By Vanessa Chen || Contributing Writer
This week’s Common Hour featured Government Professor Stephen K. Medvic’s talk titled, “The 2016 Election and the State of American Democracy.” Medvic, who joined F&M College in 2002, has contributed political analyses to multiple media outlets such as NBC Nightly News, the Washington News, and CNN.
To start his talk, Professor Medvic first addressed the issue of political polarization, citing it as the key to understanding the uniqueness of this year’s election. To explain polarization, Medvic introduced a scale that grades politicians’ political leanings based on policy voting records, 0 being moderate, and an increase in number indicating a greater right-wing lean. John C. Kunkel, a Republican member of Congress for Pennsylvania who served in the 60’s, received a grade of 0.129. The average grade for Republicans in Congress today is 0.5. Professor Medvic also displayed a graph which demonstrated that the difference between the Republican and Democratic opinion has doubled since 1979.
Next, Professor Medvic presented six leading forecasts of the election’s outcome. In the past, forecasts tended to give similar predictions, but for this election, three predicted victory for the Republican candidate, and three for the Democrat. Medvic explained that these forecasts only consider factors that are out of the candidate’s control, such as the state of the economy, the current president’s approval rating, how long a party has ruled in the White House, if the party is seeking a third term, and the general level of public dissatisfaction with government. However, Professor Medvic states that “this year is different; the candidates matter.”
Professor Medvic proceeded to compare the two candidates who are “extremely unpopular by historical standards.” Clinton is rated to be more qualified, more caring, more level-headed, and more experienced. Both candidates are tied on leadership skills, with Trump being rated more trustworthy.
Clinton runs a more successful campaign by conventional standards, and she spends more money on the campaign. However, neither are doing very well. Professor Medvic mentioned a poll that showed that 5% of the population in the past disliked both presidential candidates, but for this election, the number jumped to 35%. Professor Medvic said that historically, there are 40 solid states—meaning they always vote for the same party. If the solid states vote the same, Clinton holds a huge advantage. But this year, solid states might vote differently due to the candidates personally. Additionally, voter turnouts are hard to predict. There could be a “wave” election, meaning supporters of third parties can vote for Trump in hopes of change.
Professor Medvic stated that Americans today are more ideologically divided and resentful toward the other party, and this is shown through how both candidates are extremely disliked. There is a negative partisanship, in which partisans remain neutral to their own parties, but have increased resentment toward the other parties.
Medvic pointed out that polarization is not a recent phenomenon, but has happened in the past as well, such as during the Antebellum Period. In fact, there are many countries that are more polarized than America, such as Germany and Japan. However, it is unhealthy to demonize the other party based on personal feelings rather than to critique based on policy. Medvic said, “Democracy for sure needs parties, but they have to be healthy parties…and right now we don’t have healthy parties.” Medvic exposed the American fantasy in which democracy exists without parties, but the paradox of the fantasy is that divided parties are the inevitable result of democracy.
To conclude his talk, Professor Medvic expressed that an ethical partisan stands up for their views, but is aware of their limited perception, and are willing to see the other party’s point of view.
Sophomore Vanessa Chen is a contributing writer. Her email is email@example.com.