GVSU staff member, professor join '60 Minutes' episode with Oprah Winfrey

By Sarah Hollis | 9/27/17 10:02pm

Ever since the 2016 presidential election, many people have felt divided in terms of political views. In an effort to start a conversation on this issue, Oprah Winfrey, as special guest correspondent for "60 Minutes," helped to conduct a political focus group of 14 people with varying political opinions and backgrounds. 

The episode aired Sunday, Sept. 24, and featured a Grand Valley State University staff member and a professor. The first was Jennifer Allard, associate director for student recruitment marketing for Institutional Marketing. The second was professor of economics Matthew Wiedenhoeft.

Participants in the focus group were chosen specifically to be a diverse group. 

“I clicked on an ad on Facebook, and clearly, they were targeting certain people,” Allard said. “I filled out an extensive questionnaire on every person I’ve ever voted for, my family, and it was pretty exhaustive. I feel like I got selected because I am a registered Republican who has always voted Republican, and I did not vote for Trump, so I fit that niche on the panel.”  

The group was also evenly divided between Republicans and Democrats. 

“I like the fact that they evened it out," Wiedenhoeft said. "It wasn’t blatantly one way or another. I think even the spectrum within each party was good. We had one guy, the typical Trump supporter, could do no wrong, and then you’ve got other people like myself, they question him, and vice versa on the other side. I think it was very well-thought-out on how they picked each person.” 

During the segment, participants were asked a series of questions about the election, about President Donald Trump’s actions since taking office and about their opinions of people who voted for Trump. As participants answered each question, they would engage in a debate that was moderated by Oprah Winfrey herself.

“They had emailed us and said that a VIP would be in attendance, and so we didn’t know who it was,” Allard said. “We sat down, and out walks Oprah Winfrey, and she sits down and says, 'Hi y’all,' and we were all shocked.” 

Allard was also pleasantly surprised by Winfrey's friendly and down-to-earth nature. 

"We just talked to her like we were talking to any average person," she said. "She was very genuine and authentic. Who she is on TV is who she is in person.”

Despite the shock of meeting Winfrey and the fact that they all had different political views, the 14 participants in the focus group managed to bond through the experience. 

“We’re all friends," Allard said. "We’ve all been talking. We were talking last night, we were talking today, so we have learned to accept each other’s differences and get along. I think the conversation will continue with our group." 

“I’m glad to see that there’s people that are so far right and so far left that I can talk to them now,” Wiedenhoeft said. “I know that’s possible.” 

Overall, both Allard and Wiedenhoeft thought the focus group was carried out well and that it could be a useful tool in closing the divide that political differences have created.

“I think the experience overall was great,” Wiedenhoeft said. “It was eye-opening, it was refreshing and it had lots of people with different ideas.”

“I think that the whole process was really well done and helped us get ready for being on a national TV broadcast," Allard said.

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