Political science students conduct online poll of peers

Nov. 6, 2012
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Maryville College Office of Communications
865.981.8207; communications@maryvillecollege.edu

President Barack Obama outpolled former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney 47 percent to 42 percent among Maryville College students, Maryville College students in the Political Science 321: The American Political Process class announced last night as they released the findings of their survey on the eve of the 2012 presidential election.

“Students in the class had mixed reactions to the results,” said Dr. Mark O’Gorman, associate professor of political science at Maryville College and instructor of PLS321. “Some students were not surprised, given that college-aged students have historically sided with Obama. Other students were surprised, given that many MC students have East Tennessee roots, a politically conservative part of the state, if not the nation."

Economic issues dominated the responses to questions that asked what issue -- or issues -- were most important to students in guiding their vote on Election Day.

“We asked issue questions two different ways,” O’Gorman said. “One question asked students to pick all the issues, among a menu of choices, that most impacted their vote this year. Another question asked student respondents to state what one issue was their most important issue this year. In both cases, economic issues were far and away the top choices. In the single-issue question, no other issue received half of the votes of economic issues.”

The class reported abortion/planned parenthood was the second most salient issue. Education, student loans and health care rounded out the top issues.

According to the responses from the survey, the MC student body was equally divided between conservative, moderate and liberal ideologies, as well as party affiliation.

While television news was the most important means of obtaining election news among MC student respondents, it is clear that social media and the internet were important venues from which 17- to 22-year-old college students received their 2012 election information.

“We have conducted this online poll in every even-numbered fall for the past decade,” O’Gorman said. “I have been amazed by how much social media like YouTube and Spotify, Internet news stories and social networking like Twitter and Facebook gain in influence, to the point they all but dominate the results. Television news was still the top vote getter, but just by five percentage points. I wonder if this is the last election-year survey that 'traditional' TV will be the dominant news source for MC students.”

The closeness of the national vote was reflective in the results, as were some disconnects in MC student responses. For example, O’Gorman described how one PLS321 student noticed that foreign policy or national security were not important issues chosen by respondents as important in guiding their vote. The student thought this interesting, given that this poll was active for four days in late October, immediately after the third presidential debate, which was focused on foreign policy.

Students were slightly more dissatisfied with President Obama’s performance than satisfied, and polled about equal as to their satisfaction, or not, with the Patient Protection Act, the health care plan known by its nickname "Obamacare."

“Students saw the closeness of the results between Romney and Obama and asked to look at crosstabs to see if they could discern how the undecided students would break in their preference for the president,” O’Gorman said.

He said factoring in the undecided did close the gap in Romney’s favor, but President Obama still came out ahead.

“I begged and pleaded with them to 'Make the Call' and say who would win the election,” O’Gorman said with a smile. "They correctly reminded me what they had learned earlier – that online polls are fraught with uncertainty, and one with this sample size needs to have its results taken, and used, with great care."

“However, I do think they 'got it,'” O’Gorman added. “When I asked them to call the election based upon this one poll, at least three students looked wide eyed at me and said they didn’t want that pressure -- that presenting results representing a much larger population has a lot of pressure associated with it.

"My response to them in class to these comments was this: Welcome to the world of election-year polling."

Twenty-six percent of the Maryville College student body participated in this online poll. The entire poll was taken via an online course management system MC faculty and students use to communicate and exchange documents related to courses on campus. The students in PLS321 wish to thank Dr. Steven James, who manages the course management system and who gave the class access to an online survey tool used only for faculty and administrators. They also wish to thank Mark Fugate and his MC Information Technology team for making this online survey available via the Internet.

“Tomorrow night should be quite a night,” O’Gorman predicted.