UNI political science professors share their expertise

With the presidential election drawing near, and the campaigns finally coming to an end, University of Northern Iowa's political science professors have expertise to share. They have experience in a wide range of topics, including public polling, voting behavior, presidential rhetoric and much more.

Newspaper article
Donna Hoffman, associate professor and head of UNI's political science department, answers questions on Politico.com.

Donna Hoffman is an associate professor of political science and head of the political science department. Her research interests include presidential-congressional relations, presidential rhetoric and social and political change in the American electorate. Hoffman is a frequent commentator on political events, having been quoted in Time Magazine, USA Today, the Wall Street Journal and NBC Nightly News.

Recently, Hoffman has looked at party realignment, or shifts in power between parties at a national, state and local level over the last decade. She has noticed how nationally there hasn't been a lot of change, but some states are facing serious shifts.

"Oklahoma is one of the only states that, in 2008, not a single county went for President Obama, but there are actually more democrats in that state than there are republicans," said Hoffman. Part of her research looks at those kinds of paradoxes, which can happen for different reasons. In Oklahoma, she cites that this is because of the citizens' strong past with the Democratic Party, which doesn't actually reflect their vote anymore.

Justin Holmes is an assistant professor of political science with research interests in political communications, public opinion and polling and voting behavior, among others. He has spent time researching how people use political information and how new technologies have affected and changed this relationship. Holmes has contributed his election expertise to the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier, Des Moines Register, Iowa Public Radio and others.

"People are immersed in information, whether it's from campaigns or the media," said Holmes. According to Holmes, one of the main sources of this information has come from the debates, whether between the presidential or vice presidential candidates. Following the debates, different news anchors and media outlets openly give their opinions of the candidates.

One of Holmes' research experiments studied the effects of post-debate commentary on the average voter. "There was some ambiguity with different networks calling different people the winner," noticed Holmes. He noted how they tended to go with that idea of who won, and even used some of the same language in the commentary, depending on the news network they were watching.

Chris Larimer is an associate professor of political science with research interests in voting behaviors and political participation, political psychology, public policy and other topics. He serves as the political analyst for KWWL, and is a regular guest on Iowa Public Radio. His research includes field experiments that look at the best ways to motivate the public to vote and different experiments involving voting behavior.

This election cycle, one of Larimer's experiments utilized different techniques to increase voter turnout, including the use of social pressure. He explained how this social pressure to vote could come from a number of sources, like friends and family.

Chris Larimer blog
Chris Larimer, associate professor of political science, serves as KWWL's political analyst and blogs about his research and the upcoming election.

To study the possible effects of this pressure on voter turnout, Larimer randomly sent out voter cards by mail. Some of these mailers, for example, showed the voting history of whole neighborhoods, and stated that the card was going to be updated again after the upcoming election.

"Where we found the largest effect is when we sent out a mailer that shows your vote history and everybody on your block," said Larimer. "If someone is watching you, you're going to be more likely to vote." These voter mobilization strategies have even been adopted by various political campaigns in the past.

Hoffman and Larimer also conducted an experiment at the 2011 GOP Ames Straw Poll, where they conducted two surveys comparing attendees and registered Republicans in the area. The goal of the study was to measure the type of conservatism among Republicans, preferences for presidential candidates and political attitudes toward government.

The research and expertise of each professor also gets passed on to their students through experience. For example, Hoffman and Larimer sent out undergraduate political science students to conduct the surveys for the straw poll experiment, giving them real-life political experience.

The students of these professors get the privilege of hearing and discussing this first-hand knowledge and research in a classroom setting. "The blogs, research and contributions are used to spark discussion," said Larimer. "Particularly this semester, they are used in the quantitative methods class since the content concerns polls and sampling."

Especially in the midst of a presidential election, each professor knows how important it is to share his or her research and findings. "One of the most important things we can do is to be available to the general public," noted Holmes.

Visit UNI's Political/Election Resources website at http://www.uni.edu/newsroom/election/ for additional political/election experts and more information.