By Ella Prieto, Contributing Writer
The Eisenhower Institute celebrated Democracy Week with various events around campus. On Saturday, Sept. 17, Constitution Day, they hosted a Town Hall with the Harvard Public Opinion Project (HPOP) of the Harvard Kennedy School Institute of Politics on American values. It involved students, faculty, and staff of Gettysburg College along with Gettysburg’s residents.
The Harvard Public Opinion Project has been running for two decades and is currently the largest poll on political opinions and civic attitudes of Americans aged 18 to 19 years old. HPOP is run by about 35 undergraduate students in the Harvard Kennedy School Institute of Politics who create questions for the biannual poll. The poll is then subcontracted to IPSOS, a market research company, where it is taken by about 2,500 citizens in the age range. The results are released on the Institute of Politics website which you can find here.
In collaboration with the Eisenhower Institute, they set up the Town Hall to garner qualitative data from the College’s population, which helps HPOP decide what to include in the poll. Gettysburg College was chosen to be researched thanks to previous connections between the College and Harvard.
The Town Hall kicked off with a complimentary lunch for all those involved. Then the 15 Gettysburg College student participants formed into a semi-circle for the focus group. There were introductions and announcements made by the Executive Director of the Eisenhower Institute Tracie Potts and the Interim Director of the Institute of Politics at Harvard Kennedy School Setti Warren. They explained the basics of how the Town Hall would be conducted and announced that parts of it would be aired by MSNBC as a part of their midterm election coverage in their Meet the Press Daily segment currently scheduled to air on Oct. 13.
Following the announcements, the two moderators of the discussion introduced themselves and gave background information on HPOP. One moderator was the Harvard Kennedy School Institute of Politics Director of Polling John Della Volpe, who has been a part of HPOP since its beginning two decades ago. The other moderator was the elected Chair of HPOP Alan Zhang, a junior at Harvard.
Volpe explained that HPOP began with two sophomore students at Harvard in the ‘90s who wanted to research why there were such low levels of political participation among their generation. Zhang then gave another quick overview of how the Town Hall would operate prior to beginning.
The moderators first made the group introduce themselves with their names, majors, hometowns, and ideal life. Following that, they asked questions about the positives and negatives of the college experience. The students praised, for example, the independence and the plethora of extracurriculars offered. The negatives, in comparison, included the struggles of adaptation, financial stress, and fears of safety.
Students were then asked to describe their political ideology in a few words. Some answers were small government, progressive, traditionalist conservative, and Independent. This opened the floor for more political questions to be asked: if students felt comfortable sharing their political views at the College, what issues students felt were at stake in the upcoming midterm election, if American democracy was healthy, and how can people be encouraged to vote.
The students held a variety of political beliefs and so these questions were answered in a variety of ways. Some felt that American democracy was failing while others believed it was strong. Some reported abortion as a key thing at stake in the upcoming election while others mentioned the economy. The moderators often remarked how they enjoyed the variety in answers and perspectives.
The Town Hall wrapped up with if the students felt hopeful or fearful about the future of America. While many students were fearful, the majority stated that they were hopeful because they believed that Generation Z would do great things for the country.
The Town Hall concluded with a final remark by Charlie Henry ’26, who stated that he felt hopeful because “All of you [the students] give me hope.”