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Skidmore College

Questioning the queue

October 27, 2016

“I’m only popular in the fall of even-numbered years,” quips Skidmore political scientist Chris Mann on the “This is Skidmore” podcast. Why is his popularity in flux? Because he teaches campaigns and election research—hot topics leading up to November election days.

Mann requires students in his “Campaigns and Elections” course to follow both sides of a political race other than the presidential election, to understand how campaigns operate and make choices made through the electioneering season. Though he has professional experience as a political consultant, he can’t name anyone who has run a perfect campaign “by the books.” But he notes that it has been an especially interesting challenge to teach campaigns this fall, with one candidate who is using the campaign rulebook and another who has thrown it out the window. Mann recently joined other faculty members on a panel to discuss “Teaching Trump,” organized by the student Skidmore Republicans club.

On election day, Mann’s 29 students will be all over the Capital Region, either working for a campaign or assisting their peers in Mann’s “Election Research” course, who will be gathering data at polling places. “I find much more value outside the classroom on election day,” he explains. The 12 “Election Research” students and their helpers will join students from 20 other colleges and universities, including MIT and Dartmouth, to track everything from lengths of lines and parking availability at polling places to the weather during polling hours.

With the presidential election on the horizon, Mann is in his element. He has investigated a variety of marketing and messaging techniques to encourage new-voter turnout, and even how social pressures (such as those nifty “I voted” stickers) can play a part. Mann was recently quoted in the Christian Science Monitor, discussing the phenomenon of “ballot roll-off,” when voters choose their candidates at the top of the ballot but leave unchosen the candidates for more local offices toward the bottom.

This is Skidmore is available for download on iTunes and Soundcloud.

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