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UTSA political science students watch presidential debates, analyze candidate responses
(Oct. 16, 2012) -- Students filled the Main Building auditoriums on the UTSA Main Campus Oct. 3 to watch the first presidential debate and Oct. 11 for the vice presidential debate. Hosted by the UTSA Department of Political Science and Geography, Student Government Association and SA Votes 2012 members, there also will be presidential debate viewings from 7:30 to 10 p.m., Oct. 16 and 22 in the Main Building Auditoriums (0.106 and 0.104). Free and open to the public, the goal of the events is to encourage student participation in the political process.
"It was awesome to see students involved in political affairs," said Daniel Khalil, UTSA senior political science and anthropology major, at the Oct. 3 viewing. "This event showed that students are interested in the political process with all their cheering and responses during the debate."
As a class assignment, UTSA political science professors Jeff Harmon and Henry Esparza encouraged their students to express their opinions during the debate through the use of an interactive application survey. The virtual lab gauged viewer reactions during the debate as each speaker covered a topic. Questions appeared on screens as subjects arose during the live debate to see if the viewer liked or disliked a candidate's response.
"We gave students some data analysis tools in class on determining who the average voter is," said Harmon. "We then wanted the students to observe the debate and figure out which audience the candidate is trying to appeal to."
For many students, it was the first time they had watched an electoral debate.
"Coming to a debate watch is a lot cooler than having to learn about polling trends on your own with just a textbook," said Nathan Olivares, UTSA sophomore small business and entrepreneurship major. "We had to learn about polling research and determine for ourselves if they are reliable resources in predicting who gets elected for presidency."
POL 1013 (Introduction to American Politics) is one of the 15 courses under the Quantitative Literacy Program (QLP), which aims to help students develop their quantitative reasoning skills by increasing contextual learning and advancing student knowledge of data analysis.
"Harmon's class is always politically charging," said Alejandro Mayor, a sophomore business management major. "I try to keep myself more informed on current affairs so I'm prepared to participate in class and throw in my opinions."
Harmon's and Esparza's students learn to look at data and understand the demographic factors that underlie a range of political variables including partisanship, ideology and turnout.
"We had the students look at the survey data and determine where the trends were going to go," Harmon said. "Now, they'll go back to see if these debates matter in the polling trends. Will these debates change the opinions of the voters or not?"