This article was originally published on the UConn Today Web site on November 2, 2012.
By: Tom Breen
With the election only days away, campaigns and prognosticators alike are looking not so much to voters as a whole, but to distinct groups within the electorate, when it comes to predicting what will happen on Nov. 6.
Now, campaign staffers, scholars, journalists, and the general public have a special resource that can help them better understand the electoral picture, thanks to a new website launched by a trio of University of Connecticut researchers and a colleague from the University of Rhode Island.
Dimpled Chad (http://dimpledchad.info) offers 40 years of electoral data, but with a difference: unlike other political websites, Dimpled Chad specializes in small-group electoral trends.
Using information derived from the census and national exit polls, the researchers have analyzed the behavior of a wide range of demographic groups in federal elections going as far back as the 1972 Presidential election.
Curious about how evangelicals who attend church once a week or more voted in the last two presidential elections? It’s there. Wondering how much likelier males who belong to labor unions are to vote than their non-union counterparts? That’s there, too. Dimpled Chad offers a vast, cross-referenced array of data that’s indispensable for understanding how modern elections work, according to political science professor Samuel Best, one of the UConn researchers behind the project.
“When campaigns go out and target voters, there’s no longer a broad approach to the electorate as a whole,” says Best. “Now they’re micro-targeting voters who possess very specific demographics and narrow issue positions.”
The website – created by Best along with political science professor Jeffrey Ladewig, and political science graduate student Clifford Vickrey from UConn, and URI political scientist Brian Krueger – came out of work that Best did with Krueger on the book, Exit Polls: Surveying the American Electorate, 1972-2010.
The scholars found themselves with far more data than could fit into a single volume, and realized that it would benefit scholars, students, and the general public to have access to the information.
“We learned a lot about how voters have behaved over time,” Best says, “and we wanted our research to be available in as wide a format as possible.”
Among the insights they gained with possible ramifications for the current elections: groups of “swing voters,” like Catholics, really do have the power to determine the outcome of elections, and the “gender gap,” which has been getting a tremendous round of scrutiny this year, is a recent phenomenon – and one that’s driven primarily by male voters.
“The gender gap is typically discussed in terms of female voters,” Best says, “but it’s driven in large part by men, who’ve become increasingly conservative and much more reliable voters for the Republican Party.”
Best says he and his colleagues are looking forward to seeing how this election turns out. “We have more information about voters today than we’ve ever had in the past,” he says. “Research like this can help shape the way we understand elections.”