NEWS RELEASE – March 31, 2014

Contact: Amanda Heersink, Project Spokesperson
Citizen Survey Project


Denver – Does public opinion make a difference? Former State Senator Ron Tupa wants to know.In 2006, Tupa had an epiphany. That year, the General Assembly was controlled by Democrats in both chambers. Bill Owens was the governor.Yet that year, Democrats agreed to a special session on immigration reform. They passed a handful of laws during that session, including House Bill 06S-1023, the key bill that required those who apply for public benefits in Colorado to show proof of lawful presence in the United States. The bill passed 22-13, with four Democrats voting against it in the Senate. Tupa, an outspoken opponent of the bill, was one of the four.

Today, he says that vote didn’t make him any friends among the Democratic leadership in the House or Senate, and that there was a lot of pressure for him to vote with the majority. However, he also knew his constituents in Boulder were opposed to the law, and that was the deciding factor in his vote.

That’s where the epiphany comes in. Just how much does constituent opinion count in a legislator’s vote? Tupa ended his legislative career at the end of 2008, after spending eight years in the Senate and six in the House. Two years ago, with that question still nagging at him, he decided to explore it further. It has taken him to Regis University, where he is pursuing a Master’s Degree in political communication, and an opportunity to test the relevance of constituent opinion in his Master’s Thesis “Citizen Survey Project.”

This past weekend, to satisfy requirements for the thesis, Public Policy Polling surveyed voters in various state Senate districts on five bills currently awaiting action in the House and Senate. PPP used questions devised by Tupa following academic standards and methodology used in similar legislative studies. The districts are represented by an equal number of Democratic and Republican state senators. Results of the polling will be released on or around April 4, and will include the announcement of the five bills and the Senate districts surveyed, to assess whether voting behavior aligns with public opinion.

Thesis Rationale:

As a graduate student studying political communication my interest lies in the intersection between politics and new media, and in particular social media. I am intrigued by the potential of social media to engage the public in a way that is both useful to our democratic system of government in general, and yet more relevant and meaningful for the individual citizen. At the same time I am struck by how little is known regarding the nexus between constituent opinion on specific issues and decisions made by elected officials on policy questions related to those issues.

Since 2012 my academic study has centered on literature involving new media and its emergent role in political communication, and how constituent opinion influences voting behavior and policy decisions of elected officials. For the past two years I have focused my research to elucidate the question: in the age of social media how much does constituent opinion really matter in political decision making?

Fulfilling the mission of Regis University requires an endeavor to discover the truth and contribute to the improvement and transformation of society. The ‘Citizen Survey Project’ serves as the cornerstone of an ongoing research effort that began with the exploration of scores of scholarly works detailing an interconnectedness of public opinion and new media with political systems and policy decisions of elected officials, and culminates in a Master’s Thesis that synthesizes the relationship between all four.

- Ron Tupa
former CO state senator
graduate student, Regis University