Michael Suguitan / Sun Staff Photographer

Cornell professors expressed relief that the election had come to a close, joining other Americans in a nationwide exhale.

November 8, 2020

After Drawn-Out Election, Professors Reflect on Fraught, Historic Race

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Once news outlets reported that President-elect Joe Biden won Pennsylvania and surpassed the needed 270 electoral college votes, Cornell professors expressed relief that the election had come to a close, joining other Americans in a nationwide exhale. 

But they also reflected as scholars — voicing how the 2020 election and the work that still must follow, will alter the course of the country.  

Friday night, the evening Biden edged closer to victory as Georgia and Pennsylvania flipped blue, Prof. Lawrence Glickman, history, said this election has been unique in many ways. 

This race was highly polarized and had the highest voting turnout since the early 1900s, said Glickman, who studies the political and cultural history of the U.S.

More historically surprising for Glickman, the presidential election did not favor the incumbent, which has only ever happened 10 times — William Howard Taft, Herbert Hoover, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter and George H. W. Bush have been the only one-term presidents in the past century.

“It suggests that a majority of voters wanted a change,” Glickman said. “And a lot of people cared passionately to turn out.” Still, he added that he would not be surprised if Trump continues to contest his loss, saying he was unsure the president would concede before Inauguration Day. 

But Prof. Eduardo Peñalver ’94, Cornell Law School dean, said contesting this election effectively would be highly improbable, given Biden’s margin of victory. 

Unlike in 2000, when a single state separated the winner from the loser, and only by a few hundred votes, in this year’s election, Trump would have to find a way to erase thousands of votes in at least three states,” Peñalver wrote in an email to The Sun. 

Prof. Ifeoma Ajunwa, industrial and labor relations, said Saturday afternoon she was immensely relieved and unsurprised when the results were announced. But she reiterated that this election boiled down to a battle for American ideals — and the election results were only the start to affirming them.  

For Ajunwa, the election posed several central questions: “Are we welcoming immigrants that come and want to contribute? Are we people that support equal opportunity in the workplace? Are we people who want to ensure everyone has good healthcare, such that a bad luck accident or illness doesn’t bankrupt working people?”

But the weight of Biden’s victory stretches beyond domestic concerns. Prof. Eli Friedman, industrial and labor relations, said the president-elect offers more behavioral and political predictability in international relations.

“This election signifies a move away from a US foreign policy that sees the whole world as hostile … and the possibility of moving towards a multilateral approach of working with other countries,” said Friedman, who is the chair of international and comparative labor and studies worker unrest in China.

Walking through the New York City streets, Prof. Mabel Berezin, sociology, said in comparison to other elections she has witnessed, “none have evoked so much joy.” In Ithaca, too, people took to the streets to celebrate, filling the air with cheers and car horns.

Berezin added that this election has started a discussion about the meaning of democracy, which she believed may still be intact.

“This is such an important victory for our electoral system, despite all of its flaws,” Prof. Rosemary Batt ’73, industrial and labor relations, wrote in an email to The Sun. “We need to celebrate that.” 

Batt also said that as more women and people of color assume national leadership, the White House needs to highlight all voices, including people of color, women and younger voters. 

“We need to keep a broad coalition alive to continue registering people to vote,” Batt said, “and put in place processes to make sure that future elections don’t have the problems we have had this time.”