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Notre Dame prepares for historic results

Jenn Metz | Tuesday, November 4, 2008

When student body vice president Grant Schmidt announced the 2008 Notre Dame mock election earlier this fall, he had no idea the results would be on par with national polls.

However, the Gallup Poll, in the days leading up to Election Day, has almost exactly mirrored the student government data from Oct. 5.

2,692 undergraduate and graduate students participated in the mock election. Democrat Sen. Barack Obama and running mate Sen. Joe Biden won 52.6 percent of the vote, followed by the Republican ticket of Sen, John McCain and Gov. Sarah Palin, which won 41.1. percent of the vote.

The final Gallup Poll, based on data from Oct. 31 to Nov. 2, has Obama at 55 percent to 44 percent advantage among likely voters. Trend data shows Obama ending his campaign with a lead of up to 11 percentage points among likely voters.

Schmidt told The Observer on the eve of the election that the general perception about the University – that Notre Dame is a conservative campus – caused him to predict a Republican victory in the student government mock election.

“I thought that McCain would have won [in the mock election],” Schmidt said. “I just assumed, because we are a fairly conservative university … I thought McCain would come out ahead.”

Schmidt said, however, that Obama’s appeal to the youth voters of America indicated he would be a popular candidate on college campuses.

“A lot of professors I talked to, a lot of people I talked to about the election thought Obama would actually win by more than he did because of the fact we are a college campus,” he said. “Obama is generally very well liked among college students.”

Schmidt said he believes Notre Dame’s unique identity as both a college campus, whose members tend to be among the more liberal electorate and a University that is typically viewed as conservative balanced out the results.

“The numbers we’re seeing .., it’s cliché, but Notre Dame as a whole is a representative group,” Schmidt said

Schmidt said members the work of the campus media, ND Votes ’08 and residence halls has helped make students aware of the issues that will make the difference on Election Day.

“Everybody’s goal was to make sure Notre Dame was politically involved,” he said.

“I really feel like we are aligned with the national polls now, and will be aligned [Election Day] because people are really aware of the issues. We’re representative of where American stands right now.”

Senate University Affairs chair Ashlee Wright, who helped coordinate the mock election, also did not predict Notre Dame’s results to so closely parallel national percentage spreads.

“I was very shocked, because you always hear such taglines about the University, that we’re a homogonous, conservative body. But there is that diversity of opinion, and in discussing your views against those of others is the only way you can form opinions,” she said.

She said the results of the mock election worked to change outside perception of the University.

“They assumed it would lean conservative, but at least a quarter of the student body voted, and Obama was the winner,” she said.

She said trends indicate the further along students are in their years at school, the more tendency there is for them to vote liberal.

“I think it’s awesome,” Wright said. “Just because we have such a tagline of being ‘the conservative campus’ – that it’s in a bubble and it doesn’t know what’s going on in the real world. Now, we’re exactly the same as the national polls – it’s astounding.”

Wright said she believes students making use of the College Readership Program has helped “get us out of the bubble” and “debunked the rumor” that Notre Dame is uninformed politically.

According to an Oct. 6 Observer article about the mock election, the most important issue for those who voted was the economy, with 41.5 percent of the votes, followed by foreign policy at 17.7 percent. Of the remaining issues, 9.8 percent chose energy and the environment as the most important issue in the election, 9.5 percent chose other, 7.7 percent chose abortion, 6.2 percent chose the Iraq War, 3.3 percent chose education, 3.2 percent chose civil liberties and one percent chose immigration.

When asked how closely they had been following the election, 37.2 percent chose the selection “I check the election news once or twice a week,” 36.8 percent said “I check the headlines once a day,” 19.1 percent said “I stalk multiple news networks daily,” 5.1 percent said “I’ve heard of the candidates,” .9 percent said “Election? What election?” and .8 percent gave no response.

Before the 2004 presidential contest, student media groups on campus, not including The Observer, conducted a mock election in LaFortune a week before the election between President George W. Bush and Sen. John Kerry, reported Notre Dame Magazine. With 570 undergraduates and graduate students voting, the vote was 47.5 percent for Bush and 46.8 percent for Kerry.