Eighth graders poll says Bush to take Wilson County

Eighth-grade American History students at Walter J. Baird School learned first hand a lesson political observers have been noting for a decade: Wilson County is trending Republican. A telephone poll the students conducted over the weekend forecasts President George W. Bush will take Wilson County i...
Aug 12, 2004

Eighth-grade American History students at Walter J. Baird School learned first hand a lesson political observers have been noting for a decade: Wilson County is trending Republican.
A telephone poll the students conducted over the weekend forecasts President George W. Bush will take Wilson County in the presidential election this November.
"This is the first in a series of lessons in how our democracy works," instructor Tim Roediger said. "I think by December, when they leave me, they will have a pretty keen insight – as much as any adult in this election year.
"In an election year, the students are tuned in, and I am taking advantage of that," he added.
Students conducted the poll scientifically, using information on how professional poll takers do their jobs. To ensure accuracy and impartiality, students learned how pollsters must phrase their questions. They also learned that poll takers must have a lot of patience and be polite when talking to people on the telephone.
"The worst part was when you would call someone, and they hung up on you," said Kara Gann, one of the eighth-graders who participated in the lesson. "That happened to me about two or three times."
"The best part was trying to figure out who most people were going to vote for," student April Wade said. "I would vote for Bush, because I'm just not that big of a Kerry supporter, because I think abortion is wrong."
"It was fun trying to figure out what people think," agreed classmate Marley Hollis. "It was fun to figure out what to expect from the election."
The students conducted the poll over the weekend as a homework assignment. Each of three American History classes was given a city – either Lebanon, Watertown or Mt. Juliet – and a page out of the respective phone books for each of those municipalities, and told to keep calling people until five responses were gathered.
"We wanted to make it as legitimate as possible," Roediger said. "This data is rock solid, and I think the predictions the kids have made will come true."
The question students asked was read from a prepared script. Respondents were asked, "If the presidential election were held today, would you vote for the Democratic ticket of Kerry/Edwards or the Republican ticket of Bush/Cheney?"
The information was broken down by city and gender. Some students said they were surprised to learn that there were notable gender differences.
"Women are more drawn to vote for Kerry," eighth-grader Nick Donald observed.
"The men were a lot nicer than the women that I called," Wade said.
As far as their predictions are concerned, students believe that within Lebanon the potential outcome is still too close to call. The same will likely be true of Watertown, according to the students' data. But in Mt. Juliet, there seems to be strong support for Bush as well as overall in Wilson County, the students found.
"Wilson County has gone Republican since 1996," Roediger said. "And that was the first time since the 1860s. Times are changing in Wilson County, and this poll shows that will continue."
Roediger added the lesson illustrated several different things for students.
"They really wanted to take that poll and go right into talking about why they are for Kerry or for Bush," he said. "A lot of them were ready for that."
Students did seem eager to exchange their views on the issues. When Wade stated her opposition to abortion, several other students in the class expressed their disagreement with her position. Each seemed to have decided to some degree which candidate would earn their support if they were voting in this election.
One student said he believed most of his peers were "tuned in" to the election this year, noting he and his friends frequently discuss politics.
"I think we pay quite a lot of attention," Danny Evins said. "When I was at (summer) camp in Massachusetts, we talked about it a lot. I would definitely choose Bush."
Evins added after his experience conducting the poll in Mt. Juliet, he believes residents of that area are very transient.
"I think the people in Mt. Juliet seem to have moved," he said. "About 13 out of 20 phone numbers that I called were disconnected."
The next step in the lesson will involve math classes taught by Jennifer Byrd, Roediger said. He said that instructor will use the data as the basis for a lesson in creating charts and graphs, which will be posted around the school.
"I've done these polls since 1990, and they are always right," Roediger said. "They are never wrong. I believe this will be our most accurate poll yet, because it is the largest sample we have used. The guidelines were designed for reporters to ask questions of the people giving the polls. I think we have met the criteria (for a legitimate poll.)
"We may do another poll in late October to see how it all stacks up," he continued.
"I believe this is information people can use," he added.
Corinne Galeano can be reached at 444-3952 ext. 15 or by e-mail at cori.galeano@lebanondemocrat.com

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