class, and sometimes I’ll find they’re in the hospital or they’ve been in a wreck. You really do have to care. You do.”

Jones has important responsibilities in his role as associate director of the Hinckley Institute of Politics as well.

He is in charge of gathering interns for the Legislature. Thirty to 35 students train for the 45-day session in Jones’ course.

Jones also played a major role in bringing candidates to the U for debates leading up to the elections. Participants at the Hinckley Institute included candidates for attorney general, governor, second congressional district, Salt Lake County mayor, U.S. Senate, an open space initiative debate, a marriage amendment discussion and eight of the 10 most important issues facing Utah, cited by the Utah Foundation.

This year’s series attracted even more politicians than usual, according to Jayne Nelson, program manager in the Hinckley Institute of Politics. The unusual factor that put this year over the top was the fact that three local legislative races were debated at the U.

“We always have really good success, but more this year than most,” Nelson said.

Jones agreed.

“It’s important to bring both Democrats and Republicans,” he said. “The problem here is that students take classes and then go to work, so it’s hard to try to get that free hour.”

The Person

In addition to calling about absences, Jones will also contact students if he feels he has offended them in class.

“He’s a good guy, you can really tell he cares about the students, which is sort of rare in a big lecture class,” Buchman said.

Jones’ personable nature with his students is part of a larger goal.

“My objective is for my students to compete with the best and brightest from any university anywhere at anytime,” Jones said. “I feel it’s our job to know the students so you can help them go on in their careers and help them become better citizens in a very divisive world.”

Tyler Allen, a teacher’s aide for Jones, said it was Jones who motivated him to begin Vote Project, the largely successful endeavor of registering college students for the 2004 election.

Many other students are familiar with Jones’ zeal and have been motivated by his enthusiasm.

“I think the number one thing that is beneficial to students is his passion. He loves Utah politics and it shows,” Barnes said. “I’m much more appreciative of the political process because of what Dr. Jones has taught me.”

Jones faces a similar difficult task as both a professor and a pollster-generating unbiased questions and curriculum. He said his passion does not get in the way with his presentation of fact.

“Today a student asked if I was pro-life or pro-choice,” he said. “I can’t take a strong stand on these things…I try to present both sides and let them decide, and college students are smart enough to do that. I try to make it so they don’t know where I stand on issues.”

Many of his students said he has done a good job of remaining unbiased in the classroom.

“He’s actually adamant about presenting different sides of the issues,” Buchman said. “He’s really good about it.”

Barnes agreed.

“I’m sure somewhere along the line he has some bias, but he doesn’t show it. He’s very bipartisan,” he said.

The Pollster

Jones has been a pollster since 1959 when he was subcontracted by The Salt Lake Tribune to gauge public opinion regarding the Salt Lake City mayoral race between J. Bracken Lee and Bruce Jenkins. He received encouragement from an old U professor, Roy V. Peel.

Jones earned two graduate degrees in political science from the U-a Master’s of Science in 1961 and a doctorate in 1968.

In 1960, Jones conducted his first presidential poll as John F. Kennedy and Richard M. Nixon squared off to fill an empty seat in the White House.

“I met both candidates and, until this year, I thought that was the most exciting election,” Jones said.

Jones has conducted election exit polls once every two years since 1962. He has been wrong in his predictions only twice.

The first time Jones was wrong was in the 1986 first congressional district race when he indicated Gunn McKay would defeat Jim Hansen.

The second occurrence took place this year.

“I missed on Initiative 1 this time on the poll and the exit interviews,” Jones said. “Initiatives are very, very difficult to measure. Very seldom do they ever pass, but I had it passing and it didn’t.”

Initiatives pose a problem for pollsters because the wording is often confusing to voters and “if you don’t know, you vote no,” Jones said.

Although Dan Jones and Associates have a 98 percent accuracy rate, Jones said they only hear from people when they get it wrong.

“We never have anyone call up and say, ‘Gee you got 20 out of 20, that was wonderful,'” he said. “But if you miss one, they’ll call.”

While political polls generate much of the attention for Dan Jones and Associates, Jones said they actually account for a relatively little amount of the business his firm does. “We’re known more for political polling,” Jones said. “But most of our work is marketing research. Only about 20 percent, at best, is political research.”

Jones said keeping on top of his three major roles would not have been possible without the help of his staffs at the Hinckley Institute and at Dan Jones and Associates.

“I owe them much,” Jones said. “And for what we did right, they get the credit.”

Jones also thanked his TAs for his 3900 course, Adam Reiser, his 3180 course, Tyler Allen, and his 1100 course, Melissa Simonich for picking up slack while he polled.

“They really took a heavy load,” he said. “They understood the pressure I was under.”

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