Election Analysis Classroom Focus

by Howard W. Hewitt

November 4, 2004

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The days and weeks following a presidential election give pundits, academia and the average citizen a chance to evaluate our nation’s political process. It also is a time to take a look at why the nation cast its ballots for the winning candidates.

The process at Wabash College is no different. Students and faculty evaluate the election as any other citizens but also integrate the discussion into lively classroom analysis.

As with any general election there are diverse topics to study and debate.

"It will be interesting to see in the days to come what polling will reveal regarding voter behavior and Bush’s narrow but healthy margin of victory," said Andrew Schlewitz, Visiting Assistant Professor of Political Science. "Some pollsters and pundits are talking about the surprising finding in early exit polls that moral values mattered more than the war on terror.

"What I find surprising is that we should make anything at all of such vague reasons. I hope we get some analysis of the political economy underlying this electoral outcome – the apparently deepening tie between states with extractive, agro-export, and cheap labor economies and the Republican Party. American analysts are so mired in political culture arguments that they ignore economic interests. It’s a curious thing to do in a society that has deified free market capitalism."

Voter turnout was the hot topic prior to the election and Election Day. But the actual turnout didn’t reflect the hype, said Visiting Instructor of Political Science Jack McGuire.

"Despite the predictions of a massive increase in voter turnout, the numbers are in and it simply didn’t happen," McGuire said. The professor looked at formulas matching voter’s ages and eligible voters to discern that the number of younger voters increased, but not as dramatically as some had predicted.

"Other reports are, unfortunately, that the voters most likely to stay home were those in the 18-24 age brackets – the age of most of our students," he explained. "Unfortunately, the specter of a war, deficits, and the like, don’t seem to resonate with younger voters."

Social issues often resonate with younger voters and Visiting Professor of Political Science Scott Himsel’s Constitutional Law class will be debating those issues.

Himsel focused on the 11 states that passed state constitutional amendments banning same sex marriage, civil unions, and in some cases, equal state benefits for same sex couples.

Himsel said the amendments apparently passed as a protest against the recent decision of the Massachusetts Supreme Court requiring gay marriage in that state. Himsel’s class has been examining the backlash that sometimes occurs when activists have sought to use litigation in the courts as means of social change.

"Has the backlash caused activists more harm than good? Or is it the court’s role to speak boldly on behalf of discrete and insular minorities that lack power in the elected branches of government regardless of possible backlash they may suffer," Himsel asks. "Certainly many important minority rights have been established only because of the courts. But how far ahead of the country can the court go without having the ironic effect of harming the very people it intends to benefit?"

Himsel’s November classes will include discussion on a 1970s case where some of the Justices declined to decide important gender equality issues because the nation was then debating the Equal Rights Amendment.

"Will the Court take the same position today on gay rights because states and their citizens are actively debating constitutional provisions regarding those issues?"

Also during November, one of Himsel’s classes will debate the Massachusetts gay marriage decision.

"The take-away question for my students is whether advocates of social change should spend their scarce resources in court or somewhere else in our political system. No doubt many advocates of social change are asking themselves that question in wake of the election."

The issue that dominated the week’s leading up to the election wasn’t the social issues many cited in post-election analysis as much as the war in Iraq.

Schlewitz expects lively discussion in his foreign policy classes.

"I hope to make it an opportunity to think about the extent to which domestic politics and electoral issues shape the conduct of U.S. actions abroad," Schlewitz said. "We’ve been reading about (President Harry) Truman’s decision to intervene in Greece in 1948 and the way he handled the marketing of that intervention is similar to the way Bush mobilized congressional and popular support for the war in Iraq.

"There seems to be so many echoes of the past in the present situation. This class, in fact, will finish with a debate over whether the Vietnam-Iraq analogy is correct."

 


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