Focus Group of Millennials to Use Dials to Log Live Reactions to Candidates

Dialsmith dials lined up on a table to be used in logging live reactions
A focus group of college students will use dials to log their live reactions during the first debate. Photo courtesy of Dialsmith, LLC

Next Monday, millions of Americans will tune in to the first presidential debate, hosted by Hofstra University and moderated by NBC’s Lester Holt. Among the viewers will be approximately 60 college students -- half African-American, half white -- who will be part of a live, real-time study on Hofstra's campus looking at the role race plays in influencing viewers' reactions to the debate.

Race and ethnicity are playing an important role in this election cycle, particularly as issues regarding immigration policy, poverty, and excessive use of police force are drawing a national spotlight.

In their study, the researchers will be looking at real-time reactions to the debate from a focus group of African-American and white college students. Study participants will use the Perception Analyzer dial testing system by Dialsmith to log their continuous feedback as they observe the debate, using the dials to rate their level of agreement on a scale of 0 to 100.

Data collected will indicate how the candidates performed overall. Even more compelling, it will help the researchers understand which messages or appeals elicited the greatest responses from the college-aged participants, and whether the feedback differed between African-American and white students. An analysis from the Pew Research Center shows that millennials -- defined as people between the ages of 18-35 -- are now as large of a political force as baby boomers, demonstrating the important role that young voters will play in November’s election.

Two political communication scholars are leading the study:

  • Charlton McIlwain, associate professor of media, culture, and communication at NYU Steinhardt and author of Race Appeal: How Candidates Invoke Race in U.S. Political Campaigns (Temple University Press)
  • Philip Dalton, associate professor and chair of the Department of Rhetoric at Hofstra University’s School of Humanities, Fine and Performing Arts and author of Coarseness in American Public Communication (Fairleigh Dickinson University Press)

Interviews are available with McIlwain and Dalton following the debate, including the morning after (Tuesday, Sept. 27). An analysis and findings of the study will also be released after the debate.

About the Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development (@nyusteinhardt)
Located in the heart of Greenwich Village, NYU’s Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development prepares students for careers in the arts, education, health, media, and psychology. Since its founding in 1890, the Steinhardt School's mission has been to expand human capacity through public service, global collaboration, research, scholarship, and practice. To learn more about NYU Steinhardt, visit

About Hofstra University (@hofstrau)
Hofstra University is a nationally ranked private university just 25 miles from New York City and all its cultural, recreational and professional opportunities. We offer small classes and personal attention with the resources, technology, and facilities of a large university. Students can chose from undergraduate and graduate offerings in liberal arts and sciences, business, engineering and applied science, communication, education, health sciences and human services, honors studies, the Maurice A. Deane School of Law, the Hofstra Northwell School of Graduate Nursing and Physician Assistant Studies, and the Hofstra Northwell School of Medicine. Named to the President's Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll for seven consecutive years (2008-2014) – and the only school ever selected to host three consecutive presidential debates – Hofstra University is a dynamic community of more than 11,000 students known for civic engagement and public service.

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