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Polls, Panels Usher in Political Season

University's Move into Political Research Making Waves

UMass Lowell Image
The panel, moderated by Chancellor Marty Meehan, far left, featured,  from left, Charlie Baker, Joe Battenfeld,  Jennifer Myers and Glen Johnson.

By Julia Gavin

Even with national elections a year away, UMass Lowell is breaking through as a significant voice in political research and civic engagement on the local and national levels. Between a new polling center and hosting experts in the field, the University is bringing the political process to campus and the classroom.

The University's new Center for Public Opinion has conducted two political polls since its creation in September. The initial poll covered Massachusetts voters' opinions on U.S. Senate candidates following the race's first Democratic debate, which was hosted on campus. Keeping pace with current events, the second poll gauged public opinion of the national Occupy Wall Street and Tea Party movements.

Shifting focus to the presidential race, the University hosted a panel discussion titled “What to Look for in the 2012 Presidential Primaries” as part of the Lunchtime Lecture Series. The panel - featuring former Republican gubernatorial candidate and businessman Charlie Baker, political writer Joe Battenfeld, senior writer for the Lowell Sun Jennifer Myers and politics editor for and political writer for the Boston Globe Glen Johnson and moderator Chancellor Marty Meehan - discussed the roles of debates, swing states and public opinion in both the presidential and senatorial races.

Seeing the Student Perspective

When asked by freshman plastics engineering major Cory Hoyt how he and other first-time voters should learn more about the candidates, Baker encouraged students to do their research and consider the options. Johnson recommended that students learn more about the candidates’ stances in a recently published article by Calvin Woodward.

"Think about what topics are most important to you and do some research to see which candidates fit your preferences," said Baker. "Try to find someone who knows how to work as part of a team, because that's really what this is about."

Also, the panelists encouraged students to get involved with politics to gain more experience while still in school. Myers said that with the shifting population of New Hampshire, this is an especially interesting time to cross the border and get involved.

"Winter break coincides with the campaign season, so students can easily work for a campaign," said Johnson. "You can drive 10 minutes and get involved with a race that will affect the country.”

Battenfeld notes that many UMass Lowell students are already getting involved with politics, such as those who were part of the student panel for the recent Senate debate hosted on campus.

"The UMass Lowell students were awesome at the debate asking questions," said Battenfeld. "They were better than most reporters asking questions of politicians and really kept the candidates on track. We need more students like them."

Johnson, whose son is studying criminal justice at the University, said that he was glad to be on the panel.

"It's always fun to come to campus and participate in events like this that really add life to the campus," said Johnson.

Baker summed up the thoughts of many when asked by sophomore mechanical engineering student Erik Christiansen how voters can tell if a candidate will follow through on their promises.

"Democracy is messy," said Baker after conceding that sometimes politicians do not achieve campaign trail goals. "Most politicians, if you could get them to admit it, would say it's harder than they thought. But that's not a bad thing."

The Lunchtime Lecture Series is sponsored by UMass Lowell and Parker Lectures with support from the UMass Lowell Center for Industrial CompetitivenessMiddlesex Community College, the Cultural Organization of Lowell and the UMass Lowell Center for Arts & Ideas. 

For more information on this and other events, visit the UMass Lowell Center for Arts & Ideas website.