Utah State Political Science Students Predict 2012 Presidential Election
Thursday, Oct. 25, 2012
Law and constitution studies major Travis Johnson participated in the political science department's election prediction competition. He worked closely with students on their papers and is professor Mike Lyons’ undergraduate teaching fellow.
Damon Cann, assistant professor of political science, is one of five faculty members whose classes have predicted the outcome of the 2012 Presidential Election.
Nearly a month before voters nationwide cast their ballots for the 2012 Presidential Election, six political science classes at Utah State University had already counted the Electoral College votes and predicted a second-term win for Barack Obama. The exercise was part of a competition in the Department of Political Science to analyze swing states and determine which direction they will sway Nov. 6.
Kristen Dawson, a lecturer in the department, pitched the idea to other faculty members teaching American politics courses. Her class is a general education class comprised mostly of students who aren’t political science majors and do not consider themselves political junkies. Dawson created the competition so they might become more engaged in the election and with the field. So far, it’s working.
“As an undergraduate student [at Utah State] the assignments I loved the most were those applied to the real world,” she said. “Theory is great, but if it’s not applied it doesn’t stick in students’ minds. I would love for students to vote and be really interested in the election, but at the end of the day if they just turn on the television to see if they were right I am satisfied because they’re paying attention to what’s going on.”
Five professors assigned their classes to study battleground states using recent voter history, newspaper editorials, polling data and analyzing the candidates’ stances on issues important to the electorate such as immigration and the economy. Stephanie Pack enrolled in assistant professor Damon Cann’s Parties and Elections course because she knew it was his specialty area.
“The reason I took this class this semester is because it is an election year,” she said. “I think this assignment has made me more excited about the election. It’s made me even more confused about who to vote for; it made me look more closely at what they’re saying and what they’re going to do.”
Cann smiled upon hearing her confession during class because learning about the candidates and their policies was one of his goals.
“One of the things I was worried about was that students would just look at the polls,” he said.
He was also concerned students would allow their personal preferences over their reasoning skills to decide which candidate would win their swing state. Students were directed to examine the voter history of last five elections as well as read local papers to see whether and what candidates were advertising in the 11 states with the closest voting margins.
“These are swing states. If you really want to find out what’s going on, get in there and find out what makes your state swing,” Cann told the class.
Three students were assigned to research each state and then presented their findings to the class who voted in favor or against the analysis. Damon’s class predicted 290 electoral votes for President Obama versus 248 for his Republican challenger Mitt Romney. The other five classes participating in the competition also predicted a second term for President Obama. However, class tallies were finalized prior to the start of the debates — a strategic move by professors to ensure students didn’t rely too heavily on polling data.
“There are things that could change this outcome,” Cann said. “There is still a path to a Romney victory.”
What could shift voters towards Romney is if lots of bad economic news surfaces between now and the election, as well as a good appearance in the debates. A major foreign policy event would likely help Obama unless the administration badly blunders its response, he said.
Whether or not his class is correct, Cann feels the assignment was a worthwhile experience.
“A lot of my students haven’t seen any campaign ads in the cycle,” he said. “If they were to cross the border to Colorado or Nevada they would see the election in a different way. It gives them a sense of what’s happening in politics nationally.”
And their analysis of the battleground states?
“It was as good as any Wolf Blitzer throws out on CNN,” Cann said.
The five faculty members also made predictions with three to two calculating a Romney win.
Writer: Kristen Munson, (435) 797-0267, Kristen.firstname.lastname@example.org
Contact: Kristen Dawson, (435) 797-1306, email@example.com