The head of Penn State’s Department of Political Science, Professor Lee Ann Banazak, took some of her students are to Cleveland this week. They’ve been studying protesters outside the Republican National Convention. WPSU’s Kristine Allen spoke with Banazak by phone to find out what this research project is all about.
BANAZAK: My name is Lee Ann Banazak, I’m Professor of Political Science at Penn State.
ALLEN: From where are you speaking to me right now?
BANAZAK: I’m actually speaking to you from the Cleveland Clinic. We had a student turn an ankle coming home from dinner last night. We were just getting ready to head back to where we are staying. We’re staying on Case Western University Campus.
ALLEN: So tell me about your research project there.
BANAZAK: We are interested in understanding more about the people engaged in activities outside of the convention. That includes rallies, protests and marches, Also people who are in the – what are called the“free speech zones,” so those are people who are coming together to either speak out on an issue, or to hear other people speak on an issue.
ALLEN: What specifically do you want to find out about these people?
BANAZAK: Well, we’re very interested in their connections to political parties. That’s our main research focus. You could imagine two very different types of people at conventions. The first are people who are very alienated from political parties, and are trying to have their voices heard. The other are people who are very partisan, and connected to political parties, but who are unhappy with the positions of parties and are trying to change what parties do. So, in this election cycle, for example, at the Democratic National Convention, Bernie Sanders’ supporters might be outside the Democratic Convention.
So do we find more Democrats at the Republican National Convention, or do we see partisans really outside at the conventions they’re closest to. Are they more likely to go to Cleveland, in essence, or are they more likely to go to Philadelphia.
ALLEN: So you’re – you’re trying to figure out how many people of which viewpoints are there at the two conventions?
BANAZAK: That’s correct. And most people who have surveyed protestors have only been able to survey people who are interested in one issue. And we also thought that the conventions are a chance to really survey people who are interested in a number of issues.
ALLEN: So how do you go about choosing the people to speak with?
BANAZAK: We do two things to try and get a representative group. So first of all we are trying very hard to sample different events. And second, once we go to a particular geographic location, there are um ways of making sure that you are getting representative samples. First of all, the people doing the survey don’t get to pick who they talk to. And second of all, we use a method, to try and get representative groups throughout. And that involves, basically, uh, randomizing, walking through the crowd.
ALLEN: So when you’re surveying the protestors, what kinds of things are you asking them about?
BANAZAK: We’re just asking why they’re out there, so what is the goal of going out and protesting, and what issue are they protesting, and then just getting some basic demographics.
We have a longer survey that our surveyors ask every sixth person. And that involves also asking about party identification, it asks them a little bit more about their issues. And then basic demographics again.
ALLEN: Who are the students that are with you? And how many students?
BANAZAK: So we have three graduate students who are our team leaders. Two of the graduate students are from Penn State and one is from they university of Pennsylvania. And here in Cleveland then we have a group of 10 undergraduates who are actually doing most of the surveying.
ALLEN: Now there’s been a lot in the news about Ohio being an open carry state, a lot of the protestors carrying firearms. How worried are you about all of that?
BANAZAK: Well, um, we have a lot of safety protocols. We made the students go through about 2 to 3 hours of safety training.
ALLEN: Banazak says some of her students did see some protesters carrying firearms. But she says no one in her group witnessed anything worse than slogans being yelled back and forth. Still, they were prepared for trouble. Banazak hands the phone to one of her Penn State student researchers, 20 year old Ilayda Orankoy.
ORANKOY: We touched upon like protocol for tear gassing, what to do if we see police lining up shoulder-to-shoulder. Most of the solution to that is to get away.
ALLEN: Banazak will also be at the Democratic Convention in Philadelphia next week, with a different group of students, to study protesters there, too.
BANAZAK: One of the unique things about the convention is, when you survey protestors, usually protests are single issue protests. And the conventions provide the opportunity to reach a number of different types of movements.
ALLEN: Banazak’s research project is sponsored by the McCourtney Institute for Democracy at Penn State and by the University of Pennsylvania. I’m Kristine Allen, WPSU.