Engaging locally for the 2020 Election: State-centered science and technology surveys

Oct 29, 2020

There have been many efforts this year to increase voter engagement and turnout as the 2020 U.S. election looms closer. In partnership with grassroots state coalitions, the National Science Policy Network and Science Debate supported the efforts of state-wide science & technology surveys (#StateScienceQs on social media), bringing the state and local elections front and center with nonpartisan questions tailored to issues impacting the community. Over the course of the year, 17 state coalitions have developed, disseminated, and reaped the efforts over the last few weeks leading to the election.

“From climate change to COVID-19, science is inherently related to every significant challenge of the 21st century,” states Sheril Kirshenbaum, Executive Director of Science Debate,  “We are so proud of the Science Debate coalitions across the U.S. pressing candidates to share their policy priorities, so that elected leaders will arrive in office with a plan."

Organizers from four of the state coalitions commented on their impact and the importance of their efforts.


Iowa

With over 200 candidates running for the state legislature, alongside the U.S. Senate and House races, the coalition in Iowa had their work cut out for them through the last few months. Two science policy chapters at the Iowa State and the University of Iowa, ASPIRE and Connecting Science to Society, respectively, coordinated their state science survey with Science Iowa. They were able to run a preliminary set of their questions, with input from 12 local organizations at the primaries for the U.S. Senate and House representative races in May, which have been further honed for the national election.

“Iowans face a plethora of issues where science- and evidence-based information can impact policies,” Annabelle Lolinco, one of the lead organizers of the efforts in Iowa, “and having candidates on record addressing their constituents’ concerns demonstrates candidates’ understanding on the impact these issues have on Iowans’ lives.”

Their final list of questions relates back to Iowans’ interests in agriculture, environment, energy, climate change, and mental health. You can check out the list of responses from all four U.S. Senate candidates, the four U.S. House district candidates, and the state legislature candidates on the Science Iowa website.

Colorado

Colorado’s coalition, led by the Denver March for Science alongside the Institute for Science & Policy at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science, CO-LABS, Project Bridge Colorado, Colorado Citizens for Science, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science Colorado Local Science Engagement Network, they have reached out to candidates concerning actions surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change, and water policy.

“Collaborating with NSPN, Science Debate, and the other state coalitions was incredibly helpful in planning, organizing and implementing this initiative in Colorado” said Kevin Hennegan, a lead organizer with Denver March for Science. “Their ideas, reviews, and support were critical to publishing candidates’ responses in time to inform our voters’ decisions.”

Responses to the Colorado coalition efforts can be viewed here.

North Carolina

The team leading efforts in North Carolina include several early-career scholars and science policy enthusiasts at North Carolina State University and the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill and Greensboro institutions. They tailored their questions with the help of over 20 local science-focused nonprofits around issues of health, the environment, transportation and electrical infrastructure, water quality, agriculture, among other pertinent topics to North Carolinians. The North Carolina coalition sent the questions to 389 candidates in total, spanning the  U.S. Senate, U.S. House, North Carolina General Assembly, and Gubernatorial races.

“North Carolina has a unique landscape for this kind of effort; science policy issues that are important to constituents vary widely throughout the state,” says Ishita Kamboj, the leader of the NC Science Debate Coalition and treasurer of NC State’s Science Policy Pack.  “To name a few, you have issues concerning the coastline, water infrastructure,  a large agricultural sector, a large science and technology sector, public health concerns, disparities in access to STEM education, and more that all demand attention from elected officials, and whose solutions inherently require scientific considerations. Learning about these issues and what candidates think was an educational experience for us all.”

For more information about the efforts in North Carolina, visit their website and follow their Twitter dedicated to their efforts, @NCScienceDebate.

California

Across the Golden State, early career researchers from science policy groups at the University of California, Los Angeles, University of California, Berkeley,  and Stanford University virtually congregated and executed a plan to reach out to all candidates running for state and federal positions. Joining the efforts in the middle of the summer, amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, for a populous state was a challenge in itself, but the coalition stood firm and gained traction.

"Our questionnaire focused on issues that we thought were most relevant to Californians, like wildfire prevention, rising water levels and water sources, energy resources, agriculture, pharmaceuticals, and restorative mental health and addiction treatments,“ Zoe Guttman, California Team Lead and Co-Founder of the SciPol UCLA chapter, comments on the development of the questionnaire, “Since California state leaders are key decision-makers and can have such direct influences on implementing - or not implementing - evidence-based and data-driven solutions, we thought it was important to hear what they had to say. That’s why we decided to send the questionnaire not only to candidates for the US House but also to the California State Assembly and Senate.”

You can check out the responses to California’s state science questionnaire efforts here.


“Getting early-career scientists directly involved in the conversation surrounding the role of science in the upcoming elections is a priority for the National Science Policy Network. ” enthuses Amanda Acosta-Ruiz, NSPN’s Director of Membership, “We are excited to see enthusiastic teams across the nation calling for science and technology considerations from their candidates and leading the way for other states’ coalitions of scientists and engineers.”

For more information about the 17 state coalition efforts, you can check out the splash page and follow #StateScienceQs on Twitter for more content.


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