Perspectives on the Presidential Election

The First Monday presentation for Block 7 featured John Sides, associate professor of Political Science at George Washington University and contributor to the Monkey Cage, a political blog. His presentation, focused on current U.S. politics, was titled “How to Understand the Best, Greatest, Biggest, Classiest Presidential Primary of All Time.” Sides wrote, “By drilling into the data, I try to explain Hillary Clinton’s dominance, the Republican Party’s disarray, and Donald Trump’s long tenure at the top of the polls. The results will help illuminate how we choose presidential nominees, and who might next occupy the White House.”

He began with the Democrats. As of now, Hillary Clinton has almost 80 percent of Congress endorsements and a significant lead in delegates over any other Democratic nominee.

Sides said, “Candidates must appeal to a broad spectrum of voters. They must appeal to both white and non-white voters.” This explains why Clinton has done better in states with larger black populations. He also used prediction markets, where people bet on who will be the nominee. These markets show 94 percent of betters believe that Clinton will win.

Sides next examined the Republican Party. Congressional endorsements for candidates came much later than the Democrats’, which is an indicator that the party was not in agreement on who they wanted as their representative.

“Donald Trump is winning for multiple reasons,” Sides said. “The news media legitimizes candidates’ status by singling them out of the large anonymous mass. The media confers status and signals whom to pay attention to. On average, Trump is 50 percent of total news coverage given to all Republican candidates.” Controversy has served Trump well. News coverage shifted to focus on him and in response, voters change their minds.

Finally, he turned to the general elections. On one hand, the economy is doing well, which is a good indicator for the Democrats. However, “third term blues” make it less likely that a Democratic candidate will once again be elected to office.

Hypothetically, it should be a theoretical toss up if a Democrat or Republican will be elected in the general elections. However, in the prediction markets 71 percent think a Democrat will be elected.

Students displayed a variety of reactions to the talk.

Jake Peterson, sophomore, said, “For me, this stressed the importance of political engagement. Trump’s racial slurs, anti-Muslim rhetoric, and blatantly sexist bravado reinforce the need for everyone to have their voices heard and clearly show these kind of comments will not be tolerated, especially coming from a presidential nominee. Donald Trump has -39 percent net favorability. He is the least favorable candidate in the last 25 years. I hope people turn out so he is not elected as our representative domestically or abroad.”

Sophomore Nathan Davis said, “Sides managed to make what is ordinarily a dry subject, primarily polling data, into a presentation which was anything but dull. He spoke energetically and had great comedic timing. People were laughing from start to finish. It made politics seem somewhat more optimistic.”

“I thought the speaker was great. I was surprised with how the students reacted to him,” said junior Abe Mamet. “You realize that inside the Political Science Department and world of politics, people talk and think about things differently than most other departments. Generally, race and gender are treated more bluntly.”

Sophomore Helena Thatcher had more of a critique on Sides’ presentation.

“I found him incredibly interesting and informative,” Thatcher said. “However, I felt he was lacking analysis on Bernie’s campaign. He addressed that Bernie could not catch up to Hillary, but as a Hillary supporter I am still questioning how he was so successful initially. I’d have loved to hear some analysis on those feeling the Bern.”

Whether or not the predicted trends Sides identified will turn into reality remains to be seen. With 27 primaries still to go, presidential nominees are campaigning harder than ever before. Presidential candidates will be announced in July, and the general election will be held on Tuesday, Nov. 8.

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