Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Using app, UCD prof to track real-time debate reaction

From page A1 | October 03, 2012 |

UC Davis students will gather with their smartphones to watch the first 2012 presidential debate Wednesday evening and field-test this new app, co-created by UCD political scientist Amber Boydstun, which gathers real-time reactions from participants. Courtesy photo

Learn more

What: Presidential debate on domestic issues between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney

When: 6 p.m. Wednesday

Where: Airing live on major networks and cable news stations, and streamed online

When President Obama faces Republican challenger Mitt Romney on Wednesday, Amber Boydstun will be watching — through the eyes of college students across the country.

Some 12,000 students have been enlisted to give their real-time reactions using a smartphone app co-created by Boydstun, an assistant professor of political science at UC Davis.

“To my knowledge, this is the first real-time reaction data we can get in a mass way,” she said on Tuesday. “We’ll have thousands of observations, which for political scientists is very exciting.”

Data from previous debates has come from polling after the fact or from small groups of voters using hand dials from the Nielsen Company. For example, Nielsen brought together 44 voters in 2008 to watch the debate between then-vice presidential candidates Joe Biden and Sarah Palin.
The students, lured by the promise of extra credit, will tap one of four reactions to what’s said: agree, disagree, spin or dodge. Beforehand, they’ll answer some basic demographic questions. They’ll be asked more when the 90-minute debate ends.
Researchers and participants both will be able to watch the responses in real time.
Boydstun said that if all goes as planned, the app will combine “the best of all worlds” — moment-by-moment responses, like those like-dislike Nielsen dials, the sense of engagement offered by Twitter and the demographic data of traditional polling.
The researchers also plan to follow up with questions until Election Day, to see if a change or boost in opinion brought about by a debate fades or strengthens with time.
They will have some basic data to share after the debate, like how participants respond to the question of who performed better on sliding scale. In short order, bar charts also should be available for participating classes that show the relative number of agrees and disagrees by different demographic groups.

The researchers plan to drill deeper in the weeks and months ahead.

They’re especially interested in how the audience responds when Obama and Romney use two often effective tools of political rhetoric: agenda-setting and issue-framing.

Agenda-setting is focusing attention to a particular issue, like steering the debate toward the economy instead of other topics. Issue-framing turns the spotlight on one aspect of an issue, like the cost of the war in Afghanistan, at the expense of other dimensions of that topic, like the safety of soldiers.
The opinions of college students may not be representative of voters as a whole, but the sheer numbers available — thanks to the help of 200 or so professors and instructors at 125 or more colleges — will provide lots of numbers to crunch.
Some colleges have invited community members to take part and others have larger numbers of older, nontraditional students. Plus, “We have enough classes from typically conservative states that I think we’ll have a pretty nice balance in terms of partisanship,” Boydstun said.
That’s not always easy, she said. Republicans are in short supply in Davis; political scientists at the University of Arkansas, meanwhile, struggle to find Democrats.
At UCD, about 400 undergraduate political science students have been invited to use the app while watching one of the three presidential debates or the vice presidential debate.
For the first face-off between Romney and Obama, about 100 law and business students will use the app during a watch party at King Hall. Watch parties with students using the app are planned for five other campuses across the country.

The researchers also will have two other pools of data.

The University of Denver, which is hosting tonight’s debate, plans an outdoor watch party at which upwards of 5,000 people will be invited to use the app. The researchers are attempting to recruit groups of more religious voters, too.

The year-old app project is also the work of Rebecca Glazier, an assistant professor of political science at the University of Arkansas, Little Rock; Matthew Pietryka, a lecturer and postdoctoral fellow in political science at UCD; and Philip Resnik, a professor of linguistics and computer science at the University of Maryland.

Resnik assembled the tech team that built from scratch the React Labs app, which Boydstun said also could be used to gauge the real-time response to other sorts of events — be it an Academy Awards ceremony, a State of the Union address or a football game. Resnik also has formed a startup company to commercialize the app.

Because of limited capacity, the app isn’t yet available for download by the general public.

Boydstun and her colleagues have been gearing up for the debate by testing their system. She has another worry, however.

“What if we went through all of this and find that debates don’t matter? This is an ongoing question. So far the answer is, ‘It depends.’ ”

History shows that debates don’t often boost a campaign — but a bad performance can sink one.

“I’m selfishly hoping we get to see some reaction to something unusual,” Boydstun said.

Wednesday’s presidential debate on domestic issues will air live on major networks and cable news stations and be streamed online at 6 p.m.

The remaining schedule: Oct. 11, vice presidential debate from Centre College in Danville, Ky.; Oct. 16, presidential candidate town hall on domestic and foreign policy from Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y.; Oct. 22, presidential debate on foreign policy from Lynn University in Boca Raton, Fla.

— Reach Cory Golden at or 530-747-8046. Follow him on Twitter at @cory_golden



Cory Golden

Cory Golden

The Enterprise's higher-education and congressional reporter.
  • Recent Posts

  • Enter your email address to subscribe to this newspaper and receive notifications of new articles by email.

  • .


    Family enterprise builds a home for music

    By Elizabeth Case | From Page: A1 | Gallery

    Mosquito districts sprays tonight

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A2

    Bob Dunning: Poll dancing, direct from Las Vegas

    By Bob Dunning | From Page: A2

    Health premiums rose significantly in 2014

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A2

    Tee off for Davis’ continued prosperity

    By Lily Holmes | From Page: A4

    Center for Families hosts Summer Carnival

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

    Vintage car show planned this fall

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

    Davis native named a Schweitzer Fellow

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A4

    Biggest book sale to date opens Friday at Davis library

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

    Share your love of nature with young wetlands visitors

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A4 | Gallery

    Tasting event benefits Yolo Land Trust

    By Lily Holmes | From Page: A4

    Movies in the Park return this fall

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

    DHS Class of ’94 set 20th reunion

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A5

    Tips, techniques will give you a green thumb

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A5

    Grief support focuses on journaling

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A5

    How the Bockler wasp got its name

    By Kathy Keatley Garvey | From Page: A5 | Gallery

    Kiwanis golf tournament supports local agencies

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A5

    Drop off school supplies at Edward Jones offices

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A5

    Wine-tastings will benefit YCCC

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A5

    Yolo County CASA seeks volunteer child advocates

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A7

    UC Davis alumnus hopes to bring amateur radio to Nepal

    By Rachel Uda | From Page: A7 | Gallery

    Recycle old paint cans for free

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A8



    Not sure which direction to go

    By Creators Syndicate | From Page: B5

    Violence as entertainment

    By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A6

    Shocked at vampires story

    By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A6

    Paul Krugman: Corporate artful dodgers

    By Paul Krugman | From Page: A6

    Nicholas Kristof: The world’s coolest places

    By Nicholas Kristof | From Page: A6

    Tom Meyer cartoon

    By Debbie Davis | From Page: A6

    Gravel mining affects us all

    By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A6



    A’s rally to win

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B1

    Morse homers but Giants lose 6th straight

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B1

    Nightmare on Ballpark Drive for River Cats

    By Will Bellamy | From Page: B1 | Gallery

    Fiona Buck pushes the limits in para-athletics

    By Felicia Alvarez | From Page: B1 | Gallery

    Schaub settles in as Raiders starting QB

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B2





    Smither releases new CD Saturday at The Palms

    By Kate Laddish | From Page: A9 | Gallery

    RootStock kicks off ‘Día de Albariño’

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A9

    Folk musicians will jam in the Arboretum

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A9

    YoloArts to host a state of change exhibit

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A9

    UCD professor Andy Jones named Davis’ new poet laureate

    By Rachel Uda | From Page: A9 | Gallery

    Molten art on display at Davis Arts Center

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A9

    Brady earns top honors at State Fair

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A9





    Calvin D. Rourke

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A4



    Comics: Wednesday, July 30, 2014

    By Creator | From Page: B6