Elizabeth Bennion, professor of political science at Indiana University South Bend conducted a workshop and lecture on Zoom Tuesday, Oct. 13 and Wednesday, Oct. 14 for Goshen College students on what voters should know before casting their ballots in the upcoming election.

Wednesday evening’s lecture was sponsored by the Yoder Public Affairs Lecture Series.

Bennion led with the goal of making citizens politically and civically engaged, emphasizing how to practice engagement in a time that needs it most. 

Bennion addressed the election and acknowledged that it is not about the presidency alone.

The governor, secretary of state, congress, state house, state senate, county commissioners, county council, treasurer and the school board will all appear on the ballot alongside presidential candidates.

“All of these are really critical to our lives, to the education of our children, to decisions about land use in our community, so there are a number of issues that are important,” Bennion said.

The election focuses on key issues such as the economy, health care and the current pandemic.

Both presidential candidates differ on their views regarding these issues, but they agree on cutting public spending to reduce national debt and lowering the price of prescription drugs by increasing competition.

Knowing where these candidates stand will help educate voters assess where they stand themselves.

Bennion found the biggest factor in determining votes is partisanship, defined as bias towards a particular political party.

“Generally speaking, about 90% of Democrats will vote for the Democratic candidate,” she said. “About 90% of Republicans will vote for the Republican candidate.”

The tendency to learn toward familiar party ideals proves that it is difficult to shake away.

Aside from partisanship, approval ratings on Trump’s performance as president and candidate image will determine votes.

“Candidate image with the incumbent is difficult because different people have different ideas about what they want to see in a candidate,” Bennion said. “They also have different perceptions that are very much filtered by their own partisanship and their own ideology.”

Through national polls and forecasting models, the outcome can be predicted to some extent, with data gathered across the country, model outputs, the stock market and scandals that can influence opinion.

“The problem is they can’t tell us for sure who will vote,” Bennion said.

It all depends on who decides to turn in their ballot on Election Day. 

Bennion doesn’t want students to assume their votes don’t matter because the other candidate is predicted to succeed.

Making a difference starts with casting the ballot, she said.

On Tuesday evening, the workshop, “Mobilizing Students for the Nov. 3 Election,” focused on proven methods that move students to register and get them voting on time.

In a field experiment conducted with colleague David Nickerson, Bennion gathered data from 22,256 students in 1,026 classes over 16 college campuses in Indiana, discovering the effectiveness of registering to vote in college classrooms.

Voter registration rates increased by 6% and voting increased by 2.6% overall.

In a study from Northwestern University, students are more likely to register when communicating about politics between peers.

Their voter registration rates increased from 49% in 2012 to 64% in 2016.

Email, text reminders and passing out leaflets are simple and inexpensive ways to reach out, encourage voting and engage the community.

Adriana Martinez Diaz De Leon and Berenice Rodriguez were two student participants.

In regards to the pandemic, Martinez commented on the difficulties of practicing political engagement with socially distanced policies in place.

“With the COVID-19 situation, it’s very hard to get students engaged and keep them safe as well,” Martinez said.

She knows there is much to be done, but she has learned where to begin through Bennion.

“It kind of makes me want to do more just because I’m seeing how every individual matters to create a certain change,” she said.

Elizabeth Bennion ended her with a call to vote and to have faith in the outcome.

“It’s important to pay attention and to make our voices heard,” Bennion said. “For me, that also means helping to educate others because we can’t have a representative democracy if we don’t all vote.”