Author

About the Author
Charles Diringer Dunst is a Government major at Hamilton College, and is scheduled to graduate in 2018. A New York City native, Dunst can be followed on Twitter @CDDUNST.

10 Days In Turkey: An American Student Comes Face To Face With The Islamic Crisis Of Modernity

When you spend time in a place with a culture wholly different from yours, it tends to stick in your mind, either with a positive or negative connotation.

The food, the people, the experience as whole all leave a mark in your mind.

My trip to Turkey, specifically the city of Istanbul and the region of Cappadocia left me with mixed views on the nation.

My personal experience was nothing but positive.

However, overlooking the injustice of a government that is trampling on free speech, concentrating autocratic power in an ever shifting executive and perpetrating a brutal war on the Kurds is impossible.

In any event, we in the West have to better understand what Turkey is and where it is going.

Turkey is by no means an average American’s tourist destination, as it is still ostracized as part of the oft-maligned “Muslim world.”

Unlike the oft-problematic Iran or a friendly Israel, Turkey, on paper at a least, is a secular nation.

Despite President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s recent Islamization, the nation does still retain a secular vibe to it.

Sharia law is, to the dismay of American über conservatives and anti-Islam activists, not implemented, although the population is 98% Muslim.

The overwhelming number of women do not wear headscarves. A small number of women, often concentrated in more conservative neighborhoods, wear burqas.

Business is booming, in Beyoğlu, the party district complete with free-flowing alcohol, an unusual quality for a nation with such a high concentration of Muslims.

Despite Turkey’s largely secular nature, it retains unmistakably Muslim qualities, which have become amplified under Erdogan. If you expect to go to Turkey and feel as if you are in a European city such as Paris or Prague, you will be in for a surprise.

In Istanbul, the call to prayer rings loud and clear five times a day, although the overwhelming majority of Istanbulites are not rushing off the street to get into a Mosque to pray.

Istanbul is a Muslim city in the same way that Paris is Christian city-largely by cultural hegemony, although in Christianity, the visual cues are far more subtle. Well, for an American, at least.

The clearest way to describe Istanbul is a city encapsulated by its nearly seamless mixing of the ancient and the modern.

The Grand Bazaar, an ancient space for local merchants, is now flooded with locals peddling knockoff soccer jerseys, sneakers, handbags — most of western, Milanese and Parisian origin.

A modern, European tram flows throughout the city, stopping less than five minutes from the ancient sites of the Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque.

This integration of old and new is demonstrated in the generational differences of many families. It is extremely common to see a hijab-clad mother or grandmother walking with a free-haired daughter or grandchild, despite being of the age when a hijab is required.

This phenomena goes against irrational U.S. conceptualization of Islam as oppressive or stifling towards women.

In Turkey, well, in Istanbul at least, it appears, generally, to truly be the woman’s choice how she expresses her relationship to Islam.

Outside of Istanbul, these qualities tend to be less common, as the culture retains more conservative, old fashion qualities.

Hijab

Walking in the “Old City”, Istanbul. Photo Credit: Charles Dunst/ RISE NEWS

In our first day in Istanbul, we embarked on a “Culinary Walking Tour” led by a middle-aged woman of German birth and Turkish heritage.

While the food was truly incredible, it was her social commentary which carved out space in my mind.

When we first met her on the shores of Beşiktaş, she asked where we were from. She responded in an unexpected way to our admission of our Americanness.

“Oh, you’re American? I haven’t met many of you recently, you’re all so scared of us. Why?”

Leading us through a neighborhood in Beşiktaş dedicated to the sale of industrial prod- ucts, we stopped in a back-alley courtyard, which she declared was our first stop of the day.

Before sitting down, we passed a multitude of seemingly-stray dogs. She explained that the city of Istanbul picks up the dogs in order tag, vaccinate, and neuter them.

The dogs are then released back into the city, and are usually fed and cared for by the people in the neighborhood they occupy.

As a result, she explained, “they’re very friendly.”

She also explained that the city didn’t extend the same services to the multitude of stray cats dotting the landscape.

As we sat down, she explained the concept of a “tea guy.”

There is, in most every neighborhood, a man who’s sole profession is to deliver tea to the shop owners.

“Money never exchanges hands when I get my tea,” she said, while rifling through a pile of multicolor plastic tokens smaller than a dime. “I buy 200 of these a month, and every time I finish a cup of tea, I leave one in the dish.”

Almost immediately after she finishes her tea, her “tea guy” comes and takes the glass, with the token in it.

Despite its modernity, Istanbul retains a personal quality which seemed almost inconceivable when compared to the general impersonality of New York City.

Getting up to proceed to our next stop, she explains, “His tea is the best. It’s clear and not bitter. The tea at the next place isn’t nearly as good.”

Kadakoy Ferry, Istanbul

Kadakoy Ferry, Istanbul

“Kadakoy Port, Istanbul”

Kadakoy Port, Istanbul

Later in the day, after a multitude of stops and a 25-minute boat ride, we sat down for af- ternoon coffee in Karakoy, a neighborhood on the Asian side of the city.

Our guide explained that after living in Brooklyn for some time, she was dissatisfied with taste of our American “filter coffee,” as well as its surrounding culture. Turkish coffee and its attached culture, she argues, is inherently better, as long as you know how to partake in it.

“Sip it slowly, starting with the foam. If there’s no foam, its not a good Turkish coffee,” she said.

The grounds of a Turkish coffee concentrate at the bottom of the shot-glass-sized mug.

“We never drink the mud [grounds].”

Only after the Turkish waiter, clearly an acquaintance of hers, had left, did she lean in and whisper, “Sometimes, I like to drink the mud.”

“Coffee Shop, Kadakoy, Istanbul”

Coffee Shop, Kadakoy, Istanbul

Not only due to Turks decry the taste of American coffee, some detest the culture which surrounds it.

She explained that in Turkish culture, coffee is to be consumed in a calm state — not as a wake-up remedy.

“We don’t use it to wake up. For us, it’s the opposite,” she explained. Pointing to a older couple in the corner, she explained, “I’m sure they’ve been here for hours. Sometimes, I come here and sit for 2-3 hours.”

Thus is the oasis of calm in the chaos of the 14 million person city.

Pickle Shop, Kadakoy, Istanbul

Pickle Shop, Kadakoy, Istanbul

Turkey, despite its position as a world power, lags behind Europe and the U.S. in its acceptance of LGBTQ rights.

Unlike many other countries with similarly large Muslim populations, homosexuality is not a prosecutable offense.

Although not technically illegal, LGBTQ peoples are not privy to special protections under law.

Thinking about it, I probably shouldn’t say Turkey lags behind the U.S. — considering LGBTQ peoples don’t have these same protections in many of our states.

Our tour leader explained that, “in Turkey, men kiss men and women kiss women (as a form of greeting.”

Lowering her voice, with no malice or judgement, she nearly whispered, “those from the other shore, would never show it in public.”

Based on the context of the of the conservation it was clear “from the other shore” was referring to those with same-sex attraction.

Despite its claims of secularity, Turkey is still a country with a 98% percent Muslim popu- lation.

Other religions exist and are free to practice, although certainly as a minority status. Since the founding of Israel in 1948, the number of Jews in the country has drastically declined.

The Jews left in Turkey live almost exclusively in Istanbul, and largely in a specific neighborhood.

Growing up as a reform Jew in New York City, I’ve never really experienced the isolation this community must feel. In an attempt to connect with and understand this community, we embarked on a “Jewish Heritage Tour.”

Galata Quarter, Istanbul

Galata Quarter, Istanbul

Climbing up the hilled cobble streets of the Galata Quarter, we made our first stop at the Ashkenazi synagogue.

The street view is truly a thing to be seen. The synagogue, the site of multiple terrorist attacks, is protected with massive, daunting blast-proof doors. Walking inside, we were invited to join in the final moments of the morning prayer service.

The synagogue itself is quaint. The women of the congregation are dressed conservatively in a way highly reminiscent of a Muslim hijab.

“All of the synagogues in Turkey are orthodox,” our tour guide explains. As a result, the service is segregated — women upstairs, men downstairs.

Despite the differences, there was truly something so incredibly comforting about muttering the mourner’s kaddish with the older, non-english speaking members of the congregation.

On the way to our next stop, we passed another synagogue, which looks more like a prison than a place of worship. It’s black metal doors were adorned with relatively small Jewish stars.

In front of these doors, instead of parking spaces, were 7-8 metal poles, apparently to pre- vent car bombs. Our tour guide explains, “There were two attacks here. There was a shooting which killed about 20 people. Al Qaeda claimed responsibility for that. The other one killed some people with a car bomb. Nobody claimed responsibility, but it’s assumed to have been the Palestinians.”

Jewish Photo 2

In front of a synagogue in Istanbul.

Next on the tour, we were taken to the Ahrida Synagogue.

This congregation is bewildering in a few ways.

It was founded by Jews who came from what is now-Macedonia, and the spoken language was Ladino, a combination of Hebrew and Spanish. The street view, while not as daunting as the previous synagogue, is similarly protective.

Three would-be parking spaces are blocked by metal rails. Once inside the gates, the experience gets more surreal.

The bimah (the space form which the Rabbi leads the service) is centered in the middle of the building, and the seats face it in a Rose Bowl-like manner. Along with its odd positioning, the bimah is a replication of Noah’s Ark.

When leading the service, the Rabbi climbs the ark, preaching from its highest most point. A truly baffling imagery for our westernized version of Judaism, isn’t it?

Another unique feature of the synagogue is its dual domes, which are only visible from the interior.

“The Ottomans didn’t persecute the Jews, but they made a law that Muslims were the only group who could have exterior mosques,” our guide explained. “But, this congregation wanted a dome, so they built it under a flat roof.”

As we left the synagogue, I noticed that the older Jewish man who had let us in had stopped to have a conversation with a younger woman in a hijab. They spoke for a minute or two, hugged, and went on their way.

Ahrida Synagogue, Istanbul

Ahrida Synagogue, Istanbul

Finally, we stopped at the Zulfaris Synagogue, which has been converted to a museum.

Like the Ashkenazi synagogue, this museum is equipped with massive blast proof doors. Imme- diately, we were greeted by a white-haired man offering our group little chocolates.

Despite speaking no English, he excitedly showed us around the small former-synagogue, pointing out his favorite art pieces. On our way out, he handed up numerous papers and pamphlets, smiling cheek to cheek.

Zulfaris Synagogue/Jewish Museum of Turkey, Istanbul

Zulfaris Synagogue/Jewish Museum of Turkey, Istanbul

The next day, Christmas Day, included a trip to Topkapi palace, a marvelous relic of the Ottoman Empire.

Despite being Friday, the Muslim day of worship, the place was teeming with school groups and families.

Further juxtaposing the old with the new, we continued our day with lunch at a straight-out-of Soho looking French brasserie as well as a trip to the Istanbul Modern.

Like the MoMa, the Istanbul Modern was full of well dressed college-age people as well as groups of grades schoolers. There were very view things about this museum which felt Muslim or Turkish.

The lone exception was a video that featured a woman unwrapping hijab after hijab off of her head. The model’s eyes were covered throughout the video, as she was seemingly un- able to remove the multitude of headscarves.

In the evening, we walked around Istikal street, a modern shopping area near the infa- mous, often protest-filled Taksim Square.

Oddly enough, the shopping street is swaddled with a few European consulates, as well as the Church of St. Anthony of Padua.

Despite being Christmas Day, we entered the courtyard of the truly magnificent church.

As we walked in, we noticed that there was something odd about the nativity scene. Among Jesus and Mary laid tarnished life vests and children’s clothing — specifically a tiny pink Barbie t-shirt.

Below the scene a yellow, laminated piece of paper was posted, reading, “Yeni yurtlara ula(s)ma umuduyla sularimizda bo(g)ulan si(g)inmacilarin aziz ansina.”

Below that, in English, it read, “In loving memory of the refugees who died in our seas while trying to reach new homes.”

Church of St. Anthony of Padua, Istanbul

A nativity scene at the Church of St. Anthony of Padua.

The next day included touring the Suleymaniye mosque as well as the Chora Church. Both are equally gorgeous, as relics of the Ottoman and Byzantine empires, respectively. The tour concluded by driving up to a view point from which an arial view of the city is accessible.

Driving through Eyüp, our tour guide explained that, “this is one of the most conservative neighborhoods of Istanbul.”

Hanging Flag, Istanbul

Hanging Flag

Almost every woman was in a hijab, and many were in burqas. Unsurprisingly, we passed a massive, 3-story hanging flag featuring socially conservative President Erdogan, along with the Turkish flag.

Erdogan

Poster of President Erdogan

The Turkish people are fiercely nationalistic. We forget, Turkey is a relatively new nation, and they truly do have a lot to be proud of. Nearly every apartment building has Turkish flags of all sizes hanging out of personal windows. Big shopping streets are adorned with vertical, massive, nearly street-sweeping flags.

Turkish Flag Photo 2

Later in the day, we ventured to the Grand Bazaar, where I was sure to purchase two soccer jerseys, costing 10 liras (about $3 dollars) each. A friend of mine who spent the term studying abroad in London convinced me that I needed to find the roof of the Grand Bazaar.

After a few minutes googling and rifling through travel books, we were able to find an odd, not-so-safe stairway up to the roof which TripAdvisor declares “unsafe and structurally unstable.”

Standing on top of the Bazaar is truly magical. You look to your left, and see the sunset-soaked silhouettes of local boys playing on the roof.

You look straight and you see a view of Istanbul which reaches all the way to the water. And to your right, you see a huge Turkish flag.

Bazaar Roof

View from on top of the Grand Bazaar Roof.

Local Kids Playing, Grand Bazaar Roof, Istanbul

Local Kids Playing, Grand Bazaar Roof, Istanbul

The next morning, we woke up early, hustling to the Hagia Sophia, at Sultanahmet. Only two tram stops from our hotel, we were there for its 9 AM opening time. Spending about an hour, I marveled at the former Church/Mosque so often discussed in my 7th grade social studies class.
Simply put, the Hagia Sophia is an extremely odd place of worship. When you look up, you see two large circular Arabic inscriptions, reading “Allah” and “Muhammad,” respectively. In between the two, on the roof, is a Vatican-style painting of the Virgin Mary with baby Jesus.
Interior of the Hagia Sophia.

Interior of the Hagia Sophia.

Later in the day, we embarked on the second leg of our trip — Cappadocia. A 1-hour flight from Istanbul, Cappadocia does not exhibit the same integration of modern and ancient as Istanbul.

The small towns in this region are older, quieter, poorer, and generally less modern. Living in homes typically crafted from ancient stone, the residents of this region tend to work in farming, tourism, or the service industry, which is largely based on tourism.

People flock to Istanbul for the city life, while visitors storm Cappadocia for its natural exploits.

Cappadocia is a region known for its geology, hot air ballon rides, and archeology. The flight to Cappadocia is about an hour from Istanbul. However, flying domestically in Turkey is drastically different from flying domestically in the U.S., or flying between European Union countries.

When you arrive at the airport, you are met with security at the entrance. All of your luggage, checked and carry-on, goes through an X-ray machine, while you walk through a metal detector. It is only after that security checkpoint that you check in for your flight.

After the check-in, you go through yet another level of security, this time a little more intense, as shoes come off and laptops come out of the bag. At the discretion of the TSA-equivalent agent, certain people, often military-aged men, are instructed to produce and turn on their computers.

Once on the plane, it’s nearly identical to an American flight. However, during takeoff and touchdown, cell phones, even on airplane mode, are strictly prohibited. All of these security measures, unsurprisingly, are due to the threat of radical Islamist terrorism — a threat, which for Turks, is always present. It is this threat which is the largest deterrent for European and American tourists.

Cappadocia

Cappadocia

Landing in Cappadocia went without a hitch.

The region, as a whole, was a solid 20 degrees colder. The region is also comprised of spread out, basic towns. Going from Istanbul to Cappadocia is like going from New York City to Alaska.

When driving through Cappadocia, everything looks grey. Due to corruption issues and a lack of economic development, there are a multitude of half-built, abandoned buildings. Other buildings are falling part but still occupied. Most still have Turkish flags hanging proudly.

Another view of Cappadocia.

Another view of Cappadocia.

The next morning, we were able to tour the region and its geological and archeological features.
Marked by cone-shaped rock formations, the region is mystifying. Everywhere you look, there are “cave homes” built in the side of mountains. These homes bellowed to the Chris- tians during their times of persecution.
Along with these homes, are hidden Churches, complete with remarkably preserved paintings of Jesus, the virgin Mary, and other scenes from scripture.
At some Churches, those found by the Muslim Ottomans, the faces of these figures are slashed through and no longer recognizable. The rest of their bodies, however, remains intact. The views in the region are incredible, and like nothing else on Earth.
Testifying to its other- worldly quality is the fact that George Lucas originally intended to shoot utilize Cappadocia as a location for Star Wars (he ended up shooting it in Tunisia).
Rock Formations, Cappadocia

Rock Formations, Cappadocia

We were awoken at 5:00 AM the next morning. We huddled into a van, and drove about 20 minutes. Getting out of the van, we were offered snacks and coffee, all the while nervously checking the weather conditions of the region.

After about 45 minutes, we were quickly ushered back into the van, and driven to a field about 25 minutes away. We waited, as we watched the sunrise-swept sky fill with a horde of misshapen silhouettes.

After 10 minutes, we were in the air, in a hot air balloon, looking down on Cappadocia. Never in my life, have I ever experienced anything so terrifying and breathtaking.

Hot Air Balloon, Cappadocia

Hot Air Balloon, Cappadocia

I’m a tall guy, so the railing of the balloon went only about halfway up my chest. Ignoring the freezing cold temperatures and my seemingly repressed fear of heights, I gawked at the changing views.

I saw a balloon silhouette-marked sun- rise. I looked down on the ancient towns of Cappadocia. I gazed upon the contemporary towns of the region. Our balloon pilot took us down into a valley, only to bring us back up for the stunning views. After the 45 minute flight, we rushed back to our hotel in order to make our flight back to Istanbul.

View from Hot Air Balloon, Cappadocia

View from Hot Air Balloon, Cappadocia

Unfortunately, due to the unpredictable weather of Cappadocia, we were delayed at an amenity-free airport for about 7 hours.

Eventually, our flight got us to Istanbul, despite the windy and rainy conditions. We spent the next day, our last day, back in Kadakoy, the shopping area on the Asia side.

After a few hours purchasing food products and trinkets, we passed back to our hotel. Heading back to our hotel for the final time, we traveled past a police station.

As we walked by 3-4 riot vehicles pulled out of the driveway. These menacing vehicles were equipped with a large battering ram looking instrument and some type of gun (either water, gas, or bullet-based) on the roof. Despite Turkey’s democratic state, these vehicles were a reminder of the threats Turkey faces, as well as the somewhat repressive nature of the government.

During our 10-day trip to Turkey, I believe there were two or three bombings in Istanbul. The Freedom Falcons of Kurdistan (TAK) set off a bomb at Sabiha Gokcen airport, killing one. Despite this bombing and those like it, the city does not shut down, as business continues as usual.

Truly, I’m not sure Istanbul, a city of nearly 20 million people could shut down.

In mid-January, about two weeks after I returned to the US, I was appalled and shocked to read of the deadly bombing at Sultanahmet which killed 10 people.

For those who are unaware, Sultanahmet is the neighborhood which both the Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sophia call home. Despite being a tourist neighborhood, it is also the heart of Istanbul’s old city. This was a district which we frequented often throughout our trip. This was a district we frequented four times through this trip, and one where I felt incredibly safe.

Blue Mosque, Sultanahmet, Istanbul two weeks before a ISIS suicide bomber killed 10 German tourists there in a bombing.

Blue Mosque, Sultanahmet, Istanbul two weeks before a ISIS suicide bomber killed 10 German tourists there in a bombing.

As a Jew, I have no spiritual connection to the Muslim faith. Some would argue I should have an antagonistic relationship with the religion.

However, there was something truly magical and bewildering about the hearing the call to prayer at Sultanahmet. It was our first day, and I was jet-lagged beyond belief. When we stopped at Sultanahmet right at sundown, we looked behind us and saw the Hagia Sophia.

We looked forward and saw the Blue Mosque. The call to prayer played from both locations, almost in a dueling nature. They were not in sync, but rather one echoed the other. This moment was one of a serenity. This neighborhood was somewhat of a home base on this trip, and a place where we could feel safe and grounded.

The citizens of Istanbul, specifically of this neighborhood, had unfairly been robbed of their sense of serenity and peace.

And so was I.

All photos taken by Charles Dunst/ RISE NEWS.

RISE NEWS is a grassroots journalism news organization that is working to change the way young people become informed and engaged in public affairs. Anyone can write for us as long as you are fiercely interested in making the world a better place. 

Why Do So Many Minority Republican Politicians Change Their Names?

Barack Obama was not always “Barack.” Yes, it was always his legal name, but his childhood nickname had always been Barry.

According to his half-sister, Maya, Obama came home for Christmas in 1980 adamant on being called Barack. According to a 2008 Newsweek article, he became Barack in a conscious attempt to find a community – something which had eluded him throughout his complicated childhood.

Obama’s father was also Barack, but he actively took on the name Barry in order to fit in as an African immigrant when he came to the United States for college. The younger Obama’s reversal to Barack was to connect him to a “black America he had never really known as a child in Hawaii and abroad.” Although this name change came 28 years before Obama’s 2008 presidential run, it exposes a marked difference between him and his Republican colleagues.

Nimrata Randhawa, Rafael Cruz, and Piyush Jindal do not sound like stereotypical names of American politicians.

Then again, neither does Barack Obama.

The difference is that Obama was able to win two general elections with an “ethnic” name, while Nikki (Nimrata) Haley, Ted (Rafael) Cruz, and Bobby (Piyush) Jindal all have embraced nicknames in public life.

Haley, the Republican Gov. of South Carolina, delivered a well-received response to Obama’s State of the Union.

She also identified herself on her 2001 voter registration card as “white.” Nikki Haley is by no means Caucasian. Both of her parents emigrated to the U.S. from India, and Haley was born in South Carolina.

In 1996, she married Michael Haley in a mixed Methodist and Sikh ceremony, although she now identifies as Christian. As a Republican politician, Haley needs to appeal to a largely white constituency. It is therefore unsurprising that she would shed herself of her Indian name.

The governor told the Charlotte Observer that she shortened her name to Nikki because her official name “wouldn’t fit on a yard sign.” Obviously, it was a little more complicated than that.

The governor told the Charlotte Observer that she shortened her name to Nikki because her official name “wouldn’t fit on a yard sign.” Obviously, it was a little more complicated than that.

According to a 2012 Gallup poll, “non-Hispanic whites” accounted for 89% of Republican self-identifiers nationwide. Haley, rather than face the obstacles of her Indian name and Sikh religion, actively chose to identify as “white” in order to fit in with the constituency she needed to appeal to.

Haley is by no means alone. Texas Senator Ted Cruz, the recent winner of the Iowa Caucus, was born Rafael Cruz. Cruz changed his name when he was 13, like Obama, long before he launched his political career and White House run.

However, unlike Haley, Cruz’s lack of true whiteness, and in some minds, Americanness, has started to become an issue. Donald Trump has decried Ted Cruz as an “anchor baby,” and some question whether he is a natural born citizen, and is therefore not qualified for the presidency.

Bobby Jindal also comes to mind. Jindal dropped out long ago and was never considered a true contender, but his story fits this narrative of name and identity changes. Jindal, like Nikki Haley, was born to Indian parents in the United States.

Like Cruz and Obama, Jindal’s name change came in childhood. When he was four years old, he took the name Bobby from one of the brothers of The Brady Bunch. Jindal converted to Christianity in high school after a friend shared his faith. Jindal would read the Bible in secret, in his closet, in order to hide his conversion from his parents.

Jindal’s story of Americanization mirrors Cruz’s as one that was not for political gain. It appears that they both made conscious, personal changes to their names and identifies, while Haley’s appears to have been largely for political gain.

However, there is little doubt that all three of these candidates benefited from their “Americanization” of their own identities. Bobby, Nikki, and Ted are far more palatable to an 89% white base than Piyush, Nimrata, and Rafael.

Cover Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore/ Flickr (CC By 2.0)

Here’s Why You Shouldn’t Trust Polls

In our modern world, public polls are still assumed to be accurate representations of people’s sentiments on current issues.

As in any other election cycle, polls have been utilized — almost exclusively — to determine and understand the current state of the 2016 U.S. Presidential race. These polls tell both the public, as well as the candidates, how each contender is fairing.

At least, they do that in theory.

Not only do these polls have implications for shifting public sentiment, but based on their standing in them, a candidate may choose to shift strategies or even drop out of the race before a single ballot is cast.

But basing a campaign strategy on poll results is dangerous and unwise — largely because these polls are often inaccurate.

Some polls predicted Mitt Romney to barely defeat Barack Obama in the 2012 Presidential Race.

Polls in Kentucky predicted Mitch McConnell to lose to Alison Lundergan Grimes in 2014, but McConnell went on to win by close to 20 points.

Outside of the U.S., polls inaccurately predicted the results of the most recent Israeli and British elections.

President Romney? Yeah, not so much. Photo Credit: James Currie/ Flickr (CC By 2.0)

President Romney? Yeah, not so much. Photo Credit: James Currie/ Flickr (CC By 2.0)

These erroneous results have lead analysts to question the industry and whether it has kept up with a “rapidly transforming, highly-mobile electorate.”

Not only have polls become less accurate, but their results are often oversimplified and sensationalized.

Polls conducted with 300 or so participants are said to describe a group as large as “the Democrats” or “the Republicans.”

If our polls are becoming less accurate, the fact that their results are sensationalized to increase a partisan divide is extremely worrisome.

Michael Traugott, a University of Michigan political science professor told US World and News Report, that polls “give the public an independent voice that’s not generally present” in other news coverage.

Recent polls are coming back with false results due to a lower number of responses as well as a concentrated group of respondents.

Polls are targeting people’s home phones (in addition to cell phones), which due to our culture, are now being answered less than before.

Not only are they being answered less, but more than 40% of American adults, such as myself, no longer have landlines.

Those with landlines are often older and poorer.

86% percent of people over 65 still have landlines. That number drops to 44% for those between the ages of 25-29.

Further adding to the woes of pollsters is the 1991 Telephone Consumer Protection Act, which bans autodialing to cell phones.

This law applies to public-opinion polling and market research, thereby limiting their reach. One would assume that increasingly inaccurate polls which reflect an extremely small slice of the population wouldn’t be utilized to represent the sentiments of whole groups.

Unfortunately, this is not that case, as these inaccurate, non-representative polls are utilized to represent the views of “Democrats” or “Republicans.”

Wilson Perkins Allen Opinion Research recently stated that “44 Percent of Democrats Support Taking Refugees from a Fictional Country.”

This poll was issued in response to a left-leaning Public Policy Polling result which found that 30% of Republican voters would support bombing Agrabah, a fictional country/city from the Disney film Aladdin.

The WPA poll, reporting to represent the entirety of “Democrats,” polled 384 registered Democrats, and 1,132 total voters.

Utilizing 384 people to purport to represent the entire Democratic Party is absurd and wildly disingenuous.

Utilizing 384 people to purport to represent the entire Democratic Party is absurd and wildly disingenuous.

To be clear, it is not just the WPA nor solely Right-leaning polling sources which perpetuate this nonsense.

The original Public Policy Polling survey polled 532 Republicans to represent the entirety of the party.

Public Policy Polling even went as far as to post the results on their Twitter, stating “30% of Republican primary voters nationally say they support bombing Agrabah. Agrabah is the country from Aladdin,” along with the mocking hashtag of #NotTheOnion.

In an attempt to demean those they disagree with politically, PPP claimed to represent all “Republicans” with 532 respondents. Both left and right-wing pollsters and media groups utilize these misrepresentative pols to decry the other.

There is no question that polling has a future in our political process, but we must do better. Polling 400-500 people and labeling the results as representing the entirety of a political party, race, or religion is both demeaning and reckless.

More importantly, they are inaccurate, and promote false narratives. 44% of all Democrats certainly to not support taking refugees from a fictional country. 30% of Republicans also certainly do not support bombing the same fictional country.

This sensationalism shows Democrats to be soft and overly welcoming while it decries Republicans as warmongers. Instead of finding issues to agree on, this type of sensationalism further divides the two parties.

We should try to figure out a better way to do it.

RISE NEWS is a grassroots journalism news organization that is working to change the way young people become informed and engaged in public affairs. Anyone can write for you us as long as you are fiercely interested in making the world a better place. 

Cover Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore/ Flickr (CC By 2.0)

Tennessee College Wins Right to Ban LGBT Students, Unwed Mothers

By Charles Diringer Dunst
@cddunst

Carson-Newman University is a four year, liberal arts Southern Baptist college in Jefferson City, Tennessee.

It is now also a college that has legally won the right to discriminate, based on sexual orientation and unfair, old-fashioned gendered expectations of women.

The university, at the behest of their attorney, applied for and received a Title IX exemption waiver, allowing them to bypass federal non-discrimination laws.

Title IX is a federal law which directly prohibits discrimination based on sex in higher education.

The law allows for any school “controlled by a religious organization” to seek an exemption if complying “would not be consistent with the religious tenants of such organization.”

Carson-Newman’s exemption allows the college to reject those who live in conflict with its interpretation of Christianity. This includes LGBT peoples, unwed mothers, women who have had abortions, and non-married women who may be pregnant.

The college has clarified that their usage of the waiver is not discriminatory, as it intends to “further establish our identity as a religious school.”

University president Dr. Randall O’Brien requested the exemption in a letter addressed to the federal government in May 2015.

“This is who we are as a Christian university,” he told CBS affiliate WVLT on Monday. “These are our religious principles, and in a changing world, we would like to reaffirm that this is who we are and who we intend to be.”

The university has stated that their reception of the waiver will not affect its admissions policies, at least not in the upcoming year.

When pressed by a local news tv station, President O’Brien paradoxically stated that the exemption would not lead the university to “discriminate against or students or any student applying to Carson-Newman.”

WATCH: Local TV story about Carson-Newman University Title IX waiver

The college has so far been unable to clarify exactly how they intend to utilize the waiver. It is not even clear why the university wanted to waiver in the first place, unless they intended to use it.

“You’re the president,” WVLT’s Lauren Davis noted. “You’re not going to file something unless you understand it.”

President O’Brien said in response to Davis’ assertion that the exemption would allow the school to “strengthen our position in relation to First Amendment rights. I don’t really know why something would be necessary beyond that.”

Despite their reception of the waiver, its usage is something which the university has clearly defined.

Jared Champion, Carson-Newman Class of 2003, told The Knoxville News-Sentinel that he was “absolutely humiliated by the news.”

Champion said that he believes that the exemption will impact the value of his degree as he continues his career as a college professor.

“As I move forward and put in job applications, and the like, I’m going to have to put in an addendum . . . to let them know that the values that Carson-Newman now represents are not mine,” Champion said.

The university’s attorney, Jim Guenther, has recommended the same exemption as a prudent course of action for several other Christian colleges.

Cover Photo Credit: Carson-Newman University/ Facebook

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