Listen to a conversation between a student and a political science professor.
I'm not sure if you know, but I was elected to student government this year ...
I was in student government myself as an undergraduate.
It taught me a lot about the political process.
In fact, the experience solved my problem of what to do with my life—it really cemented my interest in becoming a political scientist.
Cool. Anyway, um, the reason I came by is, we're getting ready to conduct a straw poll on campus.
You know, hold an informal vote, since the general election's just a couple months away.
We wanna get a feel for the student body's political leanings.
Like, who students are planning to vote for, which political party people identify with, that sorta thing.
Oh sure. I helped students run a straw poll once, years ago.
[remembering with distaste] It was a lotta work, mostly because we used paper ballots and stayed up all night counting 'em.
[making a strong suggestion] But if you use computers ...
Yeah, we're creating a Web site for it where students'll be able to vote online.
Um, and we're looking for a faculty advisor to help, actually.
I was hoping you might be interested…
Oh, I'm flattered, John, but my schedule's so jammed.
I'm teaching two seminars, your intro course, finishing up my research ...
[slight pause] But, uh, what about Professor Klein?
She's new in our department.Plus, she's a whiz with computers ...
OK. I'll ask her.
[changing topics] So, have you decided on a topic for your term paper yet?
Why not write about your straw poll?
Since the paper's not due till after the election, you could include your results, maybe compare them with the real election results?
But would that be enough? I mean, just comparing numbers?
Well, no, you'd need to provide some analysis, too.
But I was thinking—there's a couple of local ballot questions this year, you know, referenda that voters can either support or not support ...
Right, there's one on whether to ban smoking in restaurants, and another one, uh ... I think it's whether to spend tax dollars for a new sports arena in the city.
OK, here's an idea ...
In regular elections, the vast majority of voters ignore referenda; they vote for their favorite candidates, but avoid ballot questions.
We believe it's because voters aren't familiar with the questions or don't understand them.
But actively educating people on ballot questions right before they vote can improve referendum participation rates ...
[excited] In that case, maybe we could have our straw-poll Web site provide information on the ballot questions, like how each proposal would affect students ...
Exactly. And when you write your paper, you could compare the students' referendum voting rate to the general public's, and include your own analysis of the results.
Plus there's plenty of published research on referendum voting behavior.
Thanks Professor Miller! I had no idea this straw poll could actually help me in my course work.