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Election 2008

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Dartmouth students to survey Americans

How will the current economic situation affect the outcome of the presidential election? What influence will negative campaigning have? How will Dartmouth students engage with the political season in the classroom? Dartmouth faculty make their predictions and discuss what the political season means for their research and teaching.

 

Dean Lacy
Professor of Government

Lacy's "American Elections and Voting Behavior" will plan fundraising, ad campaigns and Electoral College strategy for mock presidential candidates. Students in "American Elections" and an "American Political Behavior" seminar, as well as two undergraduate Politics and Law Fellows, "are writing questions for an election survey Dartmouth is sponsoring," Lacy says. "We will interview over 30,000 U.S. citizens via computer in the month before the election, and then again after it."

Lacy
Dean Lacy (Photo by Joseph Mehling '69)

Lacy studies public opinion and electoral institutions and behavior. This election season, he is "examining the effect of the economy and the Iraq war on electoral behavior. The 2008 election is an important test case," he says. "It is well established that voters punish the incumbent party for a poor economy. Many economic indicators are slumping. The economic fundamentals and dissatisfaction with the occupation of Iraq give Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama an early lead, but the race is now [as of mid-September] very close."

Lacy predicts: "The election will come down to a scrap for Electoral College votes across a wide playing field of swing states."

 

Eric Zitzewitz
Assistant Professor of Economics

Zitzewitz studies how financial markets have responded to the outcomes of elections held since 1880.

zitzewitz
Eric Zitzewitz (Photo by Joseph Mehling '69)

"I use election betting or prediction markets to determine the pre-election odds. During this election, I'll be looking at how financial markets respond to big news items that affect the outcome probabilities," he says.

He is already seeing interesting patterns of responses to current events. "In mid-September," he points out, "strong post-convention polls for Republican presidential candidate John McCain shifted the odds traded at Intrade.com, a predictions market site, to near even for a win by either major party." Zitzewitz will be watching such data closely as the term progresses and the election nears.

When Zitzewitz teaches the seminar "Topics in Money and Finance," his students' coursework includes conducting and writing up original research in finance. "One really strong paper last year looked at how the effects of the 2004 election on individual companies correlated with who they contributed to," he recalls. Zitzewitz will be teaching the course again this winter term and next spring: "I expect the 2008 election will inspire some good student papers."

 

Deborah Brooks
Associate Professor of Government

Brooks will have her eyes on campaign ads this fall, paying particular attention to negative advertising, and to ads sponsored by "527 " political advocacy groups. The two categories often overlap. In the 2004 election, Brooks notes, "527 ads by sponsored by groups such as Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, MoveOn.org, and Americans for Honesty on Issues were major players on the airwaves and the vast majority of their ads were very negative."

Brooks
Deborah Brooks (Photo by Joseph Mehling '69)

Brooks, who is on a research sabbatical this year, studies the relationship between political communication and the public. "Using both experiments and surveys of the public, my research has shown that negative advertising does not depress overall voter participation," she reports. "In 2004, we saw extremely high levels of negativity and extremely high levels of turnout. I expect that 2008 will be a high turnout election. It is hard to tell whether it will be as negative as 2004, but regardless, I do not expect it to diminish participation."

In Brooks' courses, "current elections provide context for the scholarly readings and ideas we are discussing. During the primaries," she recalls, "students in my ‘Political Communication' seminar coded local news broadcasts for campaign content, compared different candidate speeches, and analyzed the content of the Democratic primary debate held at Dartmouth [in September 2007]."

By GENEVIEVE HAAS AND KELLY SEAMAN

 

Questions or comments about this article? We welcome your feedback.

Last Updated: 10/7/08