Learning From the Past

Stuart Bibeau ’19, who’s bound for the University of Pennsylvania Law School, completed a senior thesis studying switch-ticket voters in the last three presidential elections.

By: Meghan Kita  Friday, May 10, 2019 09:14 AM

News Image
Political Science Professor Chris Borick and Stuart Bibeau ’19 meet to discuss Bibeau's senior thesis on switch-ticket voters.

In the aftermath of the 2016 presidential election, one thing stood out as especially interesting to Stuart Bibeau ’19, a history and political science double major: “There are voters out there who voted for Obama in 2012 and Trump in 2016,” he says, “even though their platforms and demeanors are very different.”

This fact, of course, was not interesting to only him: As Bibeau notes in his senior thesis for political science, MSNBC, The Guardian and several other news outlets have covered the 13 percent of Barack Obama’s 2012 voters who voted for Donald Trump in 2016. He says his advisor, Political Science Professor Chris Borick, encouraged him to think bigger for his thesis: to analyze switch-ticket voters in the last few elections to see what those groups had in common (or didn’t).

The preliminary results, which Bibeau presented at the Pennsylvania Political Science Association meeting last month, show some commonalities between 2008, 2012 and 2016 switch-ticket voters: “I was able to conclude that swing voters are generally whiter, ideologically moderate, non-affiliated Independents, and either Catholic or Protestant,” he says.

Certain traits were statistically significant only in certain elections, he adds, and sometimes in surprising ways. For example, in the 2016 election, gender was statistically significant: In May of that year, 61.1 percent of voters who’d voted for Obama in 2012 and who were planning to vote for Trump that fall were women. “This particular data set really interested me, and it ran counter to my expectations,” he says.

“Stuart's research is highly relevant as the 2020 presidential election draws nearer,” Borick says. “So much was made about the group of voters that supported Barack Obama twice but then switched to Donald Trump in 2016. Stuart's research provides greater understanding of who these voters were and how they compare to voters that switched their allegiance in past elections.”

Bibeau completed this thesis as well as one in history (about how The English Patient was influenced by the British Feminist Movement) while balancing the demands of being a writing tutor and three-season athlete (a runner on the cross-country, indoor track and outdoor track teams).

“Just being involved in a sport that meets two or three hours a day, it really forces you to prioritize,” he says. “You learn to become more efficient as a result.”

He’ll carry the skills he honed at Muhlenberg to the University of Pennsylvania Law School, where he’s set to begin this fall.

Stuart “works diligently at improving his intellectual and athletic abilities and the results are easy to see,” Borick says. “I believe Stuart is poised to build on his success at Muhlenberg and excel at the next step on his intellectual and career development.”