Elon University Poll teaches students about democracy

Jason Husser, assistant director of the Elon University Poll, describes the process of choosing a sample for the survey. Photo by Rebecca Wickel.

Elon University students participated in the Elon University Poll last week, in hopes of gaging opinion of North Carolina voters regarding the upcoming presidential election.

But for many students, the chance to engage with the community and participate in a cornerstone of democracy was invaluable experience in both their academic and professional development.

“As a political science major, there is nothing more important than taking part in something like this,” junior Dana Mustafa said.

Mustafa worked at the poll center in the Ella Darden and Elmon Lee Gray Pavilion from Sunday, August 26 until Thursday, August 30 as an extra credit option for her Research Methods class. According to her, being able to interact with voters was a major benefit to participating.

“A lot of the people who do respond to the poll love to talk, and they’ll talk and talk and they won’t stop,” she said. “It’s supposed to be a five to eight minute survey, but some people take 40 minutes. A lot of them were older, so they have great history to back up their opinions.”

For political science major and Elon senior Brandon Brown, hearing the various viewpoints of North Carolina residents was not only interesting, but professionally rewarding.

“I thought it was really interesting because I had actually heard the Elon Poll on National Public Radio and I heard it referenced through the New York Times,” he said. “I think that it’s a great resource for the campus and a great resource for local and national media, so participating seemed like a good move for my career.”

Brown was not the only student to reap the benefits of a day at the polls. Elon University sophomore and political science major Lauren Speranza narrowed her research agenda based on her experience at working at the poll center.

“I have never had an experience working with the actual voters and talking about that,” she said. “I’m a College Fellow and we have to do an undergraduate research project, so it helped me decide what to study. I want to talk to younger voters and youth participation in the elections.”

Despite the usefulness of time spent at the polls, some students said they were sometimes disappointed by wait they heard from the respondents.

“I was surprised by the ignorance of some people, honestly,” Mustafa said. “I remember one of the questions on the survey involved the keynote speaker of the Democratic National Convention being Latino, and a lot of people asked if he was legal. Just because he’s Hispanic doesn’t mean he’s  an illegal immigrant.”

Whatever the response from those participating in the survey, the collection of data by Elon University students was part of an important process — the cultivation of democracy.

“Surveys fit in this collective process of fostering democracy by offering decision makers, political elites, the media and other citizens a more fully developed information set,” said Jason Husser, assistant director of the Elon University Poll “That’s sort of the goal here, to provide information to society at large.”

According to Husser, the collection of this sort of information is vital to our political process.

“This is important because we live in a democracy, and democracies are supposed to be about ‘what are citizens attitudes?’” he said. “Citizens attitudes and people’s opinions are supposed to count.”

Thanks to Elon University students, the opinions of North Carolina voters will be counted.

For more information about the results of the Elon University Poll, check back on Monday, Sept. 3 for coverage from the Democratic National Convention.

 

 

 

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