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"See How They Run"

Studying the 2016 general election in HNRS 2020

For the past eight years, Ogden Honors students have had a unique window into our nation’s electoral process. In his popular class, “See How They Run,” LSU Manship School of Mass Communication Professor Bob Mann helps students navigate the ups and downs of the 2016 Presidential election within a critical and historical framework.

Mann, a former press secretary to two U.S. Senators and a longtime opinion writer, is uniquely qualified to teach students about political campaigning and messaging. The course focuses on the two major party presidential candidates, but also delves into the history of presidential elections and issues surrounding the election.  The course concludes with a critical look at the mechanics of campaigning.

Mann has offered “See How They Run” for honors students every presidential election year, and two years ago began teaching the class in off years with a focus on the midterm elections.  

Mann explained that the 2016 election is unlike any he has taught in years past, and that he hopes it is unique. “I told my students that this is the first time I’ve taught this class that I’ve felt like every time we meet, it feels as though we are having a group therapy session,” Mann said. “No matter which side you’re on, there’s shocking information that comes out. For many students this is the first campaign that they’ve paid attention to in their lives. I feel a special obligation in this class to help them understand that it wasn’t always like this.”

Mann tries to incorporate political science methodology into his discussion in class every day so that students have the opportunity to view the election from a scientific perspective. “There’s a lot of websites that do very interesting data analysis websites out there, and typically I’ll try and start the class with data analysis to keep the class grounded in political science. We could always talk about the news for the hour and twenty minutes of class. Political science has something worth saying about every subject.”  

After the third presidential debate (during which Trump said he might not abide by the results of the election), Mann researched prior concession speeches from Gerald Ford to Mitt Romney, and decided it was important to show students that since 1800, every presidential election has been followed by a peaceful transfer of power. Mann explained that until this was laid out to students, many did not understand how radical and unprecedented Trump’s statement was.

“My students in my class had no historical context for this,” Mann said. “It made me think ‘do young people looking at this presidential race think that this is how races always go?’ I thought it was important to show them that this is extraordinary behavior.”

Mann also explained that this election had an unusual tone because of advertising for presidential campaigns. Since the advent and adoption of television, most presidential nominees buy advertising for their campaign and channel information through cable network channels.  “This is the first election that I can remember where I have found candidates like Donald Trump not buying ad spots,” Mann said. “It’s always interesting watching the race based on an ‘air war’ not a ‘ground war.’ This race there really is not an air war. This race is radically different than any race in the past 50 years.”

Ogden Honors student Elizabeth Carter, a political communications major, said that the class has more than exceeded her expectations. “Every day I get to examine the 2016 presidential campaign in a way I would have never thought of,” Carter said. “[Professor Mann’s] experience in politics also makes the concepts a lot more tangible, because he's able to relate the topics we talk about to his own life and experiences.”

Mann explained the course is tailor-made for Ogden Honors College students.  “Honors college students are extraordinary,” Mann said. “Sometimes my students in other majors other than Mass Communication will write better papers than my Mass Communication students in the class. They work harder. It may not be their natural ability, but they put a lot of effort into the class.”

 

Article by Joan Lyons