Dartmouth College President Phil Hanlon has joined his counterpart at Stanford University in apologizing to the state of Montana for a questionable election-season research experiment polling voters in New Hampshire, California and Montana.
According to a joint open letter the two college presidents sent to the voters and citizens of Montana on Oct. 28, academic researchers from Dartmouth and Stanford sent out an election mailer to “determine whether voters who are given more information are more likely to vote.”
The mailer featured Montana’s state seal, allegedly without the state’s permission. The presidents said the mass mailing also “included a graph that ranked judicial candidates in a non-partisan race on a scale from liberal to conservative relying on “public information about who had donated to each of the campaigns.”
Even though the mailer sent to 100,000 Montanans declared itself non-partisan, it has irked state officials and raised ethical questions in the national media. According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, similar mailers went out to voters in California and New Hampshire. These mailings also displayed state seals that had not been sanctioned by the states. On Oct. 31, three days after the apology went to Montana, a similar letter was sent to the editors of the Valley News, The Concord Monitor, and the Union Leader.
The professors who conducted the research experiment, identified in the Chronicle as Jonathan Rodden and Adam Bonica, of Stanford and Kyle Dropp, of Dartmouth, are so far declining comment. Dartmouth spokesman Justin Anderson tells the Chronicle that the college is still trying to learn if its research had undergone the proper institutional review.