Election Voting Over-reported by IUP Students

By Lenny Anderson

A post-election survey of IUP students has found that 14 percent said they voted in April 11-12 student-government elections. Actual student-voter turnout was 1 percent, election officials reported.

The survey also found that 16 percent said they voted in the SGA elections a year ago. Actual 2006 turnout was about 1 percent as well.

Over-reporting of voting behavior is not uncommon, survey researchers say. Poll respondents typically feel that voting is socially desirable, so they falsely report that they voted when they actually did not.

The IUP student survey also found apparent over-reporting in annual elections for campus Homecoming king and queen. Forty percent of survey respondents said they cast ballots in the fall 2006 election for IUP Homecoming king and queen. Actual turnout has ranged around 25 percent of students in recent Homecoming balloting.

The online survey also asked IUP students about student-government issues, including voting procedure.

  • Three-quarters of survey respondents said they preferred to vote online – the existing method plagued by technical glitches in the two most recent student-government elections – rather than by paper ballot.
  • Outgoing IUP SGA President Patrick Barnacle, elected in April 2006 amid technical errors, made election-procedure reform a priority during his term. But SGA members did not adopt his proposed changes.
  • On another student-government issue, 61 percent of survey respondents said the SGA should have more power over how student fees are spent.
  • Existing rules invest student-fee spending authority in the Student Cooperative Association, a private organization that funds SGA, The Penn, entertainment, athletic and other student programs on the public university campus. One visiting constitutional scholar last fall suggested that apathy surrounding IUP student government could be reduced if SGA got more control over student fees, an arrangement found at other Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education campuses. An IUP Student Cooperation Association official recently declined comment on the idea.
  • 61 percent of survey respondents agreed with an existing SGA constitutional requirement that candidates for top SGA offices must serve one and two-thirds semesters on the student legislative body before becoming eligible to serve in leadership positions.
  • Critics have faulted the requirement as racist in effect, because SGA officers have been all white, thus preventing a minority outsider from being elected to student-government leadership. In spring, a black student was appointed to a seat on SGA.
  • The top campus issues cited by survey respondents included the availability of parking (cited by 17 percent of respondents), the rising costs of attending IUP (cited by 10 percent) and the variety of dining options (9 percent).

Of 2,000 students asked to participate in an April16-20 survey about IUP’s Student Government Association, 95 replied.

They answered seven questions about the SGA, including whether they voted in the April 11-12 elections.  Of the 74 who replied, 13 — or just fewer than 14 percent — said they did vote in this year’s election.  Asked whether they voted in the 2006 SGA election, 16 — or more than 16 percent — said they voted a year ago.

In that 2006 election, 104 – or less than 1 percent of the student body actually voted.

In comparison, 38 respondents — or 40 percent — said they voted in the most recent Homecoming King and Queen election in the fall.

The survey also included questions about recent SGA issues.

More than 84 percent of respondents said they did not vote this year for the SGA positions.  However, 72 – or almost 76 percent — said they preferred the online voting option to a paper ballot.

Fifty-eight respondents — or 61 percent — said the SGA should have more power over how student fees are spent.  The same percentage said a student should have to serve the mandatory one and two-thirds semesters to run for president of the SGA.

The top campus issues these students would like to see addressed are the rising cost to attend IUP, the availability of parking and the variety of dining/food options.  Seventeen students who responded to the open-ended question listed parking as their top concern.  Tuition costs were listed by 10 students.  Food options were a concern for nine students.


Sidebar: Survey Question Responses

The following seven questions were emailed to 2,000 IUP students selected at random in an April 16-20 online survey conducted by StudentVoice, a Buffalo-based campus polling service hired by IUP and supervised by an IUP faculty member. IUP student responses follow the questions, below.

1. Did you vote in the 2006 spring Student Government (SGA) elections?

Yes: 17 %
No: 80%
Don’t Remember: 3%

2. Did you vote in the 2006 fall Homecoming King & Queen elections?

Yes: 40%
No:  57%
Don’t Remember:  3%

3. Did you vote in the 2007 SGA elections on April 11-12,?

Yes: 14%
No:  84%
Don’t Remember:  2%

4. Which voting option would be more likely to encourage you to vote in SGA elections – voting online or voting with paper ballots in voting places around campus?

Online: 76%
Paper Ballot:  24%

5. Should the Student Government Association have more power over how student fees are spent?

Yes:  61%
No:  13%
Don’t Know:  26%

6. Do you think a student should have to serve one and two-thirds semesters on the student government council before being eligible to run for SGA president?

Yes:  61%
No:  21%
Don’t Know:  18%

7. What are your top two or three campus issues or concerns?

Parking on campus: 17 % of respondents
Cost of attending IUP: 10 % of respondents
Food options on campus: 9 % of respondents

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