The following is from the Jan. 24, 2007, edition of The Dallas Morning News.

SMU tracks students' political opinions

Democratic, GOP reaction predictable in audience response study

The Dallas Morning News

UNIVERSITY PARK When it comes to energy policy and fighting AIDS and malaria in Africa, President Bush gets high marks. But he gets mixed results on education policy and sending more troops to Iraq.

That's the verdict from a group of Southern Methodist University students of varying political persuasions who watched Tuesday's State of the Union address from the campus that may soon become home to Mr. Bush's presidential library.

Without saying a word, they expressed their opinions loud and clear. Throughout the speech, they registered their reactions on electronic dials that ranged from 1 (meaning they hated what they heard) to 100 (they loved it).

Overall, the 15 students gave Bush relatively high marks, 66 out of 100. That broke down to 82 for Republicans and 50 for Democrats (some students called themselves independent but for research purposes were forced to pick a side).

It's part of a research study, through SMU's Corporate Communications and Public Affairs program, of how audiences respond to political messages. Researchers want to know whether student opinions vary depending on gender, political affiliation or other measures.

Republican and Democratic students had major disagreements throughout, professor Dan Schill said.

"It's not unsurprising, but it's important," Dr. Schill said. "Our group, and I think the country, is very polarized, and at this point in [Mr. Bush's] administration, he's not really changing that many minds."

As 15 students watched and dialed, Dr. Schill and professor Rita Kirk tracked the results on a computer screen. It looked like a political electrocardiogram with three running lines: white showing the average rating for all 15 students, green for the 10 Republicans and red for the five Democrats.

For much of the speech, the green line soared high above the red one. When Mr. Bush urged the renewal of No Child Left Behind, his sweeping education law, the Republicans rated him 75 out of 100, the Democrats rated him only 15. A similar gap appeared when Mr. Bush said he was sending 20,000 more troops to Iraq.

But a few times the Democrats gave slightly higher marks than the Republicans did, such as when Mr. Bush said the U.S. needs to fight malaria in Africa. And the two lines merged around 77 when Mr. Bush called for using less gasoline and more alternative fuels.

Lindsey Frattare, a senior and Democrat, said Mr. Bush gave a "nice speech," and she liked his support of alternative energy. Still, she said she would have liked more details on his plans.

Junior Katie Howey, a Republican, said she was glad Mr. Bush talked about increasing border security. The New York native says it's become a bigger issue for her since she moved to Texas.

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