Panel of scholars reflects on post-election future
This year’s election cycle proved administratively unexciting despite intense rhetoric, said a panel of professors on Tuesday.
“We actually planned this before the election,” said Prof. Ryan LaRochelle (POL), opening the event. “It turned out more interesting than we thought,” he added.
One major controversy from this election has been the question of foul play and tampering, noted panelist Charles Stewart III, a professor of political science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Both sides of the aisle have brought up the specter of rigged elections, whether in the form of Russian hackers or illegal voters, he added.
For all of the high-intensity rhetoric, Stewart said, professional poll watchers consider this “the most uneventful election from an administration point of view in at least two decades.”
Kay Lehman Schlozman, a professor of political science at Boston College, agreed that “there was a lot that was pretty predictable” about the outcome. The “fundamentals” — that is, important factors outside either candidate’s control, like presidential approval rating and the economy — suggested that things could go in Trump’s favor, she said. It also did not help that the Democratic party had held office for eight years; “open seat” elections like 2000, 2008 and now 2016 are hard for the incumbent party to win, she added.
However, the blame for these circumstances does not necessarily fall on the Democratic Party, according to David A. Hopkins, a professor of political science at Boston College. “The party can’t control the candidates,” he asserted, adding that the parties could not and should not be treated as mirror images of one another.
“It seems to us increasingly obvious that the two parties just work very differently,” said Hopkins. He said that the parties diverged on the “degree of rebellion against the elected leadership,” the “unique role of the conservative media” and the value of democratic standards. On the last point, he cited the government shutdown, refusal to hold a hearing for Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland and the prevalence of voter ID laws in certain states.
“A lot of Trump and Trumpism is something that has quite a long history in the Republican party,” he added, asserting that while Republicans do well in elections, they do little to roll back government or reverse cultural trends.
One student asked the panelists if there was a single point at which the Clinton campaign lost ground. Hopkins replied that the party had gambled on the likelihood of Trump’s gaffes disqualifying him, taking themselves off-message in the process.
“[Clinton] just wrote off going and campaigning in a lot of areas where there were white working class voters,” said Schlozman. In retrospect, Schlozman said she would have advised the Clinton campaign to “spend more time going to talk to ordinary people and showing them that [they] care about them.”
Additionally, the question of gender did not go undiscussed: Schlozman pointed out that there are fewer women in politics as one goes “up the federalism ladder,” with a lower proportion of women in executive positions than in legislatures. One student asked the panelists about the prospects for women in politics going forward. Schlozman was sympathetic as she discussed the two dynamics at play. While the first major female presidential candidate had lost, she noted that it was far more shocking because the winner was “forgiven for at least discussing in a, quote, ‘locker room’ manner, stuff that can get you prosecuted.” She added, “To quote a former president, ‘I feel your pain.’”