I’ve been absent and dealing with











and the end is in sight


Today in my voting theory class I gave students space to be, just be, given how we’ve spent the semester having hard conversations about political philosophy and given how we all had some pretty strong opinions in the wake of this past Monday’s debate.

I broke out my maker supplies. I asked them to unpack, to process, to reflect. I give you Corinne’s piece: Donald Trump, incinerating black people while brown people (a wall of Mexicans) look on, white people hovering above the fray on a billow of money, but they’re falling off (and not helping each other up); HRC looks on, shades over her eyes, boas of money draping her shoulders.


You know.

There were others.


And others.


And in the end, the mood was somber. Class ended with the realization that we simply cannot demonize the other side, that we all have legitimate reasons for feeling the way we do.

I tire of hearing my voice. I’ve made several promises to share other voices here, and that will happen soon.


The rhetoric of polling data, Part II

The rhetoric of polling data, Part II

The votes are in! Asked to complete the same exercise, my class of fifteen students (each voting as a “ten-person bloc”) voted as follows:

Round 1 (no polling data given):

  • Charmander: 32 (21.3%)
  • Squirtle: 33 (22.0%)
  • Bulbasaur: 85 (56.7%)

Round 2 (with polls showing C = 40%, S = 35%, B = 10%, and Undecided = 15%):

  • Charmander: 57 (38.0%)
  • Squirtle: 47 (31.3%)
  • Bulbasaur: 46 (30.7%)

Round 3 (with polls showing C = 30%, S = 30%, B = 27%, and Undecided = 13%):

  • Charmander: 41 (27.3%)
  • Squirtle: 44 (29.3%)
  • Bulbasaur: 65 (43.3%)

These results cannot be directly and unproblematically compared with the results from Amanda’s class, since the differing class sizes forced me to distribute the voter profiles in slightly different proportions. HOWEVER…there are some striking similarities, especially between the respective sets of results from Rounds 1 and 2: The first round, “baseline,” results were nearly identical, and except for an exchange of Charmander and Squirtle, the Round 2 results were nearly identical as well, indicating a similar willingness on the part of Bulbasaur boosters to engage in strategic voting in an attempt to avoid a Charmander/Squirtle victory after they saw the dire straits their favored candidate was foundering in.

The greatest difference arose in the results from Round 3: in Amanda’s class, the “voters” flocked to Bulbasaur more strongly, giving him a 51.8% share of the votes, versus 43.3% in my class, on seeing that how competitive his candidacy was. This is interesting, especially since only 4 out of 11 (36.4%) of Amanda’s class were given decidedly pro-Bulbasaur profiles, while 6 out of 15 (40%) of the students in my class were given such profiles. I might have to chalk this one up to the small sample sizes.

While I didn’t keep tabs on the behavior of individual voters in Amanda’s class, I did think to do this in my own, marking the ballots so that I could distinguish each student’s votes on successive rounds of voting. What can we tell from looking at this information?

Focusing on Bulbasaur’s performance, 11 out of 15 voters ranked Bulbasaur lower in Round 2 than they did in Round 2. This group of 11 voters includes 5 of the 7 voters who gave Bulbasaur more votes than any other candidate in Round 1; the remaining two Bulbasaur boosters gave their favorite 10 points in all three rounds! All but one of the 7 Bulbasaur boosters gave at least some support back to Bulbasaur in Round 3, giving him more points then than in Round 2 (and in some cases, more than they’d given him in Round 1). The behavior suggests, again, the efficacy of positive polling data in bolstering a minor-party candidate’s electoral success.

The only two voters not considered above include a clear Charmander supporter who was also okay with Bulbasaur, whose votes were Charmander 7/6/9 and Bulbasaur 3/4/1, suggesting galvanization around the favored candidate when the race tightened in the final available poll. The remaining voter clearly despised Charmander, initially voting for Squirtle over Bulbasaur 7-3, and shifting to Bulbasaur over Squirtle, 9 to 1, in both of the next rounds. I have to admit I’m not sure what profile this behavior suggests.

In any case, the data, whether considered aggregately or individually, suggest yet again a fairly strong impact of polling data on electoral behavior.

How frightened should we be? Given that West Coast states often exhibit depressed voter turnout relative to their more easterly sister states (Hawai’i consistently wins the dubious honor of having the lowest voter turnout among all fifty states), perhaps the early release of election returns on election night is enough to keep a substantial number of people at home.


The rhetoric of polling data, Part I

The rhetoric of polling data, Part I

This past Tuesday I guest-taught in my colleague Amanda’s masters-level course on political rhetoric, taught at Asheville’s branch campus of Western Carolina University, where Amanda is a faculty member. In planning for this guest appearance, I struggled for a bit to come up with a topic that would have something of a rhetorical component to it but still draw on ideas I’ve been discussing in my own voting theory course. After some thought, I developed an exercise that would (ideally) help to illustrate the rhetorical impact of numerical data specifically, poll results, on electoral behavior.

I gave each of Amanda’s ten students (and Amanda herself, good sport that she was and always is!) a “voter profile” that consisted of a brief statement of a view on the three candidates in the race, Charmander, Squirtle, and Bulbasaur. For instance, two persons were given the statement “Charmander would be ideal; I’d love to see her rule the gym. But I could live with Bulbasaur, I guess. On the other hand, Squirtle’s election would be the death of the Pokémon Republic!” and one was given “Bulbasaur is the only truly principled Pokémon running this year, but I guess if I had to I’d vote for Squirtle to avoid that horrible Charmander.” There were seven distinct statements in all.

I then asked each person to take 10 points and divide them among the candidates in a manner they felt concordant with the statement they’d been given. We could view such a vote as an instance of range voting, but I meant it merely as a means of getting a larger electorate, effectively allowing each person to act as ten voters rather than one.

After collecting the ballots and tallying the results, I asked the class to vote again, again in a manner concordant with their statements, but not before giving them the following polling data:

  • Charmander: 40%
  • Squirtle: 35%
  • Bulbasaur: 10%
  • Undecided: 15%

After tallying these ballots, I requested a third round of voting, after the class viewed new polling data:

  • Charmander: 30%
  • Squirtle: 30%
  • Bulbasaur: 27%
  • Undecided: 13%

Though I wasn’t sure how it would go, I suspected that the exposure to initial set of polling data indicating their candidate had a snowball’s chance would cause the Bulbasaur boosters to vote more strategically, rather than sincerely as they might have in the absence of polling data. A second set of polling data, this set showing that Bulbasaur was within reach of the two leading candidates, should cause the Bulbasaur boosters to revert to voting sincerely.

This is exactly what happened, with the following results:

Round 1:

  • Charmander: 24 (21.8%)
  • Squirtle: 26 (23.6%)
  • Bulbasaur: 60 (54.5%)

Round 2:

  • Charmander: 35 (31.8%)
  • Squirtle: 42 (38.2%)
  • Bulbasaur: 33 (30.0%)

Round 3:

  • Charmander: 25 (22.7%)
  • Squirtle: 28 (25.5%)
  • Bulbasaur: 57 (51.8%)

Now, it’s dangerous to draw parallels between a low-stakes academic exercise involving Pokémons and a real-world election with real-world consequences, like the ongoing contentious election for POTUS, but it’s interesting to note that electoral support for a third-party candidate (Gary Johnson, a.k.a. Bulbasaur) with appeal to disgruntled voters in both major parties might depend so heavily on knowledge, or lack thereof, of polling data.

We talked a bit about this phenomenon, as well as the related impact of election returns data, an impact felt particularly strongly on the West Coast, where many folks don’t have a chance to get to the polls until after more easterly states’ races are already called on the basis of a representative sample of exit poll results. Given this effect, is the release of polling data an ethical practice, particularly when that release comes on or near Election Day?

This question gave rise to a host of ethical questions relating to poll results and polling processes and electoral behavior more generally: is one ethically obligated to vote, if one is legally permitted to do so? Is strategic voting an ethical practice? What about buying, selling, or trading one’s vote? It was a rich discussion.

I’m going to run the same exercise in my own class in just a few minutes. I’ll check in afterward with new data!


New and improved! Now with more equity!

New and improved! Now with more equity!

Last week I formally announced two new opportunities in the Honors Program, both of which have been in the works for a while. I’m excited about both: one will offer tangible support to our Honors students who need a little help in getting important projects off the ground, and the other should help to foster greater equity between “traditional” Honors students who enter the program on Day One of their college studies and those (like transfer students) who come to the program a bit later on.

The former is a program offering modest grants to Honors students for scholarly and creative activities: students may submit proposals for support for travel to conferences, materials for creative projects, attendance of events relevant to their research, etc. The Great Ideas Grants (GIGs) will offer a small amount of funding for such activities, to the tune of $150 per awardee. It’s not much, but it’s a start: until now I’ve had literally no funding for such opportunities, so even this small bit is an improvement.

The latter is a new “certificate” to be awarded to Honors students who show continued and continual engagement with the Honors Program but who for one reason or another are unable to complete the somewhat stringent requirements of Distinction as a University Scholar, the recognition conferred upon students who bank 21 hours or more of Honors credits, maintain a 3.5 GPA in Honors and a 3.25 GPA overall, and finish at least two of our interdisciplinary special topics courses and an Honors section of LA 478. The new acknowledgement of achievement, Recognition as an Honors Scholar, will still require the student to take an Honors section of 478 but will require only 12 hours of Honors coursework, which must include only a single special topics course. I hope that this small measure of acknowledgement will encourage late bloomers to stay active in the program, even when they’ve no hope of meeting the requirements for Distinction. It should help to induce greater participation on the part of transfer students, as well.

Time will tell, time will tell. Meanwhile, I’ve got to get cracking on further equity-increasing adjustments to our admissions procedure. I hope to have these in place by this coming spring, when we’ll court a brand new class of outstanding students.

Coming soon: a long-promised guest post from an amazing former student and a discussion of an electoral exercise I tried out on my colleague Amanda’s political rhetoric class last night!