Using Voter Mobilization to See How Close Knit Our Campus Is

By The Darian of Harrington

One of the problems that we have as a human species is that we do not have the capability to fully take-in, process, and understand all of the information that is constantly bombarding us. Due to this, we create different heuristics, which are essentially mental shortcuts, in order to efficiently process all of this information. What does this mean for the students on campus that are being mobilized? Are there certain groups or characteristics of groups that can allow for students to be mobilized easier than others?

One rather simple claim shown by the graph below is that if a Denisonian is a part of more social groups and extracurricular activities on campus, then they are more likely to be contacted by at least one organization who is trying to mobilize them in some way or another. An explanation for that relationship can be simply put: exposure. The more groups one is in, the more people they interaction with. The more interactions they have, the more likely they are to run into a group who is trying to mobilize them in one way or another. Additionally, the strategy of these politically mobilizing groups, mainly the Denison Republicans and Denison Democrats, was to try to contact as many members of the Denison community as possible in order to share pertinent information regarding the 2018 midterm elections.

All are types of social groups targeted equally as frequent on campus? The graph below shows the frequency of exposure to politically mobilizing groups. The black line represents the mean number of times that Denisonians have been contacted regarding political mobilization. It is interesting to note that all of these groups show higher rates of mobilization contact frequency compared to the mean. This can be explained by the fact that these students are always participating in social groups and extracurricular activities, so the comparison group includes the small set of inactive students. But clearly, some types of involvement pay more dividends in political mobilization.

Interestingly enough, club sports just barely makes it about the University mean. This begs the question, why is this particular group significantly lower in exposure to mobilization effects compared to the rest of the social groups and extracurricular activities on campus? A reasonable explanation for these results is because of location. Most club sports are conducted in locations that political groups do not frequent. The Denison Democrats and Republicans have stated that they typically stay on the academic quad in order to mobilize. Most club sports are typically held in the athletic center of the University or other outdoor fields towards the north side of campus. Due to the lack of exposure, the relative lack of mobilization makes sense.

The final graph looks at the mobilization efforts regarding white and non-white students when following this established correlation of club membership to frequency of being contacted. The graph below shows a sizable difference between white and non-white students regarding the effect of club membership on mobilization efforts. That is, group involvement boosts the amount of mobilization for white students but not for non-white students.[1] While we probably should not get too carried away with these results since the average number of mobilization attempts is still about 3, the question remains why are white students positively affected by group involvement but not non-white students?

I approached the Denison Democrats as well as senior, Black Studies major Amirah Loury, who is also President of the Black Student Union, for comment in order to provide some perspective on this result. According to the Denison Democrats, these results seem rather inexplicable due to their inclusive strategy of mobilization; that is to say, they tried to mobilize every single student that they could on campus. Their explanation for these results is that this is the result of the composition of the institutional: “…whites typically have more connection than non-whites do. So as a non-white student at Denison…one might have less connections outside a certain sphere.” At least from one data perspective, non-white students have the same level of social support as white students, though that does not reflect on their degree of ties to the rest of campus.

Additionally, BSU President Amirah Loury was able to share her opinion on the results as well. I would like to stress that this information is reflective of Ms. Loury’s opinion and not necessarily that of the Black Student Union.

“I believe the data discrepancy could be explained by the idea that typically political mobilization campaigns do not decenter whiteness and use a narrow view of politics and elections. Therefore, non-white students experience politics differently, and this means that these campaigns do not address the full picture of identity that include race, gender, citizenship, class, and even sexuality. So I believe that for non-white students, the more connections we have, this does not automatically mean we receive more requests to mobilize on politics because we are not viewed as assets to these campaigns. We are marginalized in these spaces and are only used as collateral for “diversity” or “identity politics”. If we can view politics with more layered analysis and initiatives, then we can make politics more accessible to more groups of people.”

According to Loury, there is a downward trend regarding non-white students, group involvement, and mobilization frequency because the issues in which mobilization efforts occur only pertain to the white students.[2]

Denisonians are typically mobilized to become more politically active in the community if they are involved in more extracurriculars, but where do we go from here? Further research should be conducted regarding a continued breakdown of contact types. That is to say, are there certain groups that mobilize different groups more than others? Additionally, is there a way to increase the effectiveness of mobilization efforts? If so, different tactics can be implemented by these groups that try to mobilize the students on campus to be more inclusive in their mobilization attempts.

Darian Harrington is an amateur misanthrope who is simultaneously trying to save the world with his Political Science education. When he isn’t hermiting in his room, you can find him procrastinating in Knapp.


1. The analysis that produced these graphs took out international students from the sample as they are not able to participate in the voting process.

2. What is particularly interesting on this point is that non-whites were not just less likely to be recruited by Denison Democrats, they were also less likely to report a mobilization attempt from a friend, which presumably does not reflect any organizational bias. Moreover, white students are marginally more politically interested than non-white students in these data, which would then affect how likely friends are to mobilize an individual.

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