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St. Olaf to host conference analyzing midterm election

St. Olaf students surveyed voters at 22 polling locations in Minnesota’s Second Congressional District on election day, including Shepherd of the Valley Lutheran Church in Apple Valley.

A recent Star Tribune column analyzing the election results in Minnesota’s Second Congressional District relied heavily on data produced by students in St. Olaf College Associate Professor of Political Science Chris Chapp’s Parties and Elections course.

The data — collected by 44 St. Olaf students at 22 polling locations on election day — is part of a nationwide collaboration that Chapp organized to gather exit poll data from congressional districts around the country.

In addition to the exit polling that St. Olaf students did, students at Colgate University polled voters in New York’s 22nd Congressional District; students at Beloit College polled voters in Wisconsin’s First Congressional District (House Speaker Paul Ryan’s old seat); students at Wesleyan University polled voters in Connecticut’s Fifth Congressional District; and students at the University of North Dakota polled voters in the state’s sole congressional district.

The insight gleaned from surveying voters in all of those congressional districts will be available and shared at a conference that the St. Olaf Political Science Department is hosting on campus December 6. The 2018 Midterm Election Conference will feature a keynote address on gender and the midterm elections by Notre Dame Professor of Political Science Christina Wolbrecht. It will also feature research on political communication from an advanced research methods class, and academic civic engagement projects from across St. Olaf.

The conference is free and open to the public; those interested in attending can register online.

“These students are and will continue to be engaged citizens. And with a class like this, we are giving them a set of tools to be especially effective and discerning in that regard.” —Associate Professor of Political Science Chris Chapp

Chapp says the goal of the conference is to show the importance of using data to inform basic questions about American democracy and public policy.

I hope that through this project, students learn how to do political analysis in a way that is very different from the conventional ways,” he says. “We tend to think of election analysis like political punditry, but I really want students to adopt a different lens for thinking about elections.”

Associate Professor of Political Science Chris Chapp provides his students with guidance on how to conduct exit polls. Students surveyed voters at 22 polling locations, which are highlighted on the map behind Chapp.

In conducting their exit polls, students gathered data on split ticket voting, ideology and vote choice, gender and vote choice, religion and vote choice, presidential approval, political polarization, issue voting, ideological extremity, and more.

Throughout the fall semester, groups of St. Olaf students have had video conferences with students at the partner colleges and universities to discuss their hypotheses and what they have found in their data.

“When you collect data across different congressional districts, you get a little more explanatory leverage with a bigger data set that looks at various races,” Chapp says. “So in thinking about what we could do to build collaboration into this project, we added video conferences with so that students at colleges across the country could share ideas and challenge each other’s ideas.”

The conference is the culmination of this semester-long research. Students will put everything that they have learned about elections together as they present the results of their exit poll project as informed by their hypotheses.

“One thing that we try to do at St. Olaf is close the loop and inform the public about our findings so that everyone who is participating in our survey, from citizens to election judges to public officials, has some sense of what we learned and how it can help us moving forward,” Chapp says.

“These students are and will continue to be engaged citizens,” he adds. “And with a class like this, we are giving them a set of tools to be especially effective and discerning in that regard.”

The 2018 Midterm Elections Conference is sponsored by the St. Olaf Leraas Fund, the St. Olaf Social Sciences Division, the Academic Civic Engagement program, and the St. Olaf Department of Political Science.