UMSL political scientists share insights on ‘Huge election’ during Carpenter Series lecture
The current presidential race seems to have inspired one prevailing emotion from the electorate: loathing.
Dave Robertson, the chair of the Department of Political Science at the University of Missouri–St. Louis, reminded an audience Thursday evening in the J.C. Penney Auditorium about a poll taken in June.
It grimly revealed that when given the choice between voting for Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, her Republican counterpart Donald Trump or a giant meteor hitting the earth, 13 percent of respondents were willing to take their chances with the rock.
One might suspect, as Robertson did, that the number has crept up over the past 3½ months amid reports of a lewd conversation captured on videotape, leaks of hacked personal emails and allegations of sexual assault, not to mention three contentious debates between two candidates who are among the least popular in history.
But the level of disgust among voters will not diminish the significance of the election’s outcome.
“This is an election in which the first female nominee of a major party has a chance to win a presidential election, and she’s being opposed by the person who has less government experience than anybody in American history nominated by the other party,” Robertson said. “One way or another, this is going to turn out to be historic.”
Robertson joined UMSL political science colleagues David Kimball and Anita Manion in discussing not only the historical moment at hand but also its significance beyond Nov. 8 and some underlying trends that figure to continue to shape future elections.
Thursday night’s lecture was part of the Hellen and Will Carpenter Series on Contemporary Issues in American Society. Each presented for approximately 20 minutes – Robertson on the presidential race, Kimball on the battle for control of Congress and Manion on the role gender has played in all of it. Afterward, they discussed questions from audience members.
“As a start here, sort of why elections matter for Congress, it will determine which political party has the majority of seats in the House and Senate, and majority control of Congress is quite important for a number of reasons,” Kimball said. “The Senate has the ability to confirm presidential appointments for judges and other executive positions.”
That’s particularly prescient at the moment with a seat currently vacant on the U.S. Supreme Court. Kimball showed a picture of Merrick Garland, the appellate judge President Barack Obama nominated in March to replace the late Antonin Scalia. He has yet to have been granted so much as a hearing by the Republican-controlled body.
The Senate is also tasked with approving treaties, and one such treaty, the Trans Pacific Partnership, is awaiting Senate action and has been a hot-button topic in the presidential campaign.
What’s done about issues such as raising the minimum wage, tax reform and changes to the Affordable Care Act also will be influenced by the makeup of both houses of Congress after Nov. 8.
Much has been said and written about public frustration with the government in Washington, and Trump’s candidacy has been cited as evidence that the people are trying to overhaul it.
But Kimball noted that that narrative doesn’t compute with the fact that all but five of 385 incumbent House members won their primaries this year, as did all 12 Senators up for re-election.
Those primary results are even more significant because of the steep decline in competitive Congressional races – from 103 that were categorized as such in 1992 to only 35 in 2012.
Robertson noted the split between college-educated and non-college-educated voters demonstrated time and again in polling during this presidential campaign.
There also continues to be a noticeable divide between men and women.
“So 1980 is when we first started seeing that gap appear,” Manion said. “Prior to that, women largely voted along with the men in their lives, but in 1980, with the Reagan-Carter race, we saw a split, and the split there actually was men shifting to the Republican side and women staying with the Democratic side.”
If anything, it has been amplified in a contest pitting a female candidate in Clinton against an opponent in Trump who’s been viewed particularly unfavorable by women.
Manion shared electoral maps compiled by FiveThirtyEight.com using polling from last week which showed Clinton enjoying a 458-80 electoral college lead if only women voted. If only men voted, Trump would lead 350-188.
“I’ve been speaking broadly about women,” Manion said. “But we don’t speak of the men’s voting bloc, so we also shouldn’t speak of women as a monolithic voting bloc. There’s a lot more. The women in this room, we’re all different.”
She noted that Clinton enjoys a narrower advantage over Trump among married women in current polls than her overwhelming lead among women who have never been married.
Candidates and/or political parties that can find ways to reach women from both groups are going to have an advantage in future elections because women make up a higher percentage of voters than men and a higher percentage of them exercise their voting rights than their male counterparts.
The topic of voter fraud – which has surfaced recently in the presidential race with Trump suggesting the election might be rigged against him – also became part of Thursday night’s discussion during the question-and-answer session.
“There is a strand of conspiratorial thinking among the mass public,” Kimball said. “Whether the moon landing is real not? A whole bunch of different examples we can think of. I think it’s not helpful when prominent elite politicians are stoking this stuff because we know that the public listens to leaders.
“At least on the election side, there are occasional instances of voter fraud, but they’re small and very rare. The people running our elections do a good job under difficult circumstances. That’s sensitive for me. I study elections. I know a lot of election officials locally.”
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