Christopher Newport offers students many ways to learn about and get involved in the political process, with several course offerings and co-curricular opportunities available. And, given the University's position in a hotly contested congressional district within a crucial swing state, Christopher Newport provides students a unique window into both the local and national arenas.
Dr. Quentin Kidd, Associate Professor of Political Science and Chair of the Department of Government, teaches Political Campaigns and Elections, a course that examines the theoretical, historical and political principles of political campaigns and elections in the U.S. Students learn about various factors that influence individual election outcomes, how elections impact the operation of government and public policy, and influences on elections such as the media, political action committees, and political parties. As part of the coursework, Kidd encourages each student to volunteer at a local campaign office. (Democrats and Republicans both have campaign headquarters in Newport News.) These students are mostly involved in phone-banking and door-to-door canvassing, while several are Obama for America Fellows, with more extensive responsibilities. "It adds a lot to the classroom because as we're talking about get-out-the-vote strategies they can bring their own experiences to the classroom," says Kidd. "They're out doing it." Some students are also involved in congressional campaigns and are currently traveling around Virginia with the candidates.
Kidd is also director of the Judy Ford Wason Center for Public Policy at CNU, which conducts polls and provides nonpartisan scientific research about important public policy issues facing Virginians. The Center, in partnership with the Daily Press, recently hosted two public congressional debates (a third is upcoming) at CNU. Kidd's students got to meet the candidates and attend the debates. Those running for the first and third congressional districts debated earlier this month, while candidates for the second district (which includes CNU), will square off on Oct. 29 at the Ferguson Center for the Arts. Students involved with the Wason Center assisted Kidd in coordinating the three debates, and Kidd serves as moderator. He says the debates have been well attended, with the third expected to draw between 300-400, as it is the most high-profile of the three races.
Last month, the C-SPAN Campaign 2012 Bus pulled into campus. The bus has been a fixture at major political events such as the two national conventions, candidate debates and speeches, and meetings with voters on the campaign trail. The bus employs interactive technology to educate visitors and promote discussion about government and public affairs. Kidd estimates that well over a hundred CNU students visited the bus during the two hours it was on campus.
For the future, Kidd is developing a survey research laboratory at CNU that will enable him to fully implement the surveys the Wason Center designs. Currently he relies on outside organizations to handle the telephone calling required for the surveys. The lab will begin construction in McMurran Hall during winter recess and include 25 call stations. Kidd says 40-50 CNU students will be involved with paid positions in the lab once it is complete. "They'll get all the practical experience of helping to design surveys, doing the data collection and analysis, and understanding how the whole process works," he says. "It'll be a great experience."
He adds that the lab will also benefit the community since it will provide the Wason Center flexibility in what types of surveys it can do, and the new call center will allow for more agility in devising surveys and polls in response to local events. His hope is for the Wason Center to "become a full-service public service when it comes to public opinion across the state," he says.
Comprehensive information about the races, ballot questions, candidates and polling places is available through the Virginia State Board of Elections.