Students polled at the polls

Published 2:13 pm Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Why were there so many students outside of the Farmville Volunteer Fire Department polling site during voting last Tuesday?

College students present at polling sites last week during voting hours were interviewing voters to gauge election results. In particular, one Longwood University professor sent his students to the Farmville Volunteer Fire Department site on West Third Street, to conduct straw polls.

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Dr. Ryan Stouffer, assistant professor of communication studies, is teaching a course about political communications. Students in his class learn how to examine candidates’ communication and see if they are talking about policy-based or character-based issues.

Rosaria Bui, one of the students, said all the groups in the class came back with different results.

“Most people who voted for Trump were reluctant to say so, but they would say they’re Republicans and voted straight ticket,” Bui said.

In regard to policy, Bui said many of her classmates found the environment to be a common issue voters brought up.

“The results were rather evenly split between Clinton and Trump, but the most interesting takeaway is how little policy mattered this election,” Stouffer said, after looking at the students’ polls

Most of the voters they surveyed didn’t care about specific policies and couldn’t name any. They just voted for who they thought was better, he said.

Students also found the debates did not influence voters’ decisions.

“Students were straw polling voters to find out who they voted for and what influenced their decisions,” Stouffer said.

A collaborative photography and communication studies course co-taught by Mike Mergen and Professor Jeff Halliday, respectively, also sent students to the polls.

Lindsay Manning, a senior, said the professors paired up students from the courses to interview and photograph voters.

The students have been attending political events throughout the fall, including rallies, debates and protests.

There was also a campus wide poll initiated by the university’s student-run newspaper, The Rotunda, asking students, faculty and staff who they planned to vote for.

Editor-in-chief Halle Parker said 1,204 people participated in the poll.

“Trump won by a landslide,” Parker said, indicating 605 of the participants, or 50.2 percent, said they were voting for Donald Trump.

“(Hillary) Clinton came in second with 431 votes, 31.8 percent,” she said, noting Libertarian Gary Johnson was third with 85 votes, or 7.1 percent, and independent Evan McMullin was fourth with 36 votes, or 3 percent. “Looking at the demographics of our university as a predominantly white school with primarily in-state students, with many from the southern part of Virginia, I believe the results are in-line with the nation as a whole and the result of the Electoral College.”

She said the breakdown shows a greater support system for third party candidates and write-ins.

Parker said the results seemed contradictory only because Longwood is predominantly female, which could have swayed more votes for Clinton. However, when looking at national demographics, she said she found more white women voted for Trump in the majority of states.

“While Longwood is a liberal arts school and a university, the result seems appropriate based on our location and demographics,” she concluded.