Virginia Commonwealth University political science students in Dr. Alexandra Reckendorf‘s Political Campaigns & Communications intersession course, held at VCU’s Department of Political Science, were provided with the opportunity to travel to the New Hampshire Presidential Primary and experience modern campaigning and debating from political leaders in the 2016 elections.
About the Trip
Each student enrolled in the Political Campaigns & Communications intersession course/trip was able to attend free of costs (except for tuition) — VCU came together, with some very distinguished alums, to cover all non-tuition expenses, including the transportation, lodging, food, convention fees, etc. VCU has a very diverse student population, and a large number of students who work, and who are first-generation college students. Because of this, many are unable to afford the costs of a traditional study abroad program, so it was really great to make this happen for students who might not have been able to go otherwise.
VCU students were divided into five groups, and tasked with compiling first-hand stories about the candidates’ Town Halls, about volunteering for campaigns, and about the issues that are of interest to citizens this election cycle, especially those that are of interest to young voters. In addition to their travels, students got the chance to make a few non-campaign visits while in New Hampshire. They spoke with Executive Editor of the Manchester Union Leader about the role of the media in campaigns, Trent Spiner, the NHGOP Executive Director and NH Democratic Chairman about the role of the party in elections, Ross Berry and Ray Buckleym, and with the NH Secretary of State about the role of the state government in running elections, Bill Gardner.
About the Course
The Political Campaigns & Communications course was a designated service-learning course which is a designation granted by VCU’s Division of Community Engagement. It’s a two-part service-learning course: the intersession course was the first part and the second part, occurring this semester, included voter registration drives, absentee ballot application drives, and a Super Tuesday Election Day Festival at the heart of campus, with live music, carnival games, snack foods, etc. During the Fall semester, the course will expand their events into the general election to include politically themed movie-nights with faculty lectures prefacing them, a political trivia night, and some other fun events to get students excited about the election.
About the Students
Some students on the trip took the chance to use their experience as the context for research papers that were presented last weekend at the Virginia Social Science Association.
Students discussed the effectiveness of different types of volunteer, “get out the vote” efforts and situated it in their experiences working on different campaigns in New Hampshire, and also discussed candidates’ political branding efforts and compared a content analysis to the observations made during town halls meetings in New Hampshire.
VCU students wrote their own reflections of their experiences at the town hall meetings:
It was a great way to be welcomed into the campaign camp, and to see first hand how proud each and every one of the other volunteers was of the work that they were doing. One of the campaign organizers named Jason helped a small group, including myself, get situated into our new found volunteer roles. He is a very staunch supporter of Hillary Clinton and explained to us what we could do this evening and if we chose to volunteer again. He then gave us to his partner and she told us how to operate the phone bank. There was a huge list of phone numbers to call, a script to follow, and a summarized list of all the stances Hillary Clinton has on her campaign platform. We assumed position around the office and started our work. – Michael Mustaow
I understand the necessity of prefacing a town hall meeting with a speech, however, it’s far more important and interesting to get in as many questions as possible from potential voters who can challenge the candidates to think differently or perhaps have never been faced with a certain type of question before. – Samantha Lewis
New Hampshire’s First in the Nation status allows them the unique opportunity to have these small yet edifying town hall meetings frequently. The people are able to ask pointed questions of candidates and gain a more personal view of said candidate. I was curious to know if anyone realized that these favorable circumstances were not afforded to everyone. – Paris Henderson
Follow the experiences of the VCU political science students and instructor, Dr. Alexandra Reckendorf here.