SMSU students offer predictions and findings after collecting surveys at polling locations
MARSHALL — Southwest Minnesota State University political science students collected 328 surveys on Election Day Tuesday in Lyon County and weighed in with their predictions and findings regarding the Lyon County Exit Poll.
“I think it was an amazing experience,” SMSU junior Fatouh Kinteh said. “Seeing voters coming out of the building with smiles on their faces, you could tell (voting) really means a lot to them.”
And to those who might say their single vote doesn’t matter, Kinteh disagreed.
“If you put all those votes together, of people saying, ‘My vote doesn’t matter,’ that’s a lot of votes,” she said.
The students conducted the surveys at 11 precincts, which voted at eight locations across Lyon County, between 7-9:30 a.m. and 11:45 a.m. to 2 p.m. Based on an estimated turnout of 9,500 voters, the margin of error for the sample size produced is +/- 5.3.
“We were in Russell in the morning and we had people in Cottonwood and all over Lyon County,” SMSU senior Rachal Albrecht said. “We had five people just at Marshall Middle School.”
The exit poll project marked the second that Albrecht was a part of.
“I did it during the presidential election,” she said. “It was kind of a decrease from that, but I expected that. I still thought it was amazing to see everyone be patriotic and get the chance to go and vote. There were still plenty of people that came out for the midterms to have their voices heard.”
Since the group’s 2008 exit poll, the group said Democrats have been overrepresented in their sample. The group said that remains true (Tuesday), as the surveys show strength for DFL candidates that are likely much higher than their actual vote percentages for Lyon County. With that qualifier, the students projected that U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar will carry Lyon County by a comfortable margin. She won the county in 2012, but lost in the county in 2006.
“SMSU has been doing this exit survey for a long time now and we’ve seen that since 2008, the Democrats are very representative in this area and so we projected that Amy Klobuchar would take a good carrying in Lyon County,” Albrecht said on Tuesday evening. “We also saw that Collin Peterson would win, but that he would have a little smaller margin.”
The political science students also believe that State Reps. Chris Swedzinski and Joe Schomacker would win their portions of Lyon County by comfortable margins.
“We projected that they’d have a pretty good lead here,” Albrecht said.
Kinteh said the project marked the first time she saw what an election looked like up close.
“I didn’t get to vote because I’m not a citizen,” she said. “I’m a green card holder. Hopefully, by the next election, I can vote. I’d say it was an exciting experience. You could tell that the voters were really happy to go out and vote, to use those rights given to them as a citizen of the country. That’s a good thing.”
Kinteh has been in the United States for nearly five years. She said the voting process in her country, The Gambia, is much different.
“We use pebbles or marbles, so it’s really different than in my country,” Kinteh said. “I’ve never voted because I was leaving my country and I was not 18 yet. Both men and women can vote if you are 18.”
The Gambia is a country in West Africa — the smallest country within mainland Africa. Each voter receives a marble and places it in a tube on top of a sealed barrel or drum that corresponds to the voter’s preferred candidate.
“I learned a lot coming here and seeing how the U.S. votes,” Kinteh said. “We need to work on getting the same process (in The Gambia) as they do here. It’s a lot easier having the machine count all the ballots compared to my country counting all the marbles. That takes a lot of time and it’s confusing. It’s much easier over here.”
Albrecht said other students pointed out the entire voting process to Kinteh while they were at the different precincts.
“We walked in and said, ‘This is the ballot and you fill it out,'” Albrecht said. “Then we have this big machine and you stick it in there and it reads everything with a Scantron Test.”
Albrecht said the Marshall area voters who took part in the anonymous survey answered various written questions.
“We asked them who they voted for as well as about their personal beliefs and demographics, like age, marital status, education level and work status, things like that,” she said.
Kinteh said she and the other students, 11 of which were in SMSU Professor David Sturrock’s class, spent the majority of the time outdoors and that it was a little chilly.
“We had to be 50 feet away from the building,” she said.
While cross-tabulations were not yet available as of 6:40 p.m. Tuesday, it is clear that Democrats and Republicans diverged sharply in views of Donald Trump’s performance, mirroring the pattern reported by national exit polling, they said.
“Based on the surveys we took, 30 percent think he’s on the right track,” Kinteh said. “They think the country is on the right track. Forty-eight percent think it’s not on the right track and 22 percent were not sure.”
When asked which issue was most important to them in this election, health care was the top choice for more than 40 percent of the respondents. Jobs and the economy were second, with immigration trailing in third.
“One of the findings was that health care was a top priority that and interested them the most,” Kinteh said. “Before the elections, healthcare has been one of the most talked about topics, so I was kind of expecting that to be one of the top things.”
While cross-tabulations were not available as of 6:40 p.m. Tuesday, a manual review of the survey results revealed that there was a pattern concerning party loyalty in the voting for governor and the two-year U.S. Senate seats, with less loyalty and more ticket-splitting for the six-year Senate race and Minnesota attorney general.
“One of our findings that we saw was that if you were loyal to the left or the right, you were most likely to vote for that,” Albrecht said.
Consistent with national exit poll results, Lyon County saw a sharp, probably unprecedented level of divergent voting between men and women, with high levels of partisan polarization, especially apparent in the U.S. Senate races, the students found.
When asked how things were in Marshall generally, 61 percent said the community was on the right track. Twenty-seven percent said they weren’t sure, while 12 percent said Marshall was on the wrong track.
“Most of the people we talked with were receptive,” Albrecht said. “I think they felt honored that SMSU and a lot of younger kids and citizens were getting involved in elections again because we’ve had the highs and lows of people voting. So a lot of the older generation were honored that we were still taking an interest in what we were doing.”
Kinteh and Albrecht said SMSU students wanting to vote had a lot of advocates on campus.
“I had a friend who was a first-time voter,” Kinteh said. “She’s from Mankato and she asked if she was going to be able to vote. I said I could make an inquiry about that. (Tuesday), I confirmed for her that she can vote since she’s a resident of SMSU. All they needed was her student ID. Then they could look up her information.”
Albrecht said SMSU was “super helpful” with providing information.
“They made sure everyone knew that they could register the same day and all they needed was their ID if they lived on campus. Off-campus, they just needed something that included their billing address,” she said.