Master of Public Affairs (MoPA) Immersion into D.C. and Campaign Research

Enrique Aguilar, Master of Public Affairs candidate, USF

Enrique Aguilar
Master of Public Affairs candidate ’16

The Master of Public Affairs (MoPA) candidates have the option every year to apply for a week long immersion class based in Washington, D.C. Led by USF Politics Professor Ken Goldstein, the DC Immersion program for MOPA students is designed to introduce students to the methods used to develop, target, and deliver messages in election and advocacy campaigns as well as in the policy process. Blending theory and practice, students met in class, heard from speakers, and made site visits in the nation’s Capitol as they learned how different tools are utilized by political professionals. Students were required to synthesize the day’s material through applied exercises and the creation of actual work products.

The final product of the week for this year’s cohort was based on a campaign assignment that split the participants into two groups: Democrats and Republicans. Each group received a candidate who is running for a Senate seat in Florida’s 2016 election. The Democratic group received a Democratic candidate and conducted opposition research on the Republican opponent, as well as researched their own candidate. The Republican team did the same thing: conducted opposition research on the Democratic opponent and researched their own Republican candidate.

Once the research was completed, both groups created their own polling memos with several themes they determined based on the research they conducted. This polling memo was the basis for a survey that both groups worked together to craft, which was then sent out to residents of Florida via email through a partnership with a national political consulting group.

Once the data was received from the survey, the groups worked with their Democratic or Republican teammates and created a presentation that highlighted the significant survey results and how that information could potentially change the (mock) race. It is important to note that neither candidate in the Florida race was involved in this project and the purpose was solely academic and provided our students with practical, and portable skills to set them apart in the workforce. Enrique Aguilar participated in the 2016 MoPA DC program and shares his experience with us.

Although I do not possess the political campaign experience of some fellow students in the Master of Public Affairs (MoPA) program, I do have a background in political science and international studies, which led me to this graduate program on a quest to gain practical skills to complement my undergraduate education in political theory. The MoPA DC immersion program was a great opportunity to learn about political opposition research and personally experience some of the challenges of working on a political campaign.

On arrival day, Professor Ken Goldstein welcomed our small group to his home where we enjoyed a delicious dinner with his family. Brett Di Resta, one of a handful of opposition researchers in the country, was also present at dinner. Both of them gave us words of encouragement before teaching us their challenging one-week program, normally taught in semester-long courses by Di Resta at George Washington University and Professor Goldstein in the USF in DC program.

After we had a full day of learning about campaigns, we were split in our groups for the main project. I was in the Democratic group, which meant my group and I researched our own Democratic candidate, Congressman Patrick Murphy, while conducting thorough opposition research on the Republican opponent, Ron DeSantis. From this research we wrote a detailed polling memo with ten themes we noticed about the opponent based on the evidence at hand. We condensed this list down again to come up with five compelling statements against DeSantis and then went into a survey. Residents of Florida received the survey via email and were chosen based on a random sampling of email addresses. Survey respondents answered basic demographic information, we tested their political knowledge and interest, and used our five statements to determine if likely voters were influenced by our statements, and therefore make a difference in the campaign. After critically analyzing the survey data, we presented our findings to Professor Goldstein, his colleague Di Resta, and the rest of of DC classmates. Our survey showed that residents of Florida found our candidate, Congressman Patrick Murphy (D) more favorable and more likely to vote for him than Ron DeSantis.

A memorable moment of this trip to Washington, D.C. was when my group was gathered around a table doing opposition research and writing a memorandum, while also trying to watch President Obama’s last State of the Union address on television. It was hard to believe that this was happening near the UC Washington Center where my group was working on our project.

In such short time this course taught me skills and gave me insight from experienced professionals that will be useful when thinking about my career choices after graduation. Having spent a week in Washington also gave me a small preview of what to expect if I pursue a career in our nation’s Capitol. The chilly evening walks around the National Mall were spectacular, but more importantly they were a time for self-reflection to think about why, through public policy, I am able to promote the common good and advocate for social justice.

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Enrique Aguilar was one of thirteen participants in the 2016 MoPA DC Immersion program. A generous donation in any amount helps fund student opportunities that Enrique was able to experience.

Apply here to the Master of Public Affairs program. Applications close March 1.

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