Public Opinion Expert Daniel Yankelovich Endows Multimillion Dollar Fund at UC San Diego
Bequest to continue support for the Yankelovich Center for Social Science Research, which aims to find solutions to pressing and complex problems that confront our nation
In a career spanning 50 years, renowned social researcher and public opinion analyst Daniel Yankelovich cared what people thought. Now his focus is on improving how people live. To further that interest, he has established, through a bequest, a multimillion dollar endowed fund to support the UC San Diego Yankelovich Center for Social Science Research.
The problem-driven research center in the university’s Division of Social Sciences is proceeding along two related paths. It is originating a research agenda and mobilizing multidisciplinary teams of scholars on key issues, beginning with upward mobility. And it provides seed funding for projects by UC San Diego researchers that show promise of significant national impact.
Known as the “dean of American pollsters,” Yankelovich has spent decades monitoring social change and public opinion. Building on an academic career that included Harvard University and the Sorbonne in Paris, he engaged in various interests that eventually led to a commercial research career. Founder of several nonpartisan public policy research organizations, including Public Agenda, he is perhaps best known for starting the New York Times/Yankelovich poll, now replaced by the New York Times/CBS News poll.
“We are honored to have Daniel Yankelovich as a friend and advisor to our campus,” said UC San Diego Chancellor Pradeep K. Khosla. “With his generous bequest - one of the largest gifts made to the Division of Social Sciences - and his expertise, I am confident that our research focus on social mobility and other social sciences research will have a national impact.”
Yankelovich considers his finest career achievement developing new methods of dialogue and deliberation for helping the public convert raw opinion into thoughtful judgment. “Opinion polls just measure people’s unresolved, half-baked feelings and views,” he said. “The challenge is to help the public think through, deliberate, dissolve their own conflicts and finally reach considered judgment. From my view as a student of public opinion, converting raw opinion into considered judgment is indispensable to the efficient functioning of public democracy.”
Yankelovich has served as a member of the UC San Diego Foundation Board of Trustees and a member of the Social Sciences Dean’s Advisory Council. He continues to serve on the executive committee of the Yankelovich Center.
“We thank Dan, a great friend to the campus and to the Division of Social Sciences, for this generous bequest that will continue his support—in perpetuity—to the Yankelovich Center,” said UC San Diego Social Sciences Dean Carol Padden. “We do ‘the science of society’ in our division and take seriously our public mandate, linking theory to action. We seek not only to understand humans as individuals and together in groups, but also to make all of our lives better. The Yankelovich Center is exemplary of that vision.”
His involvement with the division began about six years ago—which led to the founding of the Yankelovich Center. He explained, “Jeff Elman, who at the time was Dean of Social Sciences, invited me to be on his advisory committee. Jeff and I became personal friends, and as our relationship developed, we dreamed up this Yankelovich Center.”
Yankelovich has helped fund the center since its inception, including a $100,000 start-up gift last fall to support the center’s current research focus. Lane Kenworthy, director of the center and a sociology professor who holds the Yankelovich Chair in Social Thought, is concentrating efforts on an Upward Mobility Commission to point policymakers to what will work best to restore the nation’s promise of upward mobility.
The Upward Mobility project strikes a personal chord with Yankelovich, aged 91. “Back when I was a kid, the American Dream was very real for me,” he said. “I had a limited understanding of how to make a living but there were so many sources of opportunity. I want us to find practical ways, bipartisan ways, of reversing the current trend—and bringing back equality of opportunity in all of its ‘American Dream’ vitality.”
Yankelovich hopes his bequest to support the Yankelovich Center will accomplish two key objectives. First, to develop a model that other universities can follow on how to use the social sciences to address the nation’s most urgent problems. And second, because he feels that the social sciences are being deflected by the misleading model of basic research leading to applied research—with the emphasis on basic—one of his purposes is to blur that distinction to show how applied research leads to theory.
Why does Yankelovich support UC San Diego? He explained, “I think the university has an appetite for leadership that is not resting on its laurels; it’s open-minded and willing to consider ways to change in order meet the objectives of higher education. And I think there is a willingness to reform higher education in order to meet the goals the country has set as a means of revitalizing equality of opportunity.”
He believes that private support is essential to launching campus initiatives that otherwise might not take place. “The Yankelovich Center is certainly a good example. You wouldn’t have this drive to add capability to the university to address real problems unless philanthropic initiatives get it going.”
Yankelovich hopes to inspire and encourage other donors to give to the Yankelovich Center for Social Science Research. “We are looking for more funding for the center. When you are talking about national problems of urgency, you are really talking about huge, massive issues that go way beyond my resources or even the resources of the university.”
To support the work of the center with a financial contribution, please contact the Division of Social Sciences’ philanthropy office at (858) 822-0805 or visit yankelovichcenter.ucsd.edu.