My Summer Research Experience

This summer, I stayed in Williamsburg for four weeks to complete research sponsored by the Roy R. Charles Center. I had always been interested in completing academic research, yet didn't know where to start when I began working in early June. My project proposal was an admittedly vague five page diatribe about my interest in working with the intersection between politics and statistics; I expressed eagerness for teaching myself the basics of Stata, a statistical software, and I hoped that once I got to campus in the sweltering heat of midsummer, I'd figure out what exactly to accomplish with that software.


Luckily, over the course of the month, I developed a project question I felt passionately about addressing. A political strategist on Hillary Clinton's 2016 presidential campaign had once opined that the way Democrats could win in the 2018 midterms was to attract well-educated and relatively affluent suburban voters who have traditionally voted for Republican candidates; he dubbed these elusive voters to be "Panera voters", as they largely made up the clientele for the fast-casual dining establishment. 


So, with the generous support of the College, I was able to spend a few weeks doing research on this so-called "Panera Theory". Using Stata, which was readily available in Morton Hall's computer lab, I was able to craft a project that compared the vote swing in every county in the United States from 2012 to 2016 (eg, the % of a county that voted for Trump in '16 minus the % of a county that voted for Romney in '12) and the amount of Panera Bread locations in a county. Then, if I saw that there was a relationship between those two variables, I could hopefully see if the "Panera theory" held any merit.


Four weeks later, I had taught myself the basics of Stata and lo and behold, I got a graph comparing vote swing and Panera locations in 3,112 local jurisdictions throughout the country. Since I hadn't had any formal education in Stata before this past summer, I wasn't entirely sure what the results of my project were; but thanks to the College's generous research stipends, I look forward to delving back into academic work this next summer. I fully intend on pursuing similar work to further analyze the interaction of politics and statistics, and we should all feel fortunate to attend a university that affords us that opportunity.