The primaries are almost upon us. Everywhere you look are reminders of the impending election: The front pages of newspapers are plastered with pictures of smiling candidates, news programs are holding debates, talk radio show hosts are yelling at each other, and of course the Internet is filled with content about the election. Yet in the era of Fox News and YouTube debates, it can be hard to sort out fact from fiction and find objective information about candidates’ positions on issues that you care about. This year, as an initiative by Lawrence University President Jill Beck, a seminar class has been created to address issues related to the upcoming election and to help students be better informed and more involved with the election process. President Beck, her husband Robert Beck, and Director of Research Administration Bill Skinner are teaching the course. It is their hope that the course will, as Skinner said, “get students involved in voting.” The class is working in conjunction with the Web site MyElectionDecision.org to provide the Lawrence community with information about the candidates that addresses the issues Lawrentians really care about. To help gauge what issues Lawrentians find most important, the students in the class have been conducting surveys around campus. The surveys were administered to a ‘convenience sample’ of people — essentially groups or individuals who were accessible to the students conducting the interviews — but still covered a wide range of students. Surveys were conducted in the Alexander Gymnasium, the Conservatory and dorms, among other places on campus. The interviews were face-to-face, and interviewees were asked to rate issues on a scale of one to five that denoted the importance of each issue to the interviewee’s predicted decision in the election. The students in the small class were able to conduct an impressive number of surveys, with a current total of 460 people surveyed. The results were as follows:same-sex marriage reproductive rights student loans and grants national draft civil liberties death penalty N Valid 466 466 467 466 469 460 Missing 8 8 7 8 5 14 Mean 3.4700 3.8348 3.5910 3.5579 3.8230 3.1652
environmental issues funding for K-12 education funding for the arts in K-12 schools international relations and diplomacy future of social security federal tax policy N Valid 469 472 466 465 461 458 Missing 5 2 8 9 13 16 Mean 4.0384 4.0424 3.8197 4.1269 3.7115 3.5808
Federal budget deficit Transportation war on terror nuclear proliferation N Valid 460 465 472 457 Missing 14 9 2 17 Mean 3.4935 3.0452 3.8517 3.4092 tables courtesy of Bill Skinner and the Beck seminar class
The valid number stands for the number of students who answered the question and the missing number stands for the number of students who responded with “I don’t know.” The mean is the average response students gave based on the five-point scale. From the data that was collected, the students determined the top six issues by comparing the means for each issue. They found that the top issues are: environmental issues, funding for K-12 education (modified to include funding for the arts), international diplomacy, reproductive rights, civil liberties and the war on terror. The students also found that 55 percent of people surveyed plan to vote in the general election and 67 percent have visited MyElectionDecision.org. The students will be researching candidates’ positions on these issues and modifications will be made to MyElectionDecision.org in accordance with the information that they find. As a result of the work from the Beck seminar class and MyElectionDecision.org, Lawrentians now have an ally to help them become better informed about the candidates’ positions on issues that the campus community finds important.