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From classroom to convention

Posted 8:43 a.m. Tuesday, April 30, 2024

(Source: VISIT Milwaukee Media Library)

Four undergraduate students to survey delegates at the Republican National Convention

This July, four undergraduate student researchers will travel with Kristina LaPlant, assistant professor of political science and public administration, to the Republican National Convention (RNC) in Milwaukee. 

During the spring semester, students in LaPlant’s POL 305 “Political Parties” class have been developing a public opinion survey. Now, LaPlant and a team of four students will disseminate the survey to delegates attending the upcoming RNC.  

“We are primarily interested in expanding upon previous work in political science that has surveyed convention delegates,” LaPlant says. “Generally, these studies have examined things like how delegates network, which organizations they are associated with and how they were recruited to become party activists.”

Kristina LaPlant received a Faculty Research Grant from UWL, which made the research trip possible.

Another interest of the research team, LaPlant says, is the impact and influence Donald Trump has exerted in the Republican Party. Specifically, whether his signature brand of populism has inspired individuals without a background in politics to become more politically engaged. 

Hannah Bauknecht, a first-year political science major with a minor in sociology and legal studies, is among the four students accompanying LaPlant to Milwaukee. 

“I am excited to interact one-on-one with the delegates and see the process from the inside,” Bauknecht says. “I hope to learn as much as I can about the ins and outs of the Republican National Convention and get as hands-on with learning about the process as possible. What’s better than being there and being able to experience it all firsthand?” 

LaPlant shares that this is the first time UWL students will be attending an event like this.  

“In class, we spend a lot of time discussing why politics is so polarized and how we get politicians to be more responsive and accountable to the public,” LaPlant explains. “Not only does this project offer a great deal of experience and insight into the type of work we do as political scientists, but my hope is that it will also help students understand that political participation extends far beyond voting every four years, and that the ability to truly affect political change might not be as arduous as they think.” 

This research trip is possible due to LaPlant receiving a Faculty Research Grant from UWL, allowing the students to attend the convention at no cost. Dalton John Kenyon, a junior political science major and communication studies minor on the research team, says that without the research grant, this opportunity would not have been possible for him. 

“I’m looking forward to making the trip and experiencing an event this large,” Kenyon says. “I’m also looking forward to the responses we will gather from the delegates and understanding how they see the current political climate of the country and of their party. I think the trip will give me a greater understanding and appreciation on gathering and interpreting data as well as conducting research.” 

The research team plans to present their findings at the annual meeting of the Midwest Political Science Association next April in Chicago. LaPlant hopes her students can experience the “life cycle” of a research project: from survey design, to fieldwork, to conference presentation, to publication in a peer-reviewed journal.  

“Preparing students for this trip has been a great deal of fun,” LaPlant says. “I always enjoy working on collaborative projects, especially when they are embedded in the course curriculum. What I like most about this project is that it creates an opportunity for students to witness the democratic process firsthand.” 


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