On the campaign trail
November 19, 2018
Fifteen students learned in the community, rather than the classroom, as part of POL4486F: Campaign School, an experiential learning course in campaign and election management.
The idea for Campaign School course was developed by Dr. Lawlor and Dr. Jacquetta Newman, Associate Professor of Political Science, offering “a professional-based skill-set as students transitioned from university to the work force,” Dr. Lawlor explains.
Students were given a chance to see politics from the ground level. They were paired with a candidate of their own choosing in either the ward or mayoral campaigns. The students received a very hands-on experience, going door-to-door with the candidates, helping with canvassing and fund-raising and working with social media.
While Dr. Lawlor taught the course with Dr. Kate Graham, she says it was the 2018 London Municipal Election, used as a case study, which really gave students the education.
The 2018 election was the first time the ranked ballot system played a role. London was the first municipality in Canada to use this system. “It was very novel to see how the campaign played out,” Dr. Lawlor says.
The mayoral race also greatly impacted the course. “It was great because there was no real front-runner and no incumbent. No one really had an advantage,” Dr. Lawlor explains.
Because of this, students were motivated to become involved with the campaign. “Everyone was very engaged. You could really see the personal investment being made by the students,” Dr. Lawlor says. “There was a lot of excitement, and a lot of nerves as the election drew closer.”
“I … learned a lot about campaign management, specifically how to differentiate yourself from your opponents and how to effectively connect with voters. The course has given me the skills to understand campaign management and I can confidently say I would do it again,“ Indra Nyamvumba, a fourth-year Political Science student who was involved in Maureen Cassidy’s campaign in Ward 5 (North London), says.
“One of the greatest takeaways from the course are the connections I made with the amazing volunteers working on the campaign and skilled members of campaign’s executive team,” David Carlson, a third-year Political Science student who worked with Ed Holder’s mayoral campaign. Carlson adds learning about networking is “a real-world skill is something we have begun to see the importance of, thanks to the campaign.”
Nicole Chloe Foster, a fourth-year student in an honours specialized program of Political Science who was working on Josh Morgan’s Ward 7 (Northwest London) campaign, says she learned “how to run a successful campaign and tactics for strategy and execution, as well as the skills of working with people and how to maneuver different situations with political opponents.”
Students were given a lot of responsibility, especially those working with smaller campaigns. “These students were really able to make a profound difference. People listened to their suggestions and ideas. It was really encouraging for them to see people taking their work seriously,” Dr. Lawlor says.
While much of the class took place on the campaign trail, students met with Dr. Lawlor and Graham once a week at different venues across London, including Innovation Works located in downtown London. Each week, there was a guest speaker, from a high profile London fundraiser to a member of Mayor Matt Brown’s communication team, and from former London Mayor Joni Baechler to journalist Kate Dubinski of the CBC.
“All these people contributed to our understanding of elections and the effects they have on average citizens,” Nyamvumba says.
“The course has given me the skills to understand campaign management and I can confidently say I would do it again,” Nyamvumba says.
Foster says she “had an amazing experience on my campaign. I enjoyed the whole process,” adding Campaign School “gave me a diverse experience in the many aspects of campaigning from making the pitch for donations to the ways of governing post-election.”