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College students say Romney won, but most plan to vote for Obama

October 4, 2012

Obama on video screen next to a monitor showing new app being watched by a man with his back to the camera

Debate-watching parties at which students used the app took place at some seven universities, including UC Davis. (Julia Ann Easley/UC Davis photo)

College students narrowly viewed Mitt Romney as the winner of Wednesday night’s presidential debate, but most plan to vote for Obama, according to a nationwide poll conducted with a smartphone application co-developed at the University of California, Davis.

About 4,000 students at campuses around the country participated in the field test, 56 percent identifying themselves as Democrats and 27 percent as Republicans.

Overall, 52 percent said they thought Romney won the debate — but 60 percent said they plan to vote for President Obama. Independents indicated a slight preference for Obama, but Romney was preferred more by undecided voters, the data showed.

The app allowed for the first time live reaction to a debate on a large scale. Students were invited to participate by a network of 175 political science professors around the country.

Debate-watching parties at which students used the app took place at some seven universities, including UC Davis and the University of Denver, where the debate occurred.

Researchers compiled preliminary results of the polling this morning.

 “We were very pleased with the high number of responses,” said Amber Boydstun, an assistant professor of political science at UC Davis who co-created the app with colleagues at UC Davis, the University of Maryland, College Park, and the University of Arkansas, Little Rock.

“It’s great to see reaction from people immediately — in many cases before they’ve been influenced by their friends or even news commentators. We have so little large-scale research on real-time polling in political science — this is truly new.”

Obama received the most positive student response to comments on corporate tax break eliminations, and the most negative response to his claim that he “kept that promise” to fight for the middle class that was made in his first campaign.

Romney, on the other hand, garnered the most student support for his plans to promote energy independence and foreign trade to improve the economy, while students responded most negatively to his energy policy positions, such as support for coal and Canadian oil.

Participants also clicked “agree” buttons heavily when the moderator tried to keep candidates from going over time on their remarks.

A slide show breaking down response by state, race, gender and other factors is available at the React Labs website or can be downloaded directly.

Field testing of the app will continue through the remaining presidential debates and vice presidential debate.

More background information on the app, research and a video interview with Boydstun is available in a news release.

About UC Davis

UC Davis is a global community of individuals united to better humanity and our natural world while seeking solutions to some of our most pressing challenges. Located near the California state capital, UC Davis has more than 34,000 students, and the full-time equivalent of 4,100 faculty and other academics and 17,400 staff. The campus has an annual research budget of over $750 million, a comprehensive health system and about two dozen specialized research centers. The university offers interdisciplinary graduate study and 99 undergraduate majors in four colleges and six professional schools.

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