A Poll on the Polls: Are students engaged and informed on the upcoming presidential election?


BY GRACE McDOWELL
Staff Writer

“Trumping” Politics: The Poll (given to 20 McKendree students):

When is the next presidential election?

Can you name any candidates running?

Who is leading in the Democratic polls?

Who is leading in the Republican polls?

Have you watched any of the Republican debates?

Do you have an interest in politics?

Do you enjoy being informed on upcoming elections?

Are you a registered voter?

Responses:

  1. 2016 (11x), November 2016 (6x), Unsure (2x), November 2015
  2. Trump (20x), Clinton (17x), Bush (14x), Carson (6x), Sanders (6x), Fiorina (6x), Cruz (5x), Rubio (4x), Biden (4x), Huckabee (3x), Paul (3x), Santorum (2x), Walker (1x), “failed CEO woman” (1x)
  3. Clinton (7x), Unsure (7x), Sanders (3x), Sanders or Clinton (2x), Trump
  4. Trump (15x), Unsure (4x), Clinton
  5. Yes (12x), No (6x), Some (2x)
  6. Yes (9x), No (6x), kind of (5x)
  7. Yes (16x), No (2x), Sometimes (2x)
  8. Yes (15x), No (5x)
trump
Donald Trump Photo Credit: http://www.nationofchange.org

When asking someone about their interest in politics, you usually receive one of three answers: they love it, hate it or couldn’t care less. With the upcoming presidential election only a little over a year away, are McKendree students concerned about who battles it out to run the ol’ U.S. of A.? How informed and engaged are students in the election process? 20 McKendree students were surveyed on their knowledge and opinion of the upcoming election. The results were all but the same.

85% of students were at least aware that the election is taking place in 2016. Tuesday, November 8th, 2016 is the exact date. And again, 85% of students surveyed could name three or more candidates that are running for office (this may not be too difficult, considering there are over a dozen Republican candidates). Only 40% correctly acknowledged that Hillary Clinton is currently leading in the Democratic polls.

clinton
Hillary Clinton Photo Credit: http://www.mrctv.org

However, 75% of students knew that Donald Trump is the current front-runner in Republican polls. Could this be due to the massive media attention and never-ending stories regarding Trump’s lack of “political correctness”? It is possible his media attention has caused students to be more aware of his presence, but Clinton has also received a fair share of the spotlight due to her current email scandal.

These survey results give a small-scale sense of just how much students are informed on the presidential election process. Informed and engaged can be at opposite ends of the spectrum, however.

Of the twenty students surveyed, 13 have watched at least one of the two televised Republican debates. 45% of students have a clear interest in politics, while another 25% have only somewhat of an interest. Although the majority surveyed may not have an overwhelming interest in politics, 17 of 20 students did admit that they enjoy being informed about upcoming elections. Engagement levels may not be extremely high, but 75% of students surveyed are registered voters and have the ability to participate in upcoming elections. These results may or may not give a sure feel of political interest on campus.

Collins
Professor Ann Collins Photo Credit: http://www.mckendree.edu

Curious on how her political mindset viewed these survey results, I went to Dr. Ann Collins, Associate Professor of Political Science, to gain a professional opinion. This is Collins’ 9th year at McKendree teaching U.S. politics, and this upcoming election will be her third presidential election she has been on campus for. Collins believes that students always know more about what is going on, politically, than they think they do.

“I start out my classes by asking: what are the biggest issues we face as a country? Students generally say they don’t follow the news, but they know what’s going on.” Collins reasons that with Donald Trump and other “loud” candidates in the race this year, more people are tuning in.

She goes on to say, “Right now it is a circus that’s attracting a lot of attention. People will get more serious about looking at the issues as we get closer to the election.”

Collins was asked if this presidential race stands out to her as unique from past races. She replied that recently we have this sort of anti-establishment sentiment that has hit the ground running. The three front-runners, Donald Trump, Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina do not have any political experience. Americans are, in a way, regaining the Ronald Reagan philosophy that the government is not the solution to everything.

From Collins’ experience, students become more engaged in presidential elections than midterm or local elections. Students who are already engaged in politics are going to be the ones engaged in those elections.

So, how does Collins personally venture to actively engage students in politics? For one, if you are taking a class with Dr. Collins, you are required to read the news and present one news story in front of the class for a participation grade. She also requires an online political assessment test on isidewith.com. This test allows you to answer questions about issues that are important to you, such as the environment, abortion and so on. It will then line up your responses with the presidential candidate that best represents and matches your views. The best part: anyone can take the test, and it’s free!

When asked if students are generally politically informed before they cast their ballot, Collins believes this is more of an American issue. “A lot of people still use political parties as shorthand and do not study the issues completely before they vote.”

She acknowledges that when students are younger, they tend to side with the political views of their parents, but as they get older it becomes time for them to form their own political mindsets. It is important to realize that whether you tune in to politics or not, the government plays a huge role in your lives.

Collins goes on: “It is better to have a voice in the selection process than to let others choose for you.”

If you are looking to be more actively involved with politics on campus, contact Dante Anglin about joining the Young Republicans or Joe Blasdel about the still forming Young Democrats.

Another option is to see Dr. Collins or Dr. Frederking about joining the Public Affairs forum. It consists mostly of political science majors, but anyone is welcome to attend. The forum takes field trips, talks politics and helps organize voter registration drives.

Keep an eye out for upcoming drives, and, if you have any questions about registering to vote or politics in general, stop by Collins’ office in PAC 203. In the words of Dr. Collins herself, “Jump in! Get involved!”