Talking politics: Snell ’15 and Thomas ’15 contribute to Ky. Senate race blog

Posted by Centre News in News, Politics, Research 05 Aug 2014

Knoll Research 1 PSWith the Kentucky U.S. Senate election less than 100 days away, the state has been abuzz with political activity as candidates gear up for what promises to be one of the most high-profile races of this year’s midterm election. Following this race closely are Centre College’s Assistant Professor of Politics Benjamin Knoll and students Caroline Snell ’15 and Kit Thomas ’15, who have created a blog as part of a faculty-student research collaboration that analyzes the 2014 Kentucky Senate election from a political science perspective.

The Commonwealth Duel Blog was designed as a sister site to Commonwealth Duel, a website created by a group of Centre students in Bill Goodman’s CentreTerm class this past January that aggregates online content related to Kentucky’s U.S. Senate candidates.

The mission of the blog site is to interpret news and events related to the Senate race through an academic lens for a politically interested audience. This means that blog content explains, rather than describes, political events and phenomena and attempts to predict their potential implications. This approach is intended to provide readers with more in-depth information as well as a more realistic understanding of how campaigns affect voters.Knoll Research 2

“The key difference is bringing empirical evidence to bear on the kinds of questions that are of interest in the news,” says Knoll. “We’re trying to use the social science method to talk about the same kinds of things that journalists talk about from a more descriptive kind of perspective.”

Snell and Thomas are the blog’s primary contributors, researching and writing posts on issues such as the effect of negative advertising on voter turnout or the accuracy of poll projections. They keep track of each campaign’s activities to ensure that their content remains timely.

“When we choose a blog topic we look at what is relevant in Kentucky politics that week, either what the Grimes campaign or the McConnell campaign is doing,” Snell explains.

As a result, Snell and Thomas have been directly engaging with real-world political events, which they say has lent focus and pertinence to their project.

“Something I’ve really appreciated about the experience is knowing a lot about one thing,” says Thomas. “I’ve liked learning as much about something as possible, and it’s especially interesting since this is relevant to what’s happening now.”

Moreover, Snell and Thomas, who are both politics majors, believe that the classes they have taken at Centre have amply prepared them for the rigorous research and writing that the blog requires.

“Centre has definitely taught us how to read academic articles, how to interpret them and how to write succinctly,” says Snell.

Thomas adds, “We have also been taught in classes how to use academic databases and glean information from them, which has been very useful.”

The students have also benefited from working one-on-one with a professor, an experience unique to summer research, such as this.

“In class, you go to talk to your professor maybe a couple times each semester, but we meet with Dr. Knoll every week and email back and forth all the time, so opportunities like this definitely provide a deeper relationship with faculty at Centre.”

To check out the Commonwealth Duel blog, visit www.commonwealthduelblog.org, or follow them on Twitter at @cwealthduel.

by Caitlan Cole

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