Elections in America: Students Predict the Outcome of the 2010 Midterm Elections

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The opening statement of the syllabus for Henriet Hendriks’ Elections in America class asserts that “free and fair elections are the cornerstone of American democracy.” To prove her point, Hendriks, an assistant professor of political science, asked her students to examine the midterm elections.

She divided the class into three groups and assigned each group a different Senate race to follow, in Florida, Nevada and Pennsylvania. The students wrote four short papers leading up to Election Day, outlining the states’ profiles, voter demographics, media coverage and campaign advertisements.

Hendriks chose congressional elections because they are easier to examine. Whole states could be taken on by a group, and more information was available about the races because of current polls and advertising. Examining congressional elections is also a good way to study close elections and races. Pennsylvania’s issues hit home for most Susquehanna students, and Florida’s race, with an independent candidate running, was a three-way split. Nevada had a tight race between the majority leader and a Tea Party candidate.

Their work culminated in a “prediction paper” that identified who they thought the winners would be for their assigned state and why, given the information they had gathered throughout the semester.

Two of the three groups predicted accurately when they chose Republican Pat Toomey as the winner of the Pennsylvania senatorial race and Republican Marco Rubio as the winner of the Florida senatorial race.

But the exercise was about more than just looking at our political history and making a guess about its future. Hendriks says each state has a political culture. When she was in Minnesota, she got used to friendly competition, but in other places, such as New Jersey, elections tend to be more cutthroat. She says each state and region has a culture of its own, and cultural heritages carry their own values, which can echo in elections even today.

What Hendriks ultimately wanted her students to learn from the class was that while quirky things do occur in elections; there are patterns and common themes. All candidates are in it to win, and they end up doing similar things to achieve that goal. 

Contributing writers to The ‘Grove section are Audrey Carroll ‘12; Karen Jones, assistant director of media relations; Victoria Kidd and Megan McDermott ‘14.

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