Elections always offer teachable moments, but the volatility, polarity and record spending related to the 2012 presidential race have given participants in Clark's fall semester political science course The American Presidency real-world lessons they're unlikely to forget.
Twenty-three students enrolled in "The American Presidency," taught by Jim Gomes, Director of the Mosakowski Institute for Public Enterprise. During the course, students examine the president's changing role in American politics, the evolution of the modern presidency, selection and nomination process, relationships with other political institutions and presidential character. They also explore proposed reforms for the future.
As the election neared, the students applied their research to the crucial topic of swing states.
On Nov. 1 and Nov. 5, six teams took turns presenting their findings on six important swing states. Each had 20 minutes to outline their examination of a wide variety of voting factors – ethnic and religious demographics, economic situations, candidates' "ground games," campaign spending, historical records and more -- then they made their predictions. They adjusted their data to reflect real-time poll results, and nearly every team noted tight margins and a range of alternate possibilities.
Here's how the students called the swing-state vote results, based on their research:
Virginia - Romney "by no more than 2 percent"
Wisconsin - Obama "by margin of 2 to 5 percent"
Nevada - Obama "by at least 4 percent, maybe even 6"
Florida - Romney "by 1.5 percent"
Ohio - Obama "52 to 48 percent voting for"
Colorado - Obama "by an extremely close margin; almost too close to call"
Toward the end of class, Gomes said he was pleased with the students' work and high quality of the presentations. None of the students revealed so much as a hint of advocacy while presenting their findings. "I hope this exercise really gave you a hands-on sense of the Electoral College and how it affects the campaigns, the media coverage, and the outcome of the race," he said.
Gomes also expressed his hope that this election not result in recounts and litigation. And he offered a final thought: "Some of us here will be very happy tomorrow night, some will be unhappy. The country has been closely and deeply divided, and whatever the outcome and whatever side you were on, I urge all of you to be gracious to each other. It's important to us all."
On the first day of "The American Presidency," students were treated to a 15-minute video collage produced by Gomes.
The coursework of "The American Presidency" reflects the educational model of Clark's LEEP (Liberal Education and Effective Practice) initiative, which stresses application of knowledge and skills to issues of consequence and "combines a robust liberal arts experience with authentic engagement in the world and workplace."