Government Department holds post-election discussion, ‘What Just Happened?’

By Kimberly Givant || Editor-in-Chief

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Photo by Kimberly Givant

On Friday, November 11, the Government Department at Franklin & Marshall College held a post-election discussion featuring Professors Stephen Medvic, David Ciuk, Elspeth Wilson, and Jennifer Kibbe.

When the post-election panel was first announced last week, the department was preparing for a very small, brownbag discussion in the Academy Room of Shadek-Fackenthal Library. However, following the unexpected 2016 presidential election results, the event required re-location. The 200-seat Lisa Bonchek Adams Auditorium in Kaufman Hall where the noon panel appeared, overflowed with students, professors, professional staff, and administrators, resulting in frequent moans regarding insufficient amplification.

Though the discussion was always entitled “What Just Happened? Explaining the 2016 Election and Exploring its Consequences” even prior to the election’s results, the reality of an approaching Donald Trump presidency appeared to fuel the room with a restive hunger for clarity. However the responses from F&M’s highly acclaimed political science experts overwhelmingly circled back to one definitive conclusion: “We don’t really know.”

The panel was introduced by F&M president Dr. Dan Porterfield, who over the past few days has been challenged with the task of trying to keep the campus as respectful and un-hateful as possible as colleges around the country erupt with painful division. Though investigations regarding an anti-Semitic drawing in an academic classroom and disrespectful messages towards the LGBTQ+ community on the protest tree at Franklin & Marshall are underway, Porterfield, along with many other discussion participants, repeated the necessity that we continue “to be kind to one another” especially during this polarizing time.

The first on the panel to address the sizable crowd was Professor Stephen Medvic, who only a few weeks ago conducted a Common Hour talk in which he predicted a Hillary Clinton presidential victory. While he jokingly apologized for potentially misleading the student body, the political analyst elucidated what the election’s exit polls can communicate to those who are left baffled by the results.

“I’m afraid to say we know anything anymore,” said Medvic, “But what we know is that partisanship matters.” There are obvious contributing factors that Medvic pointed to which led to a defeated Clinton, including a lower Democrat turnout, lower millennial votes, and lower non-white votes than in the 2012 Obama-Romney race. However, a guaranteed victory for Trump, as indicated by the exit polls, appeared to be sealed by two factors: one, being a belief that the country is on the wrong track and two, a desire for change no matter how largely unspecified and radical that change may be. Medvic admitted that what he found “most amazing” was that Americans were voting for the option of change regardless of its extremity or unpredictability. The fact that he’s not an insider politician brought Donald Trump an immense amount of success in this election.

Professor David Ciuk used his expertise in political research to speculate about why polls were “so off” this time. He did this by detailing three important aspects of the forecasting information by which polling models are constructed. The aspects can be broken down simply as “the things you know,” “the things you know you don’t know,” and “the things you don’t know you don’t know” otherwise known as “correlated errors.”

The first of these aspects include the things the pollsters know they can count on. For example, pollsters construct their models “knowing” that Vermont will go Democrat and Wyoming will go Republican. Voter turnouts in states like Nevada and New Hampshire are factors of the model pollsters know they cannot be certain about. However, the rural voter turnout in this election was a factor that pollsters “didn’t know they didn’t know,” according to Ciuk’s speculation. Ciuk recalled that during the election, when Virginia appeared to be “coming in extremely red,” the political commentator James Carville noted that though Virginia would eventually go blue as the polling results from northern Virginia came in, the mistakes pollsters made not predicting the overwhelming “redness” in Virginia indicates that similar polling mistakes must have been made in North Carolina and Florida as well. These kinds of correlated errors proved fatal to the polls that predicted an overwhelming Clinton victory, according to Ciuk.

Instructor of Government Elspeth Wilson contemplated the future of the Supreme Court under a Trump presidency. Though immediately there may not be much disruption of the status quo, Wilson clearly pointed out that the aging Court could potentially result in a “heavy blow for the left.” Wilson vocalized that more than ever we will need to watch how the branches of government interact, and whether the checks and balances system will lead to a showdown between the office of the president and the Supreme Court. Depending on the “Trump we get in office,” there is the possibility, according to Wilson, that the Court, depending on how they protect themselves as an institution, could undermine the presidency if he were to get too radical.

As the foreign policy expert of the Government Department, Professor Jennifer Kibbe appeared concerned about Trump’s apparent total underestimation of both “the complexity of the international trade system” and the “role of soft power.” She noted that, perhaps to Donald Trump’s dismay, “The U.S. is the country that set up the entire international economic order after World War II for free trade” and that there’s “not a chance in hell” China would ever respond positively to a Trump tariff renegotiation. According to Kibbe, if Trump holds the same kind of grudges he exhibited as a candidate and if the multitude of foreign policy experts that insisted Trump was unfit for the presidency choose to not work for him, the most qualified people may not hold advisory positions on foreign policy. Less qualified and more extreme foreign policy advisors could potentially take the place of the “obvious choices” in a Trump administration. Kibbe concluded, “I would like him [Donald Trump] to take GOV130 [Introduction to International Politics, Foreign Policy; required for all Government majors],” which was met with laughs.

The panel was met with dozens of questions and the majority of the room even stayed past the hour to hear the rest of the discussion. There were questions that ranged from asking about the assault and fraud cases against Trump, to asking about the threat to the American system, to international students asking about their future in the United States and whether the working and students visas could be vulnerable under President Trump.

One impassioned student addressed the room when she was called on: “Those of you who voted for Donald Trump are selfish…I voted for a candidate who didn’t fully represent me, but I thought of other people. I thought about how they would be affected.” She continued, “At least under Hillary Clinton we would know what we could expect” and would know that the basic human treatment of others would be in place instead of having to guess who Donald Trump will represent and which “flip-flop” version of him we will get in office.

When one concerned attendee asked the unsure panel, “What is the silver lining of all of this?”

Another remember of the crowd responded and concluded the discussion by saying, “We are. We are the silver lining.”

Senior Kimberly Givant is the Editor-in-Chief. Her email is kgivant@fandm.edu.

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