Barry McNamara  |   Published September 14, 2016

A teachable moment

Presidential campaign a learning experience for Monmouth students
  • With the help of the local AAUW and the Warren County Clerk’s Office, Monmouth College students register to vote during the lunch hour on Sept. 14. A registration booth will be set up at the College’s Stockdale Center at various times throughout September and early October.
With the 2016 presidential campaign in its final two months, Monmouth College students are watching closely and taking notes – lots of notes. Studying the campaign is part of the syllabus for several of the College’s courses.

“Almost every day, there is something related to the campaign that we can discuss,” said Assistant Professor of Communication Studies Josh Hawthorne, who is teaching a pair of public relations courses this fall. “As it relates to PR, the presidential campaign is the biggest campaign there is.”

In recent days, Hawthorne and his students have discussed Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s use of earned media – “the coverage that you get for your campaign that you don’t pay for,” Hawthorne said.

“Morning news shows are taking calls from Trump, allowing him to talk. That’s one way he’s getting his message out and raising his numbers in the polls, and it’s not costing him a dime.”

Hawthorne’s students are also studying agenda setting, a method Trump uses to “raise the importance and saliency of his campaign.” If a news item is covered frequently and prominently, the audience will regard the issue as more important.

Hawthorne’s students will soon join others from around campus to watch three of the four scheduled presidential debates. The first viewing party will be Sept. 26 in Pattee Auditorium in the Center for Science and Business.

The College will host an election forum on Oct. 20, the day following the fourth debate. It will feature journalist Sasha Issenberg, author of The Victory Lab: The Secret Science of Winning Campaigns, which Monmouth political science lecturer Robin Johnson calls “the Moneyball for politics.”

Johnson’s classes are also watching the presidential campaign play out. Students in his “Parties and Election” class are required to volunteer a minimum of 10 hours in Iowa for their preferred presidential candidate, and they’ve also been assigned to track and report on battleground states and key Senate and House races.

Students in Johnson’s “Politics and Government in the Midwest” are learning about the key issues in the 2016 campaign and how they affect the region. They will also study the voting patterns of working class voters in smaller counties throughout the Midwest.

“The Midwest region is expected to potentially be the crucial battleground that will determine the winner, and their voting patterns will be a critical factor,” Johnson said.

Johnson – who hosts Talking Politics on KBUR-AM in Burlington, Iowa – also reported that several of his former students are active in this year’s campaign, including Alistair Ramsay ’15, who is working as an organizer in a swing county in the swing state of Ohio, and Elisha French ’14, who is vice-chair of the Republican Party in nearby Knox County.

Two of Tom Prince’s business classes are tuned in to the election. Prince’s “Advertising” class follows “election ads and their message, framework and appeal.” His “Administration and Organization” class examines positions as related to globalization and trade agreements.

Biology professor Ken Cramer will have his “Environmental Studies and Sustainability” class conduct a comparison of “the treatment of environmental issues in the platforms of the Republican, Democratic, Libertarian and Green parties.” English Professor Craig Watson will do similar work with his “Citizenship” class, working through the Environmental Voter Project.

Even classics is getting in on the act: Professor Tom Sienkewicz will present two papers this fall related to how 21st-century political cartoons use themes from ancient history and culture, especially classical mythology. He will present at the Classical Association of the Middle West and South meeting in Atlanta in late October. The following week, he will present at the 2016 Annual Conference of the Mid-Atlantic Popular & American Culture Association in Atlantic City, N.J.
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