With the 2020 presidential election just over a year away, the Mercyhurst Center for Applied Politics (MCAP) is already hard at work tracking Erie’s political views about the field of candidates.
Since February 2017, MCAP polls have tracked Erie County registered voters’ perceptions of President Donald Trump.
Their most recent poll revealed that, if the presidential election were held tomorrow, Erie voters would choose Democratic candidate Joe Biden over incumbent President Donald Trump by a fourteen-point margin.
Democratic candidates Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders were also more popular than President Trump in this poll, with Warren registering a seven-point lead over Trump, and Sanders leading Trump by four points.
Though MCAP’s polls have shown increasingly positive public perceptions of the economy, it seems that the economic factor may not be enough to sway them in favor of President Trump, with 53% of those surveyed disapproving of the President’s performance.
The most recent poll indicates that Erie may be leaning Democratic once more.
Though the election is still over a year away, the findings of the poll are significant, especially due to Pennsylvania’s status as an electoral swing state.
Therefore, it should not come as a surprise that the MCAP poll was featured on CSPAN and in the New York Times.
Leading the MCAP polling center is Joseph Morris, Ph.D., associate professor and Chair of the Mercyhurst Political Science Department, as well as four student project managers. Logan Ford and Sophia Jensen, seniors each double majoring in Intelligence Studies and Political Science, are two of this year’s project managers.
Jensen discussed the importance of MCAP, especially in the time since the 2016 election, due to its usefulness in tracking political attitudes in Erie County.
“In 2016, Pennsylvania was almost like a swing state,” Jensen said. “Erie was the deciding factor, pretty much. Erie has been historically democratic — in 2016, it flipped.”
The surprising flip of the county spurred MCAP to develop the approval-rating poll.
Each question in the approval-rating poll asks respondents whether they approve of President Trump’s performance on issues like the economy, national security and more.
Additionally, each time the poll is conducted, questions related to current events are added to gauge opinions about the most ‘hot-button’ issues.
The questions are carefully worded to avoid bias, and the students conducting the poll must therefore adhere tightly to a script to maintain the exact wording from call to call.
Morris determines which questions will be included in each poll, then the students take over in the poll’s execution.
The polling center is staffed by twenty to thirty students per night, both paid workers and volunteers, who undergo training before the polling process begins. Then, over the course of two weeks for three hours a night, students call local residents to ask their opinions on various political issues. The project managers coordinate the polling efforts.
“We’re the ones in the center every night, making sure everyone is following the rules,” Jensen said of the project managers. “Because we’re under IRB [the Institutional Review Board], we have to make sure we’re doing everything the right way and it is all running smoothly.”
It may sound like tedious work, but the project managers make it enjoyable.
“After the first couple days, when everybody’s comfortable, we put on documentaries to try to keep everyone entertained,” said Jensen.
Despite having received national recognition, MCAP will likely maintain its regional focus, though it may expand to conduct multiple or different types of polls.
Currently MCAP conducts only one poll per semester.
MCAP’s work with real-world data sets Mercyhurst’s Political Science program apart from other colleges’ programs. Working with MCAP helps to prepare students by giving them real-world experience and the chance to be involved in the exciting world of politics — a world that will become more exciting still as the 2020 election draws nearer.
Students interested in joining the polling team can reach out to Morris or one of the student project managers.
To read the Fall 2019 full report, visit the MCAP Polls page at https://www.mercyhurst.edu/ridge-college-intelligence-studies-and-applied-sciences/political-science/mcap-polls.