February 11, 2016
While the eyes of the nation turn to New Hampshire every four years, politics are front and center throughout the state every day – and especially at Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU). As national interest ramped up, SNHU’s interaction with the candidates – and political process – did, too. The university’s on-campus and online political science programs, at the bachelor’s and master’s levels, are enhanced by the real-world experiences of faculty, staff and students, who are very much a part of the political scene in the first-in-the-nation state.
For six to nine months prior to the New Hampshire Primary, candidates traversed the state, touching down in Manchester, SNHU’s hometown, regularly, allowing locals to connect and become a part of campaign efforts. As the big day drew near, media from throughout the country set up camp just minutes away from SNHU’s College of Online and Continuing Education Millyard location in Manchester’s busy downtown. Political signs lined the streets and candidates appeared here and there, with the media and supporters queuing up to shake hands, ask questions and confirm their allegiance. This is a place where political dreams can escalate or crumble.
Throughout the fall and early winter, SNHU kept pace with the candidates, developing a video series featuring 2016 presidential candidates of all affiliations. Conversations in the “On the Campaign Trail” series focus on education and the issues facing students today.
Republican presidential candidate Senator Marco Rubio talks with WKXL's Chris Ryan about education and issues facing students in the United States.
Democratic presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders talks with WKXL's Chris Ryan and SNHU Civic Scholar Dean Spiliotes about education and issues facing students in the United States.
SNHU Civic Scholar Dr. Dean Spiliotes is a veteran political observer, commentator and professor. Media outlets nationwide rely on his political expertise, particularly during the New Hampshire Primary season when candidate sightings and sound bites are rampant throughout the state. His students are also privy to Spiliotes’ firsthand observations and vast experiences in the political landscape of N.H.
“New Hampshire is a wonderful place to be a political science professor,” he said. As a self-noted political junkie who has spent much time with campaigns, grassroots activists and candidates, and on the political scene, Spiliotes loves to share his experiences and encourage students to get involved. “They can have the same sort of engagement.”
Historically, retail politics – one-on-one interaction or small group interaction with a candidate – has been a vital part of New Hampshire politics, particularly at the presidential level. Spiliotes said the tradition of retail politics, going to diners, churches, hosting town hall meetings and house parties, has allowed candidates, who spend a lot of time prior to the New Hampshire Primary in the state, to get to know a lot of residents.
The 2016 primary, however, was a bit different in that some of the candidates didn’t prescribe to retail politics as usual in New Hampshire, such as Marco Rubio or Donald Trump, who opted to fly in and out for events and rely more on digital media to spread awareness. Did this impact their supporters? With Trump netting a first-place win in the primary and Rubio at fifth, Spiliotes said it’s hard to say. Other candidates embraced the ethos of the primary and it may well have contributed to keeping them in the political game.
Young voters made a tremendous impact on the New Hampshire Primary. Spiliotes likened their response to the 2008 primary, when a large 18-29-age voter turnout and support of then-candidate Obama made a significant difference. “Young voters tend to be very enthusiastic and rally around one candidate,” he said, which has been the case with the sizable lead Bernie Sanders held over second-place finisher Hillary Clinton. Spiliotes said that Sanders’ campaign appeals to those who are idealistic, forward-looking and focused on recovery from the recession.
The New Hampshire Primary historically has a strong turnout – 2008’s primary had a record turnout of 533,000 voters and it’s predicted 2016 will also be a record-breaker. Spiliotes said that big voter turnout makes for better results and builds on the civically minded image that New Hampshire holds. He notes that the state is an easy place to vote, allowing people to register to vote right at the polls.
In speaking of the recent primary, Spiliotes was not surprised by Sanders’ first-place win, but rather by the large margin of the win. The expectation was that if Hillary Clinton lost, it would be only by a small percentage, allowing her to announce a comeback in the state. With this win, Spiliotes said that it makes Sanders a legitimate player in the presidential race.
Interestingly enough, while Donald Trump was the clear Republican winner in the New Hampshire Primary, there are still many other viable candidates, which hasn’t been the case in the past. “We have a pretty good track record for winnowing the field,” said Spiliotes, who was surprised by the close bunch of candidates within a few percentage points of each other on the Republican ballot. “A number of candidates bunched together in the teens lengthens the contest.”
The reality of New Hampshire doesn’t necessarily match the perception of the candidates – and especially the media. So often, there’s an influx of campaign-related visitors, ready to immerse themselves in the folklore of small town, rural life, looking for photo opportunities in diners and on the streets with plaid-shirt clad residents.
“This is an economically diverse state. People come here from all parts of the country for its quality of life,” said Spiliotes. “It’s a very modern state with a high-income, high-education workforce.” He points out there’s lot of technology being developed in New Hampshire, a vibrant service industry and financial industry, all situated in an environment that still holds a lot of rural charm.
Whether students study politics on-campus in New Hampshire or are enrolled in an online political science degree program with SNHU, the primary season offers the opportunity to better understand the process and put classroom lessons into real-life settings. “They can take theory and apply it in their lives,” said Spiliotes, which will further enhance the learning experience. What’s especially beneficial is that students can see it all in real-time and bring their observations into the classroom to further their knowledge and interaction, based on real-life experiences.
SNHU campus student were encouraged to vote in the New Hampshire Primary and offered shuttle rides to the voting polls. Many were first-time voters to the presidential primary, and were excited to place their vote in the first-in-the-nation state – and to have the opportunity to meet candidates firsthand. Some were particularly cognizant of their voting privileges, and as SNHU student Blake Emery said, “We need to do our part.”
According to Spiliotes, the New Hampshire Primary has been central to the selection of presidential nominees for 100 years, and has been the first-in-the-nation primary since 1920. “We really have become a central battleground certainly going back to the more modern primary, which we date at 1952,” he said. “It's really an opportunity for voters in the country as a whole to get a first look at these candidates.”
Those with a political science degree can look at candidates through a much sharper lens. Graduates of the online political science degree program at SNHU will have the ability to analyze policy and politics on local, national and global scales, and be able to build and refine analysis and communication skills that lead to careers in advocacy, campaign strategy and development, government and public policy, to name just a few of the potential careers.
Those currently engaged in the political science program are sure to apply what they’re learning as they observe and analyze ongoing political campaigns, particularly in the primary season when political careers change greatly in the quest for the nation’s highest office. The online political science degree program, at the undergraduate level, also offers a concentration in campaign leadership, which provides the fundamentals of how campaigns function and apply statistical analysis to make informed decisions.
SNHU’s online Master of Science in Political Science draws on New Hampshire’s rich political legacy while applying a critical contemporary eye to where politics is headed. With a curriculum that aligns with the American Political Science Association’s (APSA) Principles for Graduate Education in Political Science, there’s an emphasis on rigorous analysis and how politics can explain the human experience.
According to the APSA, about 53 percent of political scientists work for the federal government. Opportunities in the political arena abound though, with a 21 percent growth through 2022, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, in roles such as campaign operatives, congressional staffers, federal state aid coordinators, city planners, corporate advisors for governmental relations or public affairs and many more politically related positions.
Read on to learn more about what political science majors do.
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