In a presidential campaign year, what could be more useful than a class about political participation?

Just such a class—with just such a name—was taught this spring semester by visiting professor of political science Philip Chen ’06. A major course requirement for his dozen students was to spend at least 20 hours volunteering for a political campaign or local election organization such as the League of Women Voters.

Ben Goren ’19 (Alpena, Mich.) worked on political campaigns before the class, but he still found the classroom angle helpful: “It’s great to learn this information from an academic perspective and not just from what the pundits say,” he said. “We’re asking, how are they using their money? Which campaigns are doing well? Which are doing poorly—and why?”

Readings and class discussions focused on political mobilization and persuasion, said Chen, or more specifically, the media and campaigns, getting out the vote, and how voters make their decisions. Meanwhile, classmates shared their own on-the-ground volunteer experiences in classroom presentations.

Madison Voigt ’19 (Iowa City, Iowa) was also a campaign volunteer. Although she’d had get-out-the-vote experience before taking the class, “It was cool to learn which tactics were useful while volunteering,” she said. She also enjoyed learning about voter psychology.

Macalester’s St. Paul location (“It’s easy to bus to campaign headquarters”) made political volunteering much easier, says Goren. Adds Chen, “I could not teach this class outside a large urban area like this. Our city setting is a luxury that Mac affords me.”

Many students attended Minnesota’s state caucuses in March and the class had a spirited discussion on the day following Super Tuesday’s multiple primaries. And of course, this is a particularly fascinating year to be following presidential politics. “The Republicans are at war with each other,” Chen said. “They’re showing the deep divisions within their party.”

But the political drama of Campaign 2016 isn’t the only reason Chen likes teaching Political Participation. “I really enjoy working with Macalester students,” he said. “They go beyond what’s in the readings and intuitively get how the research relates to their volunteering.”

Or as Goren put it: “This is a great class to take during an election year.”

July 4 2016

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