Carmine Scavo


Carmine Scavo, a professor of Political Science at East Carolina University in Greenville, North Carolina, has been working to familiarize college students with empirical data analysis for more than 25 years. Scavo, who along with Charles Prysby of the University of North Carolina, Greensboro, developed “Voting Behaviors: The 2004 Election, the American National Elections Study Supplemental Empirical Teaching Unit in Political Science” (SETUPS), said exposure to empirical data can often be a shocking experience for students.

“Working with data can be a reality check for students because they tend to look at it through the lens of their life experience rather than taking it at face value,” Scavo said.

For their work in creating SETUPS, an interactive Web site for teaching social science methodology and voting behavior research, Scavo and Prysby won the 2006 Rowman & Littlefield Award for Innovative Teaching in Political Science from the American Political Science Association (APSA) and the 2006 Best Instructional Web Site from the Information Technology and Political Section of APSA.

SETUPS offers students the opportunity to analyze an accessible dataset drawn from the 2004 National Election Study (NES) online. The site presents a discussion of the background of the 2004 election and voting behavior in national elections, and exercises that explain how to analyze the data and understand the results. It includes about 160 variables, including party affiliations 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 Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research (ICPSR) at http://www.icpsr.umich.edu/SETUPS/.

The first SETUPS was initiated in 1972 with the support of APSA and ICPSR. Prior to 2004, SETUPS involved the development of a dataset archived by ICPSR and a monograph published by APSA. The interested faculty member would purchase the monographs from APSA and ICPSR would provide him/her with the appropriate number of 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.

Scavo and Prysby 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 reformatted the SETUPS modules from 1972 to 1992 and made them available in a single file through ICPSR, http://dx.doi.org/10.3886/ICPSR06572.

Professor Scavo said that knowing how to analyze data is an important skill to advance a student’s career. “Students need to be comfortable with data when they leave the university to be successful in graduate school or the work place,” he said. Scavo uses SETUPS in Intro to American Government and other lower-division classes to demonstrate how to read and use tables, charts, and graphs. He said modeling data use in these classes allows the student to see its importance and application.

In his department, students complete a two semester sequence of classes designed to support learning research and statistical methods that is required for students seeking a Bachelor of Science degree and recommended for those seeking a Bachelor of Arts degree. They are “Research Design for Political Science,” in which the students learn concepts and theories essential to research design, how to distinguish types of data and select appropriate measures to address political questions, and “Statistical Methods for Political Science,” in which they learn to apply scientific statistical methods to political and social problems. Scavo says “at the end of the second semester, the students know what they are doing with data and how it works.”

With a successful career in teaching and a well-respected data package that helps political science instructors bring data into the classroom to his credit, Scavo has a bit of advice for new and future social science instructors: “Be prepared to use data with your students.”

Professor Scavo earned his PhD in Political Science at the University of Michigan in 1986 and has taught in the Political Science Department of East Carolina University since 1985.
Sue Hodge

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