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USU Students Run Exit Polls as Republicans Sweep Utah in Obama Win

Thursday, Nov. 08, 2012

USU students awaiting election results

Students and others gathered in the lobby of the College of Business to await election results. (D. Whitney Smith photo)

USU political science professor Mike Lyons at 2012 election return event

Political Scientist Michael Lyons, left, with other voters watching election returns. (D. Whitney Smith photo)

USU students conducted exit polls

USU students Kolbie Astle, left, and Seth Merrill were on duty at Cache Valley polls to survey voters after they voted. (D. Whitney Smith photo)

USU political science professor Damon Cann at elections returns event at USU

USU political science professor Damon Cann addresses students and others watching as election returns come in Tuesday. (D. Whitney Smith photo)

The Student Life section of Utah State Today highlights work written by the talented student journalists at Utah State University. Each week, the editor selects a story that has been published in The Utah Statesman or the Hard News Café or both for inclusion in Utah State Today.

USU Students Run Exit Polls as Republicans Sweep Utah in Obama Win

Story and photos by D. Whitney Smith in The Hard News Café, Wednesday, Nov. 7

Students and community members who gathered in the Eccles Business Building cheered Tuesday night as early election returns started coming in, and CNN announced GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney strong win in Utah and other red states.

But the party atmosphere dulled as key states on the election map turned blue, and then Romney conceded to President Barack Obama after 11 p.m.

The main floor of the Business Building came alive for a few hours as students eager to see Election Day results as they were broadcast on large-screen TVs thronged the student lounge.

Political science professors Michael Lyons and Damon Cann, who both predicted an Obama victory, spoke to the energy-filled room about their views on the election.

“I am not known as a flag-waiving patriot,” Lyons said. “But think about this: We [had] an African-American running against a member of the LDS church, and neither race nor religion has really come up as a significant factor in this contest. I don’t think it’s going to show up anywhere in the vote, really.

“Thirty years ago it was really hard to foresee a day where you’d have either an African-American or a member of a minority religion like an LDS church member running,” Lyons said. “And now we have them running against each other.

“I’m proud of our country and how far our country has come in this regard — how welcoming we have become to minority groups of various kinds.”

Shortly after the polls closed statewide at 8 p.m., CNN and the Utah lieutenant governor’s website both reported that Mitt Romney won Utah’s six electoral votes in the presidential race against Democratic incumbent President Barack Obama. Ultimately, the Utah vote was 72.7 percent for Romney, and 24.9 percent for Obama.

Looking at past presidential elections involving incumbents, Cann said Romney came much closer than expected. Incumbents tend to win handily, he said, even in period of meager economic growth. The fact that Romney did as well as he did is attributable to the readjustments Republicans made during the campaign, he said.

“For the Republicans to be able to run this strong in an election that could have been a Democratic landslide on the basis of patterns we’ve observed historically, I think, speaks well of the Republican Party’s chances in the future,” Cann said. “This is not a sign that the Republican Party is dead or has lost its traction. This is a sign that the Republican Party is strong [and] that they are vibrant.”

In Utah, Republicans made a strong showing in both federal and state races. Republican Gov. Gary Herbert will remain in office, along with Lt. Gov. Greg Bell. Herbert and Bell beat Democrats Peter Cooke and Vince Rampton, 68.3 percent to 27.8 percent, in a state that has not elected a Democratic governor in more than 30 years. Rampton and Bell visited USU last week for the only lieutenant governor debate of the election season.

Sen. Orrin Hatch will serve his seventh term as U.S. senator after defeating Democratic challenger Scott Howell, 65.1 percent to 30.3 percent.

Congressman Rob Bishop easily defeated Democrat Donna McAleer, 71.5 to 24.7, to retain Utah’s 1st District seat in the U.S. House. McAleer, who said after she conceded Tuesday night that she plans to run for office again, visited USU a few weeks ago between campaign stops to speak to community members.

In other congressional races, Republican Chris Stewart in Utah’s new District 2 beat Jay Seegmiller 62-33.8 percent and incumbent Jason Chaffetz defeated Soren Simonsen, 76.4-23.6 percent.

The hottest Utah race was between incumbent conservative Democrat Jim Matheson and challenger Mia Love, the mayor of Stafford Springs who became a national GOP darling. Matheson declared a squeaker of a victory late Tuesday with a final margin of less than 2 percent, 49.3 percent to Love’s 48.1 percent. In that race, it was the presence of Libertarian Jim Vein, who received 2.6 percent of the vote, that made the difference.

John Swallow, who received almost 65 percent of votes for Utah attorney general, replaces retiring Mark Shurtleff, handily defeated opponents Dee W. Smith and W. Andrew McCullough.

Utah legislative results for Cache Valley were also dominated by incumbent Republicans.

Incumbent District 1 legislator Ronda Menlove of Garland, a USU administrator, took almost 76 percent of the votes over DeLoy Mecham and Becky Maddox. Logan District 3 House member Jack Draxler beat Roger Donohoe with 70 percent of the vote; Logan District 5’s Curt Webb defeated Al Snyder with 84 percent of all votes, and Logan’s Ed Redd won over Doug Thompson in District 4with almost 70 percent of the votes.

“Of all the things I’ve done, the most beneficial thing I’ve done is spend a lot of time knocking on people’s doors and talking to them,” Redd said in an interview Tuesday in the Eccles Business Building.

“What you find out when you go campaign is maybe there’s other people out there that have had other experiences that are different than yours and are valuable and can be useful in helping you figure out how to fix things.”

Incumbent state Sen. Lyle Hillyard, R-Logan, remains in office for Utah Senate by default, running unopposed.

A lot of early election results are provided by exit polls conducted statewide at various locations throughout polling precincts. USU students have participated since 1982 in the Utah Colleges Exit Poll, which is based at Brigham Young University.

USU political science professor Cann helped run the polling effort.

“This year is our largest participation yet,” Cann said of the student pollsters who collected exit poll data throughout Cache Valley.

In past years, there have been six half-day exit poll groups. This year, Cann said nine groups were dispatched — five morning groups and four evening groups — to gauge voter sentiment.

He said exit poll data are important for two primary reasons. The obvious reason is for projection of election winners. But Cann said the most important reason is to glean information about voters’ attitudes regarding candidates, as well as why they vote. This helps activist groups and future candidates tap into the population so they can reach out to voters for future elections, especially young voters.

USU public relations student Seth Merrill, who participated in this year’s exit poll data collection process, said before he became a student and began taking classes such as Media Smarts, which teaches students to distinguish between truth and “truthiness,” he couldn’t be bothered by politics.

“Before this semester, before I started taking journalism classes, I didn’t really know anything and couldn’t have cared less,” Merrill said. “Once I realized that if you’re not politically interested, then you’re just relying on other people’s ideas — like your parents’ ideas or your professors’. So, I just think it’s important, it’s just a way to develop critical thinking and how you’re going to organize your life.”

The lowest voter turnout traditionally occurs among the 18- to 29-year-old demographic, but USU students are the third most active among Utah college students. Kolbie Astle, another exit pollster, said students need to be aware of their choices.

“I think voting, even though we live in Utah and our vote’s pretty set, I think it’s important to be politically aware of things,” Astle said. “If you’re going to live in a country that has freedoms like this, then why not take advantage of it? That’s what I think.”

Westminster College, Utah Valley University, Southern Utah University and Weber State University also participate in the Utah Colleges Exit Poll, collecting exit poll data throughout the state.

In his Chicago victory speech after 11 p.m. Utah time Tuesday, Obama congratulated Americans for making the choice to vote against “politics as usual.”

“We are an American family, and we rise and fall together as one nation and as one people,” Obama said. “We know in our hearts that for the United States of America, the best is yet to come. … Whether you held and Obama sign or a Romney sign, you spoke, and you made a difference.”


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