An Introduction and Getting Started

Hello Everyone,

My name is Meg Schwenzfeier and I am a recipient of the Sharpe and Community Studies Grant. I am doing summer research looking at how individuals’ social connections influence whether they volunteer for a political campaign. It took me a while to figure out the blogging process and longer than expected to obtain some of the data needed in order to begin my research, so I will do my best to update regularly from now on.

This past year I participated in the Sharpe Community Scholars Program and was in the Democracy and Deliberation freshman seminar with Professor Joel Schwartz. We read Bowling Alone by Robert Putnam and learned about the decline in community and social capital over the past forty years. I was especially interested in Putnam’s description of the decline in political participation. After studying the decline in civic engagement, my Sharpe seminar looked at cases of successful community organizing. Most of the examples we read about involved mobilizing groups of people and utilizing the power of groups to overcome obstacles. I had direct experience with the lack of political engagement when I was an intern for Tom Perriello’s 2010 congressional campaign in Virginia’s 5th District last summer. It was often hard to convince even strong supporters to donate time to the campaign, and I spent much of my time on the phone and going door-to-door trying to recruit volunteers.

My experiences with the Perriello Campaign and the Sharpe Program made me wonder whether it might be better to recruit people to campaigns using social capital and working with groups of people. I spoke with Government Professors Schwartz and Rapoport and designed a survey to look at the social connections of former campaign volunteers, and I hope to construct and analyze a map of the volunteers’ social network. It took longer than I expected to obtain the contact and volunteer information that I needed in order to distribute my survey, and I worked with the Democratic Party of Virginia as well as local party leaders for several months in order to obtain information about volunteers.

I finally got my survey approved by the PHSC and sent it out on July 6th using William and Mary’s Qualtrics survey program. While the process of preparing to research took longer than I expected and was occasionally frustrating, I think that it has been a valuable experience. I am learning a lot about the research process itself and the small details that are important to studies.

Many thanks to the 100 Acre Wood Alumni and the Sharpe Community Scholars Program for supporting my research. I will update soon with more about the completed surveys and the beginning of my analysis.

Comments

  1. Meg,

    This is a very interesting project! I know that many people are familiar with grave message in Putnam’s seminal work and that the attrition or complete lack of volunteers in community and politically-based activities is a cause for concern, so I think this is a critical area to study.

    I was wondering, what kinds of questions are you asking on your survey? Were they inspired by Putnam and/or your experience working on campaigns? How are you going to map the social networks of volunteers? (Is it using the same strategy Professor Rapoport used in the Student Body Survey during 2010?)

    I can’t wait to hear more about your project! Good luck!