Civic Engagement and Youth: What Can a Poll Tell Us?

Students Develop Survey/Poll to Determine How Information Changes Attitudes

April 8, 2008

By Valerie Orleans

Do college students care about the election or the issues that affect the country? Can their opinions be changed if they are provided with more information?

That is the question that Pam Fiber-Ostrow, associate professor of political science, and her students are determined to find out.

Through a process known as deliberative polling, more than 800 Cal State Fullerton students participated in a survey focusing on two of the nation's hot issues: immigration and health care.

A random telephone survey was administered to Cal State Fullerton students in February and March. At that time, they were invited to participate in a daylong educational forum that would feature experts providing insight into the topics of immigration and health care.

The forum takes place Saturday, April 12, on the CSUF campus.

Experts who will discuss immigration issues April 12 include Nora Vargas, executive director of the Latino Issues Forum; attorney John Alcorn, an immigration and nationality law specialist; and Louis Desipio, associate professor of political science and chair of Chicano/Latino studies at UC Irvine.

Healthcare experts include Joe Dunn, CEO of the California Medical Association; Barry Ross, vice president of Healthy Communities for St. Jude Medical Center; and Mark Peterson, professor of public health policy at UCLA.

"After the Saturday event, we will analyze the results and see if opinions have changed as a result of what the students learned from our experts and one another," said Toni Cordero, a student involved in the project.

About 200 students are expected to participate in the Saturday forum.

The polling project is being conducted through the American Association of State Colleges and Universities' American Democracy Project. Throughout the nation, 16 universities were chosen. Fullerton is the only participating university in California.

The deliberative poll is the brainchild of James Fishkin, a professor of communication and political science at Stanford University and the director of the Center for Deliberative Democracy. The center is devoted to research about democracy and public opinion obtained through deliberative polling. A deliberative poll involves administering a survey on selected issues, providing education on that topic, then taking the poll again to see if information changes attitudes.

The project is supported by AASCU, the New York Times and the Center for Deliberative Democracy.

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