Election questions addressed at political science panel
Political science professors attempted to quantify and respond to many questions raised by the 2016 election at a panel hosted by the department.
“We’re essentially here to try and unpack the how and the why of the election,” Alexander Hirsch, a political science professor, said.
The panel, which was open to the public. was organized by Brandon Boylan. He was joined by colleagues Hirsch, Amy Lovecraft and Jeremy Speight.
“There were a lot of conversations going on in the corridors and I was think we need to make some sort of presentation out of this for the university and the public,” Boylan said.
Each professor took a different a different approach in trying to make sense of the election outcome, particularly the information gap between pre-election polls and the actual results.
“The election was stunning for two major reasons,” Lovecraft said. “One, the polls got it wrong and another one, of course, is because Donald Trump has never held a public office. That’s never happened. Even George Washington held colonial office before the United States came to be.”
Lovecraft found the election interesting, but not all that surprising, she said.
“This election was a surprise but historically this was not that abnormal,” Lovecraft said. “There was not an overwhelming voter turn out. Another thing is that it’s very unusual for a legacy candidate to be elected freshly after a two turn president.”
Lovecraft also spoke about the different geographical demographics and their voting results based on location, pointing to a map that showed large sections of rural areas voting for Trump, but most metropolitan centers swinging democrat.
“You have 15 percent of the country, in terms of geographic space, being Clinton and 85 percent being Trump,” Lovecraft said. “Yet, when you look at the population in those geographic spaces you find that Clinton’s population is actually larger than Trump’s and it’s not that surprising that as if yesterday she’s still winning the popular vote.”
Hirsch emphasized the need for conversation to gain better understanding of the situation. There have been too many monologues recently, it’s time for dialogue, he said.
“Since the morning of November ninth, friends, colleagues and sometimes utter strangers have been demanding an explanation from me for what was for many a shocking electoral revelation the night before,” Hirsch said. “What I see happening now in the wake of the election, is a rush to locate stories we can tell about the how and the why of Trump’s election.”
Voter turn out was only .4 percent lower for this years election than it was in 2012, Hirsch said, while explaining his thoughts regarding the electoral college and its role played in the election.
“The electoral college is why Trump won,” Hirsch said. “The fact that a vote in Wyoming is worth 362 percent of what a vote in California is worth is the how and the why of Trump’s election.”
This is only the fourth time in history that a candidate has been elected despite losing the popular vote, with previous cases including Rutherford B. Hayes, William Henry Harrison, Bush and now Trump, Hirsch noted.
Boylan focused on Pennsylvania as an example.
“I was drawn to Pennsylvania in particular because [the state] swung red in this election when it hasn’t done so in nearly 30 years,” Boylan said. “Not only am I from Pennsylvania but I’m from Eerie, a county that has traditionally gone blue. In fact the last time it went red was for Reagan.”
Boylan discussed the swing in voter sentiment in this county he was familiar with, hypothesizing that this previously liberal state swung differently this year due to campaign strategies of both candidates, the labor economy in Eerie and Trump’s focus on unemployment in his campaign speeches there.
“What we saw in the U.S with the rise of Trump really isn’t unique in terms of the rise of populist or anti-establishment movements,” Speight followed. “Western Europe has seen the rise of right wing nationalist parties. Latin America in the early 2000s were a number of left wing socialist candidates in Bolivia and Venezuela. This movement is part of a broader global movement.”
Speight drew particular focus to the emphasis these movements were putting on what is been deemed by the alt-right as the “migrant threat,” drawing internal unity by creating a foreign enemy.
“What is unique to be about the U.S is this ever weakening party system,” Speight said. “These American parties really don’t have to ability to mitigate or prevent the rise of these fringe, populist candidates, someone like Trump.”
Following the introductions made by the professors, the conversation was opened for audience questions and comments.
Many audience comments focused on this particular election while some took time to speculate about how this election might effect American politics in the future.
Professor Terrence Cole stated his opinions regarding the American political system and the electoral college as a whole.
“Trump didn’t win,” Cole said. “Clinton lost, and I think it’s worth talking about her perception as a woman candidate and that she’s a Clinton. Both things show the terrible mistake of the democrats taking their people for granted because I think any other democrat could have beaten Trump.”
“I want to know how psychology plays a factor in this,” Jesse Gray, a philosophy student said. “It seems like one of the big things Trump ran with was the Hillary Clinton email scandal and yet he was talking to foreign leaders on a cell phone so it seems like there might be some sort of double standard or different in psychology between the two parties and what is important to them.”
“We don’t have any common truths anymore,” Hirsch said. “That’s part of the problem… We ought to try harder to establish grounds for authentic dialogue.”
The panel, hosted Thursday, Nov. 17, was well attended with nearly every seat in Murie Auditorium filled with students and Fairbanks community members joining the conversation.