A day after the midterm elections, the Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs and the Taubman Center for American Politics and Policy co-hosted “The Impact of the Midterm Elections,” a panel featuring University professors from the political science department. The event, part of Watson’s Election Series, highlighted discussion surrounding the future of American democracy with younger voters and the implications of election results.
Wednesday’s panelists included Professor of Political Science Juliet Hooker, Director of the Master of Public Affairs Program and Professor of Political Science Eric Patashnik and Chair of Political Science Wendy Schiller. Susan Moffitt, director of the Taubman Center, moderated the panel.
“Your generation is a fairly immediate-gratification kind of group,” Schiller told the crowd, but “building infrastructure politically takes time.”
Schiller advised progressive voters to view these election results as a success rather than a disappointment. “Say to yourself, if you’re progressive, ‘This was a very strong move forward. We’ve captured an institutional control of government, and what can we do to build on this?’” she said.
Hooker spoke about “racist rhetoric” that she said pervaded the campaign trail and received little repudiation.
“One of my main takeaways from last night is that racist rhetoric won,” Hooker said, mentioning the Tree of Life massacre in Pittsburgh and other violent hate crimes that she believes are inspired by this rhetoric.
“There’s a real issue here with the way in which the U.S. runs its elections,” Hooker said. “The discouragement of voting for partisan gain … is really problematic for the health and the legitimacy of U.S. democracy.”
Patashnik discussed the bipartisan possibilities resulting from Tuesday’s election. Bipartisan dealmaking may occur in must-pass measures, such as those regarding the debt ceiling, but the Democrats’ main power lies in the ability to block G.O.P legislation and protect the Affordable Care Act, he said.
“What Americans want is a government that works,” Schiller said in response to Patashnik’s prior comment noting that the division of Congress would inhibit lawmaking.
Even in races where Democrats did not achieve a resounding victory, Schiller emphasized the Democratic Party’s “incremental progress” in securing nominations of candidates of color such as Florida’s Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum for governor and Georgia’s State Rep. Stacey Abrams for governor. Schiller said that the Democrats’ future rests on how they will build their infrastructure by recruiting more candidates of color in order to best combat the tone of the Trump administration.
“Now in Washington, there will be an institution that can rebut or confront the President,” Schiller said. “The Democrats will have a huge megaphone to combat these kinds of lies that the president tells from time to time and his use of rhetoric.”
Even with Democrats controlling the House, a Republican majority in the Senate and the marked polarization of the nation, Schiller recognizes the very gradual processes toward progress and tolerance.
“If you look at individual states, you can see a lot of social progress in terms of tolerance,” Schiller said. Tolerance is “a hallmark of the democracy,” she added.
In addition to election results, panelists discussed the notably high voter turnout, with Patashnik remarking that the turnout reflects a high level of civic engagements on both sides of the aisle.
Hooker spent time considering the role of the media in the election, arguing that the industry has a responsibility to counter fearmongering tactics.Hooker acknowledged that the fear of being labeled as biased “makes it difficult for there to be independent reporting that can dilute some of the fearmongering,” but emphasized that “fearmongering gets amplified” when there is no effective counter.
The panel then opened up to questions from the audience, which included students and faculty.
One question focused on the future of transgender rights with an increasingly conservative court. In response, Schiller noted the power of social media. “It’s a new arena of contestation,” she said, adding that though it facilitates the spread of white supremacy, it is also a “viable competitor for power” in terms of advocating for transgender rights.
“I appreciated the attention (the panelists) paid to race, class (and) gender equity and trying to go beyond this idea that all Republicans are white men, all Democrats are people who support minorities, because it’s a lot bigger than that,” said Sophia Giglio ’19, who attended the event. The panelists were “clearly trying to inspire some activism and prevent people from feeling discouraged, which feels important,” she added.
William Allen, adjunct lecturer in international and public affairs, attended the event after closely following election results because he “needed someone to connect the dots,” he said.
“There were a lot of really valuable insights today,” Allen said. “It’s not the big wave that many of us had hoped for, but it’s significant progress. The challenge, as Professor Schiller said, is to build on that. I thought that was a really good way of ending.”