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Political poll yields surprises

Mary Kate Malone | Monday, November 1, 2004

As part of a class project, two Notre Dame students recently conducted a campus-wide poll about students’ political opinions on the presidential candidates and various issues affecting the 2004 election – with some surprising results.

Juniors Philip Wells and Nicola Bunick formed and conducted the poll under the direction of political science professors Joshua Kaplan and David Campbell. The survey, which sought students’ opinions on topics ranging from the presidential candidates to homosexual civil unions, is an independent research project that Wells and Bunick will receive credit for through the political science department.

The online survey was conducted from Oct. 11 – 13.

Wells and Bunick, both political science majors, included 10 dorms in their poll. They asked the inhabitants of every third room on each floor to go online and participate in the survey.

“We tried very hard to make the survey representative of the Notre Dame population,” Bunick said. “The dorms already consist of a random sampling of students, so it was relatively easy to obtain statistically accurate data.”

Wells said the sample of 273 students reflected the student body in terms of male to female ratio and religious beliefs.

Campbell is on a leave of absence, leaving Kaplan to oversee the project. Bunick and Wells were supplied with a national survey conducted by Harvard undergraduates, from which many questions were lifted for the Notre Dame survey.

“The Harvard survey provided a valuable model to work off of and had unbiased questions that sought the answers we were looking for,” Wells said.

Based on the results of the poll, George W. Bush drew 48.7 percent of those surveyed, while John Kerry drew 43.9 percent, other candidates 4.4 percent and unsure voters composed 3 percent.

But, according to Wells, Bush’s margin of victory is well within the margin of error for the survey, indicating that Notre Dame students are split almost evenly between the two candidates.

Wells was surprised by the close race between Kerry and Bush on campus.

“I think a lot of people would think Bush would win by a huge margin, but the numbers prove that’s just not the case here,” he said.

Other unexpected results from the poll involved questions regarding homosexual marriage and abortion. Both issues yielded responses that seem to imply that the student body is not as conservative as many perceive it to be, Wells said.

Despite the fact that Notre Dame was recently ranked first in the Princeton Review’s “Alternative Lifestyles are Not an Alternative” category, Bunick and Wells’ poll seems to indicate otherwise. Nearly 70 percent of respondents agreed that the government should recognize civil unions for homosexual couples.

In addition, students responding to questions about abortion reflected a greater prevalence of a liberal attitude on campus. Among women, while 55 percent considered themselves pro-life, 35 percent described themselves as pro-choice. Among men, 66.9 percent called themselves pro-life, compared to 23 percent that considered themselves pro-choice.

The survey further defied preconceptions about the student body based on respondents’ answers to the statement “I am more liberal than the average Notre Dame student.” Over 56 percent of students agreed with this statement, reflecting a greater presence of liberal attitudes on campus.

Bunick and Wells also discovered that voter apathy does not appear to be a serious problem on Notre Dame’s campus. Whether it is due to the closely contested presidential race, or the prevalence of politically involved students, there is a significant amount of political interest on campus. Over 60 percent of the Notre Dame population thinks politics is very relevant to their lives, compared to the national average of 19 percent for college students. Also, 79 percent of respondents said they will “definitely vote” in Tuesday’s election.

Wells and Bunick will each receive three credits for their work. Since they are the only students in the class, they do not meet formally with Kaplan.

“We discuss our progress with professor Kaplan on a weekly basis and consult professor Campbell via e-mail,” Wells said.

Following the survey, Wells and Bunick will analyze the results and present their findings in a formal report.