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Poli Sci Profs Weigh In On Upcoming Election

For The Heights

Published: Sunday, October 14, 2012

Updated: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 18:01

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Eun Hee Kwon / Heights Staff

The American political landscape and its numerous facets were examined and evaluated Thursday night, as four of Boston College’s political science experts weighed in on the upcoming presidential election at the Decision 2012 panel.

The discussion, presented by the BC Alumni Association, the Political Science department, and the BC Political Science Alumni Network, featured professors Dennis Hale, David Hopkins, Kay Schlozman, and Marc Landy, who each focused on a specific aspect of the election. Moderated by Paula Ebben, WBZ-TV anchor and BC ’89, the panel then opened up the floor to questions from the audience, mostly made up of BC alumni.

Schlozman opened with a brief overview of the changing political environment over the last half-century, beginning with the monumental 1960 election, which was the first “modern election” and the first to receive television coverage.

She specified that four aspects of American politics—party coalitions, nominating procedures, campaign finance, and media influence—have drastically altered the way that we elect our officials. Fewer people are in the “wrong party,” and ideologies are mostly aligned with partisanship, she said, meaning voters are continually drifting further apart.

More issues are subject to partisan disagreement today, as social, foreign policy, immigration, and environmental issues are hotly debated in Washington, whereas previously the economy was the only main point of contention, she added.

Hopkins highlighted the key numbers that recent polls have shown regarding the current election. From the beginning of the race through August, Hopkins said, President Barack Obama held a two-point lead over Mitt Romney, a lead that only widened after the Democratic National Convention. After the candidates’ first debate, however, polls indicated that the race was in a dead heat, and that Romney may even have a slight edge over the incumbent president.

“With the Internet, it’s easy to get drowned in a deluge of information from pollsters,” Hopkins said, but this election has been consistent in providing an aggregate picture of the polls. Websites like pollster.com and realclearpolitics.com, he said, have contributed to the wide availability and comprehensiveness of election polls.

If the election was held tomorrow, Hopkins predicted, based on the polls, that Romney would win the national popular vote, but Obama would win the Electoral College and retain the presidency. The potential for this kind of split, reminiscent of the 2000 presidential election between George W. Bush and Al Gore, will only be affected, Hopkins said, by votes in the nine key battleground states.

Hale’s main focus was how the government’s three major entitlement programs—Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid—are driving the nation’s debt crisis. He pointed out that this year’s election is clearly a “choice election” where voters will have to decide between candidates with “distinctively different big ideas about the way the government should be run … [it is] not just a referendum on the incumbent’s performance.”

Hale put it simply: Obama talks about moving forward on our current path, and Romney wants to forge a new path all together. The Republican problem? Voters are scared by the “great unknown” that represents Romney’s unspecific proposals. The Democrat problem? “The known is scary,” Hale said.

Finally, Landy widened the focus of the discussion to an international level, weighing the candidates’ foreign policy positions. Highlighting the “deep divide between Democrats and Republicans,” Landy spoke of how the president favors “soft power,” meaning promoting positive cooperative activity, cultivating world opinion, refurbishing America’s international image, and only using force as a last resort. Romney, on the other hand, advocates for “hard power,” which includes building up military assets through increased defense spending and solidifying credibility that we will use our force if necessary.

Voters, Landy said, will be stuck with deciding how seriously we take world public opinion and value international institutions.

During the question and answer portion of the event, the panelists discussed issues such as voter fraud and the common “blame game” often invoked by candidates wishing to hold the previous administration responsible for every problem facing the country today.

In light of the first presidential debate the previous week and the vice presidential debate that took place on the night of the panel, the professors emphasized that post-debate media stories are often insubstantial and focus more on the performance rather than the issues, with Hopkins calling media coverage of the debates “theater criticism.”

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