CARLISLE — Dickinson College students learned about Cumberland County residents’ political thoughts on Nov. 4 when they performed exit polls, and now those results have been made available.
Sarah Niebler, assistant professor of political science at Dickinson College, said students from her senior seminar on campaigns and elections, as well as the students from her research methods class, went out on Election Day to find out what voters thought about a number of key issues.
“Part of it was a teaching tool, and then part of it was just an opportunity to see what Cumberland County voters thought about a host of issues facing the state back in November,” Niebler said. “It’s a matter of letting them interact with voters and then it’s also important to know what voters in Cumberland County were thinking as they were headed to the polls on Election Day. It gave us an opportunity to ... really gather opinions and find out how people are getting information about the governor’s race. What are they thinking about particular policy issues and how do they make decisions about who to vote for?”
The students talked with 402 voters across the county about issues such as education, taxes, fracking, medical marijuana and the economy, according to results. They discovered that while 13 percent of voters believe marijuana should be illegal in all circumstances, 54 percent think it should be legal for medicinal purposes. 31 percent of those polled believe the drug should be legal for personal use among adults.
Another hot topic for the election this year was hydraulic fracturing in state-owned forests. 48 percent support expanding fracking, while 41 percent oppose it. Regardless of voter support or opposition, however, 69 percent would support imposing an extraction tax on oil and gas companies, the results said.
Voters were divided on the status of the state’s budget over the past few years, with 30 percent saying it’s in better shape now, 34 percent saying it’s worse, and 26 percent saying it’s about the same.
Niebler said the issues the students selected were mostly focused in the state or local area, with a few national questions. The issues that those polled believed to be most prominent in deciding the governor’s race were taxes, education and the economy, though most voters listed more than one issue as being the most important.
The goal was for the students to get out of the classroom and talk to and get to know the residents living in the county, she said. Another important lesson the professor hoped the students would take with them is that voters aren’t always split down the middle on issues.
“I think we’re all so conditioned to see every issue as split 50/50, you know you hear this language and talk of polarization and that means that everything is contentious and split,” Niebler said. “So I think they were intrigued and interested in any of the questions that looked like there was more agreement because that’s just not the narrative that we hear so often.”