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Art display in the stairwell of Pius Library on SLU's North Campus.

Surging to Success

One student’s experience with the SLU/YouGov Poll and the University’s Scholarly Undergraduate Research Grants and Experiences (SURGE) Program is leading to new career possibilities and more impactful research.

Kaitlin Klasen may be from Illinois, but she probably knows more about Missouri politics than the average resident of the Show Me State. An undergraduate student studying political science and communication at Saint Louis University, Klasen has been a research assistant with the SLU/YouGov Poll for almost two years, a position that gives her a unique perspective on the state.

“I’ve learned a lot about Missouri,” Klasen said. “I’ve gained an understanding of the kinds of issues that people care about here. In many ways, it’s given me an understanding of the state beyond perception and assumption.”

Kaitlin Klasen standing in front of the Joseph G. Lipic Clock Tower on SLU's campus.
Kaitlin Klasen standing in front of the Joseph G. Lipic Clock Tower on SLU's campus. SLU Photo.

The SLU/YouGov Poll was established in 2020 with support from the SLU Research Institute. As the only regular academic, non-partisan scientific survey of Missouri voters, the SLU/YouGov Poll fills a void in the study of public opinion in Missouri. All of the results and data are made available online, giving researchers, policymakers, and the general public a detailed look at how Missourians feel about a range of issues.

“I really like looking at the breakdowns of the results,” Klasen said. “You can look by political affiliation or by [region of the state], and sometimes those results are very telling. You can see where certain issues are very divisive.”

Klasen began working with the SLU/YouGov Poll in June 2022. She connected with the group through the University’s Scholarly Undergraduate Research Grants and Experiences (SURGE) program. The SURGE program connects SLU students with faculty who are conducting research, creative endeavors and other scholarly projects at SLU. The program gives students hands-on research experience and the opportunity to prepare for their careers.

“A research assistantship through SURGE can help students develop skills they can use even in non-academic jobs,” said Steven Rogers, Ph.D., associate professor of political science and director of the SLU/YouGov Poll. Rogers has mentored Klasen since the beginning of her assistantship.

Steven Rogers, Ph.D. standing in a room with computers
Steven Rogers, Ph.D., associate professor of political science, director of the SLU/YouGov Poll, and fellow with the SLU Research Institute. SLU Photo.

In August 2023, the SLU/YouGov Poll surveyed 900 likely Missouri voters on issues such as education policy, the 2024 presidential election, and LGBTQ+ issues. This was Klasen’s third poll, and she helped with nearly every aspect of it, from putting together an initial draft of poll questions to writing memos for the poll leaders that trace the history of the issues in the state. She also researched how other polls have gauged residents of other states on similar issues. This allows the SLU/YouGov Poll to ask questions that may call attention to critical degrees of gradation in how Missourians feel about the issues.

In August 2023, the SLU/YouGov Poll knew it would poll Missourians on LGBTQ+ issues, such as gender-affirming care for transgender minors. Klasen’s research found that residents in other states felt differently about access to gender-affirming surgery than to gender-affirming counseling. A question regarding this distinction was added to the August poll, and the results highlighted critical nuance in Missouri public opinion: a significant amount of respondents were supportive of gender-affirming counseling for minors even as they expressed skepticism toward surgery.

Klasen gestures toward a screen with bar graphs while Rogers looks on.
Klasen and Rogers review data from the latest SLU/YouGov Poll in the Academic Tech Commons in Pius XII Memorial Library. SLU Photo.

“One thing we really try to do with the SLU/YouGov Poll is show the gradation or nuance in people’s opinions,” said Rogers. “I personally would not have come up with that question on my own, but due to Kaitlin identifying these questions on other polls, we could include it. So it was very helpful.”

Rogers hopes that by highlighting these nuances in public opinion, the SLU/YouGov Poll can help bridge the gap between elected officials and their constituents.

“Policymakers often tend to take more extreme positions, but the reality is that there’s more middle ground in the state than people sometimes think,” said Rogers. He is encouraged by the fact that state policymakers have cited findings from the SLU/YouGov Poll while considering new policy changes.

When the time came for researchers associated with the SLU/YouGov Poll to publish analyses of the August 2023 results, Klasen was well-positioned to work in conjunction with Rogers on a piece herself.

“As an undergraduate, it’s really cool to see my work posted on the SLU/YouGov website alongside professors and other [SLU/YouGov Poll leaders],” said Klasen. “It has been a great skill to learn how to synthesize all the information about these broad topics and condense it into write-ups that are understandable to the public.”

Klasen and Rogers sit at a table with a newspaper in front of them.
Klasen and Rogers read a story in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch about the SLU/YouGov Poll results. SLU Photo.

Klasen will graduate from SLU in 2024, and looking back on her time at the University, she’s grateful for the mentorship she’s received from Rogers: “It’s been really great working with Dr. Rogers,” she said. “He provides a lot of direction for me, and he’s put a lot of trust in me. I feel like a lot of the work that I do gets translated into the poll, and that’s really cool.”

Rogers, in turn, is proud of the impact Klasen has had on the SLU/YouGov Poll, and he’s confident her future is bright: “Kaitlin is an extremely, extremely strong research assistant,” Rogers said. “We can do more in the SLU/YouGov Poll because of Kaitlin.”

As Klasen begins to make plans for her career after SLU, the skills and experiences she’s gained through the SURGE program and her work with the SLU/YouGov Poll leave her options open — from policy to research to marketing, and more.

“My time as a research assistant has allowed me to build on all of the things I have learned as a student at SLU,” said Klasen. “I am very grateful for the opportunity from the SURGE program and from Dr. Rogers to grow as a researcher and become more involved in the fascinating work being done in the SLU community.”

Complete results from the August 2023 SLU/YouGov Poll, along with analysis from Klasen and SLU/YouGov Poll leaders, can be found at

Story by Kevin Lynch, senior communications manager in the Office of the Vice President for Research.

This piece was written for the 2023 SLU Research Institute Annual Impact Report. The Impact Report is printed each spring to the successes of our researchers from the previous year and share the story of SLU's rise as a preeminent research university. More information can be found here.