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November 1, 2016

Arts Faculty Warn of ‘Broken’ Politics, Anticipate Continued Division After Election

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Four Arts and Sciences faculty members discussed the potential of presidential election aftershocks to shape the future of American politics at a panel discussion Tuesday. They touched on issues of racial anxiety, election technology and behavioral science in anticipating American life after Election Day.

Prof. Jamila Michener, government, addressed race and gender-oriented conflict, emphasizing that the election’s driving forces are rooted in tensions predating America’s formation as a country.

“History in the making is really what’s happening right now, not just because we’re making history, but because we’re living the history that’s already been made in this country,” she said.

Michener called “patriarchal, ethno-racial anxieties” present in the United States today “an explicit driver of American politics.”

“There’s a lot of worry and nervousness among the electorate right now,” she said. “I think a large part of that is explained by concerns over changing ethnic and racial demographics in our country and changing power relations, as far as the role of women and people of color.”

Although Michener said high racial resentment is common across all political factions — and especially among Trump supporters — she added that additional social factors augment anxiety over racial shifts, citing economic precarity and “unprecedented partisan polarization.”

The election result will ultimately depend on “who people think should be in control and who shouldn’t,” according to Michener.

Michener also described the differences in proportions of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump supporters who see inequities in the distribution of power. For example, while 53 percent of Clinton supporters say Caucasians have too much influence on the government, only eight percent of Trump supporters expressed the same sentiment.

“We have to acknowledge and address these various divides,” Michener said. “Unless we reckon with this, I think that our politics will remain broken, and it won’t matter who the president is.”

Prof. Bruce Lewenstein, chair of the department of science and technology studies, discussed the question set forth by Trump’s campaign of whether the presidential election is, or can be, “rigged.”

Although Lewenstein said “we don’t actually have a problem” with voter fraud, he explained that one media theory — agenda setting theory — purports that the news organizations “[do not] tell you what to think, but they tell you what to think about.”

Lewenstein described states’ efforts to target “this nonexistent voter fraud problem” by instituting voter identification laws — several of which have been overturned by courts because of their clear ties to ethnicity, race and social status. As tools of exclusion, Lewenstein said these laws “harken back to some of the worst aspects of our American history,” alluding to themes of historical consistency.

Prof. Sergio Garcia-Rios, government and latina/o studies, stressed the importance of the Latino vote in the upcoming election, saying “Latinos will pick the next president.”

Although Garcia-Rios suggested that Latinos would vote for Clinton, he discouraged the idea that such a Democratic vote would be due to any strategic moves on the part of the Clinton campaign. Rather, he clarified, Latinos are motivated to keep Trump out of the White House.

Citing a poll conducted by Latino Decisions for Latino Victory Project, Garcia-Rios said 36 percent of Latino voters are more enthusiastic about voting in 2016 than they were in 2012, compared to 46 percent who were more enthusiastic in 2012. Those who are more enthused today are motivated not out of enthusiasm for Clinton, but due to an pressing need to halt Trump’s bid for the White House, he said.

Garcia-Rios added that Clinton’s actions and platform lack a “DACA moment,” referring to Obama’s 2012 announcement of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.

“It’s mostly because [her] counterpart is doing most of the work [to repel Latino voters],” he said.

According to Prof. Adam Seth Levine, government, relevant behavioral science research demonstrates three lessons to be learned from current campaign rhetoric and past voter behavior.

Levine explained that Trump’s discussion of a “rigged” election may, in fact, be undermining his own campaign. While this “self-undermining rhetoric” increases popular concern about the problems raised, it is also more likely to significantly decrease voter engagement, he said.

Levine also set forth potential strategies to increase voter turnout, recommending that candidates and voting activists leverage the social aspects of voting. Individuals are more likely to cast a vote if they are reminded that whether or not they cast their vote is a matter of public record. Statistics that cast voting as a popular, pro-social activity also increase the likelihood that an individual will vote, Levine said.

Speaking on the future of American democracy, Michener said the current election shows “how profoundly deep anxieties are.”

“It’s not clear how we’re going to be able to be governed together in the same polity, especially with the amount of partisan polarization that we have now,” she said.

Garcia-Rios added that rather than painting a picture of the present or future, the 2016 election has shown “what we have been” in America.

“Whatever the result of the election, we still will have these problems,” he said.

In response to a question about whether the Republican party will “shatter” after Election Day, Ritter said she thought only a dual loss of both the House and Senate could lead to a “significant shake-up” within the party. The more likely result will be considerable reform of the primary candidate selection process.

After the election, the United States will face a significant task in rebuilding its global image, according to Michener. She said the nation will need to get a grip on “who we are internally.”

“The idea that America has fallen from grace in many ways and in the eyes of the world — I always giggle at the fact that this election has ensured that that has happened for many reasons,” she said. “Certainly, we will have to figure out how to make America great again after this.”

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