On Monday, Nov. 2, faculty from a variety of departments led discussions and presented on panels related to the election. Specifically, each event focused on a different perspective on original ways to discuss politics.
“The Racial Turnout Gap: Myths and Mobilization” Carrie Levan, Assistant Professor of Government
“Many political pundits point to the turnout disparities between Voters of Color and White voters. But what role does racism serve as a source of these disparities? What are the potential consequences if these disparities persist? And perhaps, most importantly, what are potential solutions to closing the Racial Turnout Gap in US elections?”
The Racial Turnout Gap relates back to the Voter Rights Act but is also a mechanism of conventional wisdom and stereotypes, amplifying narratives that minority groups vote less because they are disengaged or uninformed. Levan presented on the real reasons for the turnout gap and led a discussion on what managing the Racial Turnout Gap looks like.
First, to counter an explanation based solely on socioeconomic status, Levan cited research suggesting that there are higher rates of lower income among minority racial groups. While socioeconomic status is involved, education does not explain any difference between races.
When group size is larger, the Turnout Gap shrinks, regardless of socioeconomic status. This effect is due to three determinants: rational choice, empowerment theory, and elite mobilization.
With campaign statistics, Levan emphasized that closing the gap matters. She suggested that the best solution is mobilizing voters through personal canvassing with clear instructional information.
The reason politicians do not take advantage of this strategy is their focus on winning elections rather than mobilizing voters. The vicious cycle of campaign audiences and active voters impacts the nuanced yet real Racial Turnout Gap.
“How New Media is Reshaping Electrical Politics” Daniel M. Shea, Ph.D., Chair, Department of Government, Professor of Government
“One of the most significant transformations in contemporary electoral politics has been the rise of affect partisanship — also called negative partisanship. Rather than seeing members of the “other” party as the opposition, we now view them as the enemy, a genuine threat to democracy. One empirical measure of this change has been the evaporation of split-ticket voters. But how has this happened? This pop-up discussion will confront the role of media, particularly social media, in creating echo chambers where we are drawn to narratives that cast the other side as dangerous and menacing. It will also confront the stark implications of this turn.”
In this presentation, Shea summarized the transformation into negative partisanship as a dramatic change in American politics.
“We used to see the other party as the opposition, mistaken on policy issues, but also good Americans, neighbors, friends,” Shea stated.
Seeing the opposing political party as a threat or evil is due to the reemergence of a partisan press. While media companies can benefit from this business model, Shea claims it is bad for democracy.
To combat this divisive view on partisanship, citizens need to consider another side’s perspective, listen with an open mind, and break out from their media echo chamber.
In the past, there weren’t as many media outlets, Shea explained.
“News used to be centrist, it professed the objective. You couldn’t search easily to find an outlet that matched your ideology.”
“Places like Colby and institutions of higher learning have to do the best they can to help people consider other perspectives, and bust out of the bubble.”
“Does Debate Matter?” Hosted by: Aaron Hanlon, Assistant Professor of English, Director of Science, Technology, and Society
“Pollsters typically find that presidential debates don’t have much of an impact on how people vote, but what about the smaller debates and discussions in our day-to-day lives? When we discuss politics with family, friends, on social media, and in the classroom, are we changing people’s minds? If not, what’s the value of political debate?”
This informal discussion centered around preparing for the inevitably controversial political conversations that surround the election. Participants shared anecdotes of successful and frustrating debates in daily situations and brainstormed strategies for productive and polite political debates.
Preparing for conversations is important, everyone in the discussion agreed. Going in intentionally with an open mind and without the purpose of trying to convince another are helpful check points. A student shared that productive conversation isn’t about changing someone’s mind: “that’s not our job.” Analogies and conscientious explanations can help both parties see the other side.
Having an audience can lead to inflated confidence and unnecessary argumentation, rather than connecting to learn. The main takeaway was that a focus on better listening creates more informed arguments.
Hanlon said, “it’s the idea that we should approach arguments with the goals of learning and connecting, not winning.”
“The election of 2020 in a pandemic economy” Michael Donihue and the Economics Department
“The coronavirus pandemic has had an unprecedented impact on the global economy. Faculty from the economics department will share their reflections on the pandemic and some of the accompanying economic issues that face Americans as they head to the polls.”
In this conversation between five economists, reflections and predictions led to a hopeful outlook for the country. Each contributor shared an overall impression of the economic state of the U.S. in the context of both the election and the pandemic.
One focal point was defining what debt and deficit mean to different presidential candidates. Associate Professor of Economics and Associate Chair Samara Gunter claimed, “the carbon pact is a policy tax economists would get behind.”
Donihue explained the ambiguity on the impact of deficits in the current economic climate as spending continues to maintain economic growth in the short term.
While some industries are doing well (Donihue mentioned Amazon as an example), most small businesses and individuals are struggling, and so an effort to preserve small businesses will be important in the long run.
The professors discussed ideas for the economy to recover as economic and social tension exacerbate each other. Donihue closed with a possible scenario of reform measures, constitutional compromise, infrastructure investments, and faith in the country – though he admitted it is not likely.
This Friday, Nov. 6, another election-focused faculty discussion will take place as part of the Historians Reading the News with Friends series of conversations. This Post-Election Edition will be held over live stream so a large number of people can tune in to the informed perspectives of John Turner, Associate Professor of History; Danae Jacobson, Visiting Assistant Professor in History; Arnout H.C. van der Meer, Assistant Professor in History; and Sarah Duff, Assistant Professor of History, on the outcomes of the election.
~ Molly George `23