Student-run election day exit polling provides collaborative learning opportunity for Centre class
Centre College, having hosted two vice presidential debates, serves as a hub for political discourse in both local and global communities. On Election Day, Assistant Professor of Politics Benjamin Knoll and his students will engage in collaborative learning efforts by fielding exit poll surveys at every voting location in Boyle County.
This year marks Knoll’s third year of working on this exit-polling project, which is designed to provide an “excellent experiential learning opportunity” for students to get hands-on experience with measuring public opinion and voting behavior.
“Students in the ‘Parties, Campaigns, and Elections’ class designed some of the questions as part of an undergraduate research project this semester. They’re studying the phenomenon of ‘split ticket’ voters: those who vote for Democrats at the local level but Republicans at the national level or vice versa,” Knoll explains.
The survey questions will ask voters for their opinions on local issues as well as their opinions on the job performance of elected officials, which the class will use in their political science research. The results of the surveys will be presented at the 2015 Kentucky Political Science Association Conference next spring.
Kit Thomas ’15, who is continuing her summer research as Knoll’s research assistant, will instruct the other students on how to input their data into spreadsheets after surveying is complete.
“I have been compiling schedules and contact information and helping Dr. Knoll assemble the boxes containing the exit polling material,” Thomas says. “It has been a lot of fun, and I have really enjoyed the experience of being behind the scenes after having conducted exit polling myself during my first and sophomore years at Centre.”
This year, Centre students will survey voters alongside 2004 Centre alumnus Ryan New’s AP American Government students at Boyle County High School. New first did “unscientific exit polling” in Washington County while teaching there, and he contacted Knoll about partnering with Centre politics classes for the project.
“I thought this would show my students first-hand the part of the political world of which they will soon be an integral part,” New explains.
The project is done as a service to the community to provide information about what voters deem important issues in local politics, and New hopes his students’ involvement will give them a “better sense of community and how government works.”
“If we are going to live in a democracy, we must get to know our fellow community members,” New says. “Sharing ideas is central to our form of government and as my students are still formulating their opinions, they should be exposed to those ideas. Especially with high school students who are not as keenly aware of community needs, it is an opportunity to challenge them to open up and not concentrate on themselves.”
New believes that his Centre education helped prepare him to teach and engage his students in valuable learning experiences, like the exit polling project, both in and out of the classroom.
“Simply put, I would not be the teacher I am today without Centre,” New says. “Analytical thinking, exposure to varying and challenging ideas, studying abroad and fostering a strong sense of independence and self have given me confidence in the classroom, both in content and methodological approaches, to learning and education.”
by Hayley Hoffman ’16
Inset photo: Zach Throne ’16