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Professor works with political campaigns

David Nickerson is a consultant for Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign.

David Nickerson decided to get involved in political science while he was teaching middle and high school math in North Carolina.

“I was spending all day discussing how to graph a line,” said Nickerson, an associate professor of political science. “I wanted to go and do research more in-depth. I didn’t have a good idea of what that meant, but I knew I liked the interaction between government and society.”

He found there were few job opportunities in philosophy and sociology, and he said the economics dissertations he looked into were narrow. Political science, he realized, could be a happy medium.

“I have a very quantitative focus in political science, so now I teach college and graduate students how to graph slightly more complicated lines,” he added.

This past fall, Nickerson began teaching in Temple’s political science department, bringing his expertise in the areas of political behavior, political psychology and experimental methodology.

“He’s a really great professor,” said Jackie O’Leary, a senior psychology and political science major. “I think he has specific expertise in what he’s teaching us, which is really nice. He’s just insanely knowledgable.”

“His class ties into what I’ll be doing in the real world,” said Courtney Eubanks, a senior political science major.

Nickerson has firsthand experience with political campaigns. He served as the director of experiments for the analytics department of President Obama’s 2012 reelection campaign.

“I had three basic aspects of my job,” he said. “One was to look for places in the campaign where experiments could make what we did more effective or efficient. The second was to use estimates we had from prior experiments to try to inform our strategy in targeting new estimates. The third was use the lessons from social psychology to try to inform our voter outreach—so how we could reword our phone scripts or mailers to make them resonate with the audience more.”

Next fall, Nickerson will teach Seminar in Campaign Politics and Internship in Campaign Politics, where students will be required to work for a political campaign of their choice. The class will be taught alongside Robin Kolodny, a professor of political science, who sees Nickerson’s set of expertise as an asset.

“I’m thrilled to pieces for many reasons,” Kolodny said. “His work in field experiments is fantastic and important because it’s a very important area in political science that has reemerged in the past 15 years or so.”

Nickerson enjoyed his time with the election because he liked working with people who were hardworking, smart and all working toward a shared purpose, he said.

He is currently a consultant for the 2016 Hillary Clinton presidential campaign, but took on a less demanding position in this election to invest more time into his teaching career.

It’s been an exciting year for presidential campaigns, Nickerson said. He said it’s unusual for two nontraditional candidates like Donald Trump and Sen. Bernie Sanders to become so legitimized, and that he can’t remember another candidate like Trump in United States electoral history.

Besides his work with presidential campaigns, Nickerson is noted for his research on youth voting. In his article “Hunting the Elusive Young Voter,” Nickerson found that young voters are generally interested in politics, but still three times harder to contact about political opinion than older voters.

Regardless of which party or candidates they support, Nickerson is pleased to see younger people becoming so actively involved in the presidential race this year.

“It’s a good thing for democracy to see young people getting involved,” he said. “Younger voters vote at lower rates than older voters, and it’s good to see that they have a lot of energy in getting involved. There’s a lot of research that suggests voting is habit-forming, so if we could get people to vote once, they’ll be far more likely to vote the second time around.”

“You can see a lot of the fingerprints from [Nickerson’s] work,” Kolodny said. “With the people who trained him … a lot of his ideas have perforated up to the presidential level.”

Brooke Williams can be reached at brooke.shelby.williams@temple.edu.

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