Fifteen students in Professor of Mathematics Russ Goodman’s first-year Intersections course (including Sabrina Tallman ’22, above) turned exit pollsters on Election Day. They surveyed 165 residents in two Pella, Iowa, precincts about their vote and other demographic information as voters left the polling places. Then the mostly first-year students compiled results in real time—just like on TV. They built and executed every aspect of their survey, from designing the questions to coding the software to tabulating the data and analyzing the results. Their final step was to “call” elections in real time as soon as the data deemed it responsible reporting.
The students were continually surprised by what they learned. That included how much work goes into designing a survey, how effectively they managed to plan and execute the complex project, how accurate their predictions were, how complex the workings of democracy are, how pervasive data is in our culture and how many ethical issues attend its gathering and use.
Students’ biggest fears were being rejected by potential survey participants. They role-played in advance how to deal with different personality types to help overcome shyness. But their biggest surprise was how well most voters treated them. One woman brought two pollsters hot chocolate on the unseasonably cold and windy election night, and some voters were so interested in the students’ project that they started long conversations. The students voted for Goodman to continue to offer the class and the exit-polling project—and for warmer election-night weather for students who undertake this worthwhile project—in the future!
Read the Twitter feed on the project at twitter.com/CC_Polling.