Global Conversation

by Andrew Wickenden ’09

Peyton Craighill ’94 analyzes and interprets how citizens feel about their social and political landscapes and the policies that shape them. In the time since he was a student at Hobart and William Smith, where he majored in political science, Craighill has worked for the Pew Research Center, ABC News, The Washington Post and, since November 2015, the U.S. Department of State as the Division Chief for Europe in the Office of Opinion Research.

“I came out of HWS with a political science degree and thought I wanted to be a lawyer. I wound up working in a law firm as an assistant straight out of college and realized I wasn’t all that interested in it, and needed to look a bit further into what my interests were and how to make a career out of it.”

Craighill enrolled in graduate school at Rutgers University in New Jersey, where he began work on The Star Ledger- Eagleton Poll — a collaboration between Rutgers and the Newark Star Ledger — which “gave me the practical experience in measuring and reporting on public opinion,” he recalls. “It was my first attempt at understanding how different constituencies might react differently, and how data turns into a news story.”

“It was a different world when I started studying public opinion,” says Craighill, who began his polling career at the renowned Pew Research Center in 2001, just months before 9/11. “When I got my foot in the door at Pew, it was quite a different place than where it is today. There were maybe eight of us in the office, working collaboratively to produce monthly polls related to broad topics — social, political, economic, international. We had our hands in everything, trying to capture national public sentiment on whatever those issues were, as well as international affairs and political values more generally.”

When Craighill joined the polling division at ABC News in 2006, he began to focus more keenly on the election cycle. In particular, he and his colleagues examined exit polls to understand how the electorate was changing between election seasons.

“We went from eight years of a Republican administration to the country’s first African American president,” he explains. “We were tracking not only how the country was reacting to war in Iraq and the financial meltdown, but interesting currents in public opinion — these broad social and economic issues. We were watching the country change before our very eyes.”

As a pollster with The Washington Post, Craighill continued to track, among other issues, the ongoing changes in public opinion and demographics that the 2008 election highlighted.

“The most important thing to realize about how opinion changed is that it was driven so much by how demographics changed,” he explains. “The racial and ethnic mix of the country has changed, migration patterns have changed, cities are revitalizing, and patterns of voting are affected by those changes.”

In his current role at the State Department, Craighill is “building on the same principle of figuring out what people think, what their values are and what they understand about public policy.”

Responsible for polling in about 20 countries in Europe and Eurasia, Craighill is situated now within the intelligence community. While the process “isn’t so different from my work in media polling,” he is now delivering the results and analysis to a more select audience.

“We write analyses of the data and brief up the line to policy makers within the State Department,” he explains. “Within this community of foreign policy analysts, we’re still trying to understand people around the world as fully as possible.”


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