With the ballots cast and the votes tallied, who still cares about the detailed election results? Professor Allen McBride, professor and chair of the political science department, posed a deeper question to his research method students: what can we learn from the details?
The class conducted a survey of 100 and 200 level political science classes just before Election Day. McBride says the poll was part of a project for the students to practice "thinking about a research question, creating a research protocol, and administering the protocol to respondents."
McBride said the questions were selected based on how political communication affected a voter's decision process. The questions on the survey ranged from the standard to the unusual. For instance, students were asked, "Which T.V. news programs do you watch regularly," and selections included talk show hosts Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert and Sean Hannity.
While some answers were expected, others surprised and even confused the research students, McBride said. The results did provide some perspective, however, in the way some voters think and how their decisions are influenced.
Using the talk show example, results showed that while only 23 percent of Stewart fans voted for McCain, 41 percent of Colbert fans voted on the Republican ticket.
"We haven't done a full analysis yet, but the Colbert finding is a bit of surprise," McBride said. "It seems plausible that some people who watch him may not have figured out that he is a lefty passing as a righty."
Another interesting find was the discrepancy between those who classified themselves as "independent" and those who considered themselves a "moderate." Results showed that more independents voted McCain, but more moderates voted Obama. These correlated with the CNN.com exit polls in Mississippi, which showed that 55 percent of moderates voted for Obama and 63 percent of independents voted for McCain.
McBride explained the perceived difference between the two, saying that independents are people who tend to be relatively uninvolved in politics, while moderates may just be torn between political value systems.
"It may sound a bit glib but the message of McCain that Obama was untrustworthy, a potential terrorist, a Muslim, etc." McBride added, "may have resonated more with independents who not only pay only little attention but may be less well-educated and not sophisticated enough to sort out truth from fiction."
The class' survey also explored race in voting demographics. According to the survey, 24 percent of whites voted for Obama, while 93 percent of blacks voted for Obama. The gap is magnified further in CNN.com's Mississippi results, which say that only 11 percent of whites voted for Obama while 98 percent of blacks voted for him. Nationally, polls still read that 95 percent of blacks voted for Obama, along with 43 percent of whites.
McBride's conclusion is simple: in the south, even on USM's campus, racism is still prevalent.
"It also goes without saying that Mississippi is equally divided along race and party lines," McBride added. "Whites tend to be Republican and blacks are overwhelmingly Democratic."
The USM survey broke from CNN.com's Mississippi results on the subject of gender. In the tested classes, males were evenly divided over the candidates, while Obama took a slight lead among women. Statewide, McCain won men over by a landslide, while Obama trailed by 6 percent among women, the CNN.com poll read.
"A pattern has developed over the past several decades with women -- especially black women -- finding the message of the Democratic Party the most attractive," McBride added.
According to national polls, Obama clearly gained the majority of both men and women. But, supporting McBride's observation, women tended to favor Obama more than their male counterparts did.
McBride said that his students will be able to use the data set from the survey next semester in their data analysis course to help them begin to develop data analysis skills.