Barry McNamara  |  Published January 02, 2024

Political Psychology

Monmouth poli sci class uses survey experiment to learn more about polarization in U.S.

SURVEY SAYS: The students in Andre Audette's class found that Republicans were more likely than Democrats to want to di... SURVEY SAYS: The students in Andre Audette's class found that Republicans were more likely than Democrats to want to discipline a professor but were also more likely to say that it is the professor's right and academic freedom to make such comments. MONMOUTH, Ill. – During the fall semester, students in a Monmouth College political science class conducted a national survey to examine whether respondents would want to punish a professor for making politically uncivil comments in class. The students found that respondents’ reactions depended on how they leaned politically.

Professor Andre Audette’s “Political Psychology” students conducted the survey on the Amazon Mechanical Turk platform.

“Depending on the treatment group respondents received, the professor made disparaging remarks about Republicans, Democrats or students in general,” said Audette. “This allows us to see if people who identify with the Republican or Democratic parties are more likely to want to punish the professor for remarks made about their political party.”


The findings

The students found that Republicans were more likely than Democrats to want to discipline a professor – which ranged from having them lose their job, issue a public apology, or attend sensitivity training – but were also more likely to say that it is the professor’s right and academic freedom to make these comments.

“Republican politicians are currently more likely to try to emphasize curricular issues … but also appreciate brash rhetoric as demonstrated by the professor in our experiment and presidential candidates like Donald Trump.” – Andre Audette

 

“Although this may sound contradictory at first, it corresponds with some of the national political rhetoric we have seen lately,” said Audette. “Republican politicians are currently more likely to try to emphasize curricular issues, such as critical race theory, gender studies or civics education, but also appreciate brash rhetoric as demonstrated by the professor in our experiment and presidential candidates like Donald Trump.”

The survey, which included 1,192 respondents from 46 different U.S. states, was designed in class as a collaboration of all students. They were able to propose ideas and debate the merits of them before selecting the eventual topic.

The importance of undergraduate research

“This research is very important to me because it brings together my interests in American politics and polarization,” said Anita Gándara ’24 of Chicago, who was the student who proposed the idea that won out. “It allows me to engage in academic research, which is important because I want to continue my education in the political communication field. Getting hands-on research experience at the undergraduate level is exciting because I have gotten to work closely with my professor and peers throughout the process.”

That collaborative environment was an attractive element of the project, said psychology and sociology/anthropology major Lillian Hucke ’24 of Aledo, Illinois.

“This experiment was a unique experience to collaborate with other researchers,” she said. “Many of my senior projects are solo, but it was beneficial and helpful to do research with a professor and classmates. I think this experience will be beneficial to my future research because most published research has multiple authors.”

“After we collected the data, the students analyzed it together. They got to experience first-hand the full research process – from idea generation to measurement to data analysis and writing an academic research paper.” – Andre Audette


And published research was definitely an end goal of the assignment, said Audette.

“After we collected the data, the students analyzed it together,” he said. “They got to experience first-hand the full research process – from idea generation to measurement to data analysis and writing an academic research paper.”

It was also a good opportunity for students to gain experience conducting quantitative research.

“This experiment was useful to me because it helped me better understand quantitative data gathering,” said Karli Strom ’25 of Monmouth, who is majoring in communication studies in addition to political science. “My previous research experiences have involved qualitative data. Quantitative data is something that honestly freaked me out. It was something that I thought I would just never be good at. Now that I have done both, it makes me appreciate both kinds of data more because they both add so much to the research.”

Political science major Cameron Shook ’26 of Morton, Illinois, said it’s important to remember how omnipresent politics are, a point that will surely be validated in the 2024 election.

“Political polarization and behavior have always been involved in politics,” he said. “It is what motivates us to choose a side in political issues or wake up and decide to vote in an election. Politics is involved with every aspect of our lives.”

Audette’s students have conducted survey experiments each time he’s taught the “Political Psychology” class, focusing on topics including political consumerism, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and the implications of the phrase “If you see something, say something.”

Last spring, Audette and Shay Hafner ’23, who is now a doctoral student at the University of Notre Dame, presented at the Midwest Political Science Association Annual Meeting about the use of survey experiments in political psychology classes.

Watch …

Andre Audette discusses the research project on WQAD-8’s “The Current.”

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