Students Immersed in Democratic Process During Visit to New Hampshire Primary

Bryan Terry, Assistant Director of Content Marketing & Communications

January 30, 2024 — After a four-hour journey from Poughkeepsie to Nashua, New Hampshire, donning their Marist Poll backpacks and rolling suitcases, 34 Marist students entered the Sheraton Hotel and encountered a lobby filled with secret service and law enforcement officers.

The students soon realized that for the next three nights they would lodge in the same hotel as a former U.S. president and current presidential candidate. This was just one of a multitude of memorable moments awaiting them in the following days.

It was all part of an immersive educational excursion hosted by the Marist Institute for Public Opinion, giving unparalleled access to American democracy. The institute is globally recognized for being the gold standard in survey research, and journalists and political campaigns will be watching the Marist Poll’s data closely in this presidential year.

The New Hampshire trip got off to a quick start with the eventful arrival.

“I wasn’t expecting to stay in the same hotel as Donald Trump,” said Madalynne Corallo '26, a double major in social work and political science. “We saw firsthand basically every single area of the primaries from the media to the candidates.”

The group’s tour of New Hampshire in the days leading up to the presidential primaries on Jan. 23 included political rallies, national media events, and exclusive question-and-answer sessions with some of the foremost names in the political arena.

Face-to-face and behind the scenes with national news outlets

“I’m a big fan of CNN and Dana Bash,” said Marissa Hebert '24, a political science major. Hebert and her peers got a front-row seat to a production of Bash’s Inside Politics show, and had the rare opportunity for an informal chat with the anchor.

“Meeting with her and having her answer our questions I think is a testament to Marist’s ability to provide students with opportunities that other schools may not have,” said Hebert.

In addition to Bash’s program, students attended live productions of NBC’s Meet the Press with Kristen Welker and MSNBC’s Inside with Jen Psaki. Those anchors also answered students’ questions, as did NBC’s chief political analyst Chuck Todd.

Image of students meeting Kristen Welker.
Students meet Kristen Welker, host of Meet the Press on NBC. Photo by Bobby Oliver/Marist College.

“This trip takes us out of the classroom and puts us right into the middle of the presidential primary,” said Dr. Lee Miringoff, Director of the Marist Institute for Public Opinion.

Absorbed into the experience of the primary campaign, the students learned about breaking news in real time at the events they attended. 

Sylvia Wysor '26, a communications major concentrating in journalism, was standing in line at a Donald Trump campaign event when the news broke that Florida governor Ron DeSantis had dropped out of the race.

“I got that information from a Trump supporter a couple people back in line from us, so it was kind of cool to witness that excitement and find out that news from them instead of reading it online,” Wysor said.

The Marist Poll’s New Hampshire primary experience began in 2012 and has taken place each presidential election season since. Two students participated in the first trip, and it has grown exponentially over time. This year, Marist President Kevin Weinman and his wife Beth joined the group for several stops.

Image of President Weinman taking selfie with students.
Marist President Kevin Weinman takes a selfie with students on the New Hampshire trip. Photo by Bobby Oliver/Marist College.

The 34 participating students were split into two groups aboard two buses that attended different political events around the Granite State. Both groups attended one rally for Trump, and one rally for his challenger, former South Carolina Governor and former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley. 

The trip took place in the final days leading up to the primary election, and students braved icy cold winter temperatures for hours to gain entrance to events where the campaigning had reached a fever pitch.

“I knew that politics was emotional before the trip but seeing people so passionate up close was really eye opening to me,” said Matthew Pater '25, a political science major.

The Trump and Haley campaigns struck very different tones as they courted different groups of voters. Experiencing this difference in person, Miringoff said, is a major part of the education of this trip.

“The candidates are different, the audience is different, the events are different, and they get an opportunity to see that difference and digest it from a political standpoint,” he said.

“The first person I saw in line at the Trump rally was wearing a full denim suit with a cowboy hat and waving a 50-foot-long flag that had Trump and his slogan on it,” said Ethan Solury '26, a double major in global studies and political science. “That was very interesting and made a couple of us chuckle.”

“The Nikki Haley rally could not have been more different from the Trump rally,” said Athen Hollis '24, a political science major. “It was much more calm, much more tame. It was a completely different demographic of people.”

Students get insider insights into political climate, candidates

Helping contextualize the experience was journalist Steven Thomma, Executive Director of the White House Correspondents' Association, who spent decades covering presidential campaigns. 

Thomma joined the group to provide thoughts and analysis on the current political climate and the state of the campaign. He made himself available to answer student questions throughout the trip.

“I got to pick his brain a little bit,” said Patrick Gay '26, a political science major. “We discussed possible vice presidential candidates for Donald Trump and it was interesting to see what his predictions were and how he was thinking.”

“I really appreciate how much Marist reaches out to help students with real-life experience,” said Thomma. “I think it’s terrific and not every college does it. But Marist does it aggressively and well, and it pays off.” 

Image of Philip Bump and Steven Thomma talking with the Marist cohort.
Philip Bump of The Washington Post (center-left) and Steven Thomma of the White House Correspondents’ Association (center-right) take questions from students alongside Dr. Lee Miringoff (left) and Dr. Barbara Carvalho (right). Photo by Bobby Oliver/Marist College.

On the first evening of the trip, Thomma took part in a question-and-answer session with the students alongside Washington Post columnist Philip Bump, who recently visited the Poughkeepsie campus for a sit-down discussion with students in Dr. Miringoff’s political science course.

Although the trip centers on politics and journalism, students in a variety of majors including business administration, psychology, applied mathematics, social work, and criminal justice took part.

“We all participate in democracy in some way,” said Dr. Barbara Carvalho, Director of the Marist Poll. “Students who experience the New Hampshire trip, regardless of their interest in politics, come away with a better appreciation of what democracy really is about and what the political process is about.”

Colin Martin '26, an applied mathematics major with a data science and analytics minor, was curious about how his academic interests intersect with the political world.

“Data is used in quite literally everything,” said Martin. “I got to talk with Steven Thomma about the importance of poll data and how it affects his job, which is exactly something that I wanted to get from this trip.”

“I am so fortunate that I got to be part of history—the experience of a lifetime,” he said.

The excitement was palpable even as the journey drew to a close. Several of the students approached the Marist Poll staff members supervising the trip to ask if they could stay an extra day to be in New Hampshire for the results of the election.

“They don’t want to go back home,” said Dr. Miringoff. “They would love to have a couple extra days, but the political show moves on.”

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