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Poli sci professors analyze midterm election results

Schiller, Arenberg address causes of Republicans’ U.S. Senate takeover, national political climate

“You don’t have to be a political science major to be interested in politics,” said Rebecca Mears ’15, head of the Political Science Departmental Undergraduate Group and the host of Wednesday’s lunch discussion about the results of the 2014 midterm elections.

About 60 students gathered in Salomon 003 a day after the elections to hear a recap and analysis of the results from Wendy Schiller, associate professor of political science and public policy, and Richard Arenberg, adjunct lecturer in political science and public policy.

Both speakers emphasized that the Republican Party’s gains in the U.S. Senate were larger than predicted. The GOP gained at least seven seats in the Senate, beating out three incumbents in North Carolina, Arkansas and Colorado to do so. The Republicans also gained at least 14 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives. The party’s gains in the House were a more expected outcome that represents an average gain during a midterm election, Schiller said.

The question that circulated throughout the panel was what caused the Democratic Party to suffer such severe losses, aside from the strong Republican turnout at the polls Tuesday.

The speakers addressed the influence of President Obama and his administration on the outcomes in congressional races. “It’s unavoidable to recognize that the president’s unpopularity is very difficult for candidates to overcome,” Arenberg said. Though Democratic representatives in the House and Senate have aligned their voting records with measures backed by the president 97 to 99 percent of the time, several of the incumbents up for reelection moved away from supporting the president on the campaign trail. This distancing from the executive branch made legislators look indecisive, he added.

Democratic senators did not distance themselves as much from the president as congressmen did, in part because of the leadership role of Majority Leader Harry Reid, who has a reputation for keeping senators aligned with the president, Schiller said.

“People get sick of the president,” she said. Other presidents have historically had low approval ratings midway through their second terms, which has led to gains for the other political party during midterms.

But Schiller suggested that in the wake of this recent election, there is an opportunity for collaboration between the Democrats and Republicans, similar to the cooperation between the Democratic majority in Congress elected in 1986 and the administration of Republican President Ronald Reagan.

But the “poisonous atmosphere of political polarization” has become so strong that the case of 1986 is no longer applicable to the contemporary political climate, Arenberg said.

Following the 1986 elections, the Democratic Senate passed a series of sweeping bills. If the Republicans want to maintain their majority in the Senate for 2016, U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who will become the new majority leader, will have to maneuver his “troops” to garner support for “simple things” like infrastructure, trade and corporate tax reform, Schiller said.

Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-Ohio, and McConnell need to show that they can compromise and deliver on legislative promises if they want to maintain control for the next two years, she added.

The panel also discussed the timeline for collaborating and accomplishing legislative goals.

Republicans need to come out strong in the first three or four months of the new legislative session to stay on top of the election cycle, Arenberg said. This will allow congressmen up for reelection in 2016 to demonstrate recent successes.

The concerned voters who turned out in large numbers to express their disapproval with the current executive and legislative branches are not going to disappear by 2016, Schiller said.

If campaigns are aware of the influence these voters can have in any election year, they need to begin working on crafting their campaign promises and goals soon, she said.

The political party that is able to capitalize on these concerns and successfully garner support will likely win in swing states, including Florida, Schiller added.

“If Latinos can get their turnout up by 5 percent, they will control 2016 elections,” she said.

Arenberg and Schiller also expressed the importance of a higher turnout among young people, who only had a 24 percent turnout rate, Schiller said.

“If you guys can go out there and vote, you can get politicians to represent your generation,” she said, adding that there is a lot of power in millions of people mobilizing and voting in an election year.


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