2020 PFIG Recipient Eve Hammerle

Jessica Meyers

Journal Entry #1

This summer, I’m working for the nonprofit Vote Smart conducting political research about candidates running for office in 2020. I’ve been interested in political research since I started college, and this interest has only solidified as I began studying Public Policy this year. Vote Smart’s mission is to provide unbiased, accurate, and accessible information about political candidates in every race across the nation. The 2020 election is an extremely decisive and important election, and I wanted to be a part of an organization that helps voters to make the most informed decision possible.

Because of COVID-19, my internship is completely remote. Something unique about Vote Smart is that even during a non-pandemic year, they have remote interns from around the country, so switching to a remote platform for all of their interns this summer wasn’t too much of a challenge. I am a part of a team conducting research on candidates’ positions on various issues ranging from military funding to tax increases, and we have remote calls twice a week. I also have weekly remote meetings with the entire intern cohort, and it has been a really interesting experience to meet other students from different states and backgrounds who are passionate about voting equality.

This research so far has allowed me to apply my public policy knowledge and strengthen my research skills. So far, I’ve researched information about candidates in three states I’ve never been to (Minnesota, Michigan, and Kansas), but I now have an understanding of the needs of the voters in these states. Something that was highly discussed in Professor Paul Martin’s “Institutions and Contexts of Public Policy” class was how politicians frame themselves for reelection, often depending on the needs of their district. Researching different candidates’ political platforms has enabled me to see how candidates serving different districts and demographics frame themselves and their goals--for example, I’ve noticed that candidates serving rural districts often highlight their agricultural record or policies on their platforms, while candidates serving more urban districts may highlight affordable housing. I’ve also noticed the different ways that candidates communicate with their constituents--candidates that lean younger and target younger voters tend to utilize Twitter, while candidates targeting middle aged and senior voters tend to use Facebook. As someone interested in working on a campaign in the future, I have learned valuable information about how candidates structure their campaigns in order to appeal to their districts, and I look forward to applying this knowledge both in school and in my career.

Journal Entry #2

I have now been working at Vote Smart for about a month and a half, and I have learned a lot since writing my first journal entry. In my last entry, I discussed how I observed different campaign strategies on social media and the ways in which candidates will tailor their social media presence to their district. This week, I had the privilege of researching the platform of my own Congressperson, Sean Patrick Maloney, and saw how he specifically used social media to address the needs of my district that is both rural and urban and is home to West Point Military Academy. I feel that I now have a better understanding of how Congresspeople must balance their own beliefs and the demographics and needs of their district, and how their campaign platforms must combine both of these ideals.

One of the most challenging and eye-opening parts of my internship has been to read about views that are extremely different than my own. My internship requires me to be completely nonpartisan, and I research candidate’s platforms on both sides of the aisle. While I vehemently disagree with some of the platforms that I research, reading why voters believe what they believe and how their representative serve these beliefs has been an eye-opening experience. Although my personal views have changed, I have a better understanding about why constituents from across the nation believe what they believe, and how their local economy, geography, and government works to inform those beliefs. Remaining objective in situations where I may have a biased opinion has been a difficult but extremely important exercise in putting factual information and concrete data ahead of my personal views or sensationalized news stories.

This internship has pushed me to want to pursue a career in campaign strategy or campaign communications. I have always been interested in public affairs or communications, and reading the personal statements, social media posts, and speeches from politicians has made me realize how much effort, research, and rhetorical strategy go into every speech. As both an English and Public Policy Major, I deeply enjoy both the writing and research aspects of speech writing and communication. Working at Vote Smart has exposed me to a variety of different forms of political communication, and how both speeches and social media are essential ways to engage with the public. This position has definitely strengthened my research skills, and has taught me how to analyze social media and speeches in order to find a politician’s position on certain issues. I have learned so much about campaign strategy, research, and social media from this position, and look forward to learning more in my last few weeks of this position.

Journal Entry #3

As my internship came to an end last week, I reflected a lot about what I learned this summer at Vote Smart. In my past journal entries, I’ve discussed how I have learned invaluable research and analysis skills from this position, and how it has made me want to pursue a career in political research or campaign strategy. However, upon reflection, one of the most important skills that I learned from Vote Smart was how to foster community and work together, even in a remote environment. Vote Smart has remote interns every semester so the transition to having an all-remote team for them was smooth, despite the circumstances of COVID-19. Because of this, I felt that I learned a lot from my internship supervisor and the other interns about how to still create a positive work environment, even if we work remotely. I found that I really valued Zoom meetings with my team to speak face-to-face, and office-wide “activities” to learn more about the people in other departments who I didn’t interact with on a daily basis. Vote Smart’s remote infrastructure has prepared me for both the upcoming online semester and the possibility that I will work online even upon graduating.

The skill I am most proud of developing in this position is learning to ask for help when I need it. I have never worked in a completely remote environment before and was used to sitting in proximity to my supervisor to check in whenever I had a question. This summer, whenever I had a question about information that I’d found, I had to take initiative and reach out to my supervisor through email. Not being afraid to ask questions and make mistakes helped me to learn as much as I could from the employees at Vote Smart, and made me a stronger researcher than I was when I began this internship. Working remotely has definitely forced me to be more independent at work, however, I still found that it was important to foster a team environment and communicate with other employees when needed.

If I had one piece of advice for a student considering an internship at Vote Smart, it would definitely be to apply if you’re interested at all in politics, especially during a primary year like this one! It’s been really interesting to follow up on the primary results of the states and candidates I researched, to see which candidates won their primaries and if their social media presence assisted them in any way. I would recommend this program to students not only interested in electoral politics but public policy in general, as researching candidates’ stances on key issues like trade and foreign policy led me to deeply research these issues myself so I could better understand candidates’ public statements. This is one of the most fulfilling professional experiences I could have had ahead of an election year, and I’m very thankful for the opportunity I had to work at Vote Smart, strengthen my remote working skills, and learn about electoral politics across the country.