Voters Influenced By Own Research

Voter in Boston brings family to vote at the Boston Arts Academy in Boston, Massachusetts. Photo by Xiaolu Liu.

By Ashleigh Fryer
BU News Service

BOSTON – As it was across the nation, jobs and the economy loomed the largest in the minds of Boston area voters who braved long lines and low temperatures to vote in Tuesday’s election.

And despite a constant barrage of political ads and news coverage, a majority of voters interviewed in exit polls conducted by the Boston University News Service said they often relied on their own research of the candidates to make their decisions.

“It was all pretty hateful and definitely overdone,” Margaret Bahnsen, 26, of Allston said of the political ads that became a regular feature for the past few months. “It made me apathetic a little bit about politics.”

The survey of 300 voters, taken at polling places in Boston, Cambridge and Brookline found the economy topped the list of issues voters looked at to determine how to vote. Nearly two thirds listed the economy at the top of their concerns, followed by health care and women’s issues.

Three quarters of the voters interviewed said they were looking for answers to those problems from the same party they supported in 2008.

“I voted for the same party last election,” Marcus Cunningham, 33, of Mattapan said. “And the election before that, and the election before that. Why would I switch now?”

Most voters said they had kept up with news reports on the various campaigns, with 75 percent saying they watched the presidential and senatorial debates. But a majority of those same voters said their decision had little to do with the candidates’ debate performance.

“[The presidential candidates] need to stop slandering each other—it doesn’t do any good to bad mouth the other guy,” said Freda Wiley, 47, of Boston.

“You don’t want to hear a bunch of garbage and that’s all we’ve been hearing this election on both sides. I stopped watching the debates—they’re a total waste of time.”

Voters also said they drew from various sources of information during the long election cycle. A majority said they did their own research into issues, rather than rely solely on news reports and political ads.

Surprisingly, less than 1 percent said they paid attention to politics on social media.

“I don’t trust social media as a reliable source of information even though some of it does come from my friends,” said Shannon Leary, a 21-year-old Boston resident.

Although the majority of individuals polled were not first time voters, the youth vote that was so crucial to President Obama’s election in 2008 appears to have been a factor at polling stations where exit polling took place. Nearly 18 percent of those interviewed said they were casting their first ballot for president.

“There were a lot more young voters who came out to vote this year than any other year I’ve been working the poll stations,” Geneses Israel, a poll worker in Fenway said. “I was at Copley last year but the two elections before that I was here at the Boston Arts Academy and there was definitely a noticeable increase of young voters.”

But some of the youth vote may be a result of the high density of college students in the Boston area. A number of students interviewed on Tuesday said they chose to vote here rather than cast absentee ballots at home.

“I realized that my vote might have made a greater difference in my home state of Florida, but there was a good feeling that came with physically coming out here to vote today,” Luis Valenica, 24, of Miami said. “Plus, as my first time voting, I think it was right that I did it in the community I’m currently living in.”

New voters may have contributed to the passage of the state’s medical marijuana initiative – a victory mirrored in Washington and Colorado, which voted to legalize the drug for both medical and recreational use on Tuesday night.

“My opinion is that if you prohibit things like alcohol and marijuana, all it does is encourage crime, the black market, and other means of getting access to these things,” Claire Malloy, 24, of Boston said. “It will only bring about illicit activity without actually reducing its use.”

A majority of those polled said they were glad the most expensive campaign in United States history was coming to an end. But several noted the tone of the relentless advertising and political dialogue was nothing new.

“These races really aren’t so bad, historically,” Justin Ames, 19, of New Jersey said. “In the 1800 election campaign, Jefferson called Adams a hermaphrodite.”


*Polling was done by Boston University students

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