Centre Challenge: Predict the election
Released Nov. 1, 200
"Centre Challenge" is a periodic feature of the Centre College
news service, showcasing academic stories and achievements of Centre students
The assignment: Government Professor Bill Garriott has one dozen students in his Political Parties seminar, and he has assigned them a 10 to 15-page paper, due by 4:30 p.m. on Election Day, Nov. 7. In the paper, each student must predict the winner of the Presidential election and, even tougher, the student must predict the actual vote tally in a particular swing state assigned by the professor. Lest any student be tempted to write 15 pages of partisan commentary for a favored party of candidate, their teacher has an antidote. Any student whose prediction of the vote tally is off by more than three percentage points in his or her state will have to write another paper (albeit a shorter one) explaining factors that made the state tough to call.
The students: The class has no shortage of students who already have made their own political commitments. One class member (Megan Spindel of Hawesville, Ky.) worked for the Cheney campaign during debate week at Centre, and another (Mazie Kukachka of Soda Springs, Idaho) worked for the Lieberman camp. Most others in the class have strong political commitments, including some who favor independent candidates.
Their resources: Web sites devoted to political analysis and breaking news, daily newspapers, historical sources on past elections.
The teacher's comments: Prof. Garriott says: "The goal of this assignment is to get students to understand how to analyze an election, including the role of political parties. I've been teaching this class for several years and what the students invariably discover is that every Presidential election really is 51 separate elections [50 states and the District of Columbia]. To predict and analyze the overall outcome, you have to understand the particular conditions and contributions of every state."
The students' perspectives:
Megan Spindel, Hawesville, Ky.: "I think I must have taken the toughest state of all, Michigan. Polls currently show the two major candidates dead even in Michigan, with Cheney and Gore each holding 43% of the vote. Nader has turned out to have a huge impact in the state, much more so than other states, and his candidacy could determine the outcome. Right now, I'm leaning toward a prediction that Gore will win the state of Michigan, and that's tough for me to say that. I'm affiliated with the Republican party and worked for the Cheney campaign while it was at Centre for the vice presidential debate. In some ways, my political interests have made it tougher for me to clearly do my research and write my paper, but I'm still totally enthusiastic about politics. In fact, I've decided I want to work on a campaign immediately after I graduate from Centre in 2002."
Matt Tatman, Lexington, Ky.: "Based on my research about Florida, I'm predicting that Gore will carry the state. Even though Mr. Bush's brother is governor there, the state's large minority population leans toward Gore, and so does the large population of the elderly. Even, the size of the undecided vote could change the outcome in that state."
Ashley Sides, Henderson, Ky.: "California has proved to be fascinating. It's a state where you never know who'll win the vote, because you never know which bloc of voters will come out to the polls. California allows citizen initiatives on the ballot during the election, and each 'proposition' attracts a different set of voters. The Republican primary was heavily influenced by the fact that the ballot included Proposition 22, which proposed that the state outlaw homosexual marriages. Conservative voters came out in huge numbers, and Bush easily beat McCain in the primary. For the general election, there's no comparable proposition. I've really enjoyed studying California's senatorial races. It's the only state with two women senators."
Nick Palmer, Russell, Ky.: "In some ways North Carolina turned out to be a boring state in the Presidential race. It seems certain to go for Bush. What makes this state interesting are the heated rivalries inside the state for mayoral races and other local elections. The other great thing about this assignment is that it has forced me to become more of a computer user. I've discovered incredible resources on the Internet."
Diana Davidson, San Antonio, Texas: "Ohio has proved interesting. It's a state with a large minority populations, and, when it comes to political affiliations, the state is very divided geographically. Right now it looks as if Bush will carry the state with 48% of the vote (with 43% for Gore), and that has big implications for the overall election: no Republican has ever won the election without winning Ohio."
Following is a complete roster of class members and the states assigned for their term paper. Several class members were among the Centre students who secured tickets to the Vice Presidential debate.
Keary Bailey: Washington
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