Charles Prysby

For Charles Prysby, professor of Political Science at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and one of the founding authors of the Supplementary Empirical Teaching Unit in Political Science (SETUPS), learning about how to analyze and understand data simply cannot be done without a hands-on curriculum.

“It’s not something that can be learned by reading a book,” he said. “The student needs to get his or her hands into the data and work with them.”

To that end, he and Carmine Scavo of East Carolina University created “Voting Behavior: The 2004 Election,” one of the Supplementary Empirical Teaching Units in Political Science (SETUPS), a series sponsored by the American Political Science Association (APSA) and the Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research (ICPSR). This SETUPS module is an interactive Web site for teaching social science methodology and voting behavior research. In recognition, the team won the 2006 Rowman & Littlefield Award for Innovative Teaching in Political Science from the APSA and the 2006 Best Instructional Web Site from the Information Technology and Political Section of the APSA.

This SETUPS offers students the opportunity to analyze an accessible dataset drawn from the 2004 American National Election Study (ANES) online. The site presents a discussion of the 2004 election and voting behavior in national elections, and it includes exercises that teach students how to analyze the data and understand the results. It includes about 160 variables, including the party affiliation of voters, basic demographics, voter perceptions of candidates, and voter attitudes on issues such as foreign policy and civil rights. The resource is available through ICPSR at http://www.icpsr.umich.edu/SETUPS/.

The first SETUPS was created in 1974 with the support of the APSA and ICPSR. Prior to 2004, the Voting Behavior SETUPS involved the development of a dataset archived by the ICPSR and a monograph published by the APSA. The interested faculty member would have the university bookstore obtain the monographs from APSA, and ICPSR would provide the faculty member with the appropriate data files. Depending on the era, the data were provided on tape, floppy disk, diskette, or CD-rom. Over time, SETUPS has become one of the most popular teaching tools used by professors to introduce university students to the methodology of social science and the topic of voting behavior.

Professor Prysby is one of the founding authors of the SETUPS series. As such, he is among the first to create a data-related teaching tool for use in the undergraduate classroom. Prysby and Scavo have co-authored the SETUPS series since 1984, and the most recent version of the module, “SETUPS: Voting Behavior: The 2008 Election,” is also available on the ICPSR Web site, http://www.icpsr.umich.edu/icpsrweb/SETUPS2008 . In 1994, Prysby and Scavo created a SETUPS module that examined voting behavior over time, from 1972 to 1992, which is available at http://dx.doi.org/10.3886/ICPSR06572 .

With a long career in teaching undergraduates and graduate students at the University level, Professor Prysby brings data into his classroom at all levels. Familiarity with data analysis is crucial to academic success, he said.

“Students need to develop the skills to use data to check findings of others as well as to create their own findings,” Prysby said. One of the objectives of SETUPS was to provide faculty with a reliable data source to teach these data skills to their students.

Prysby uses SETUPS in his Voting Behavior and Research Methods courses. “It was intended to help faculty illustrate concepts and introduce students to working with data,” he said. “Students need practice with creating and reading tables, charts and graphs.” These data give them a reliable source for doing that and for testing their hypotheses.



Prysby holds a PhD from Michigan State University, and has taught at University of North Carolina, Greensboro since 1971.
Sue Hodge

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