‘This election is not the new normal’

Erin Haussman, Staff Writer

For those scratching their heads and wondering if this year’s tumultuous election is the “new normal,” political scientist David Karol had the answers during his Sept 22 talk. Co-author of the book, “The Party Decides: Presidential Nominations Before and After Reform,” Karol addressed the question, “Does the party still decide?” and delved into an analysis of this year’s candidates.

Karol is an associate professor of political science in the University of Maryland’s Department of Government and Politics. He is the author of several scholarly articles and publications, including the book, “Party Position Change in American Politics: Coalition Management.”

The lecture was sponsored by the Bucknell Institute for Public Policy (BIPP) and Department of Political Science and took place in the Elaine Langone Center (ELC) Forum. The event was attended by a small group of students, community members, and faculty. The size of the group lent itself well to conversation and fostered a productive and informative Q&A session at the end of the talk.

Opening up his speech with a message to new voters in the room: Karol said, “For those who this is their first election, it doesn’t usually go this way.”

Karol emphasized that though there are predictive trends in recent elections, the uniqueness of this one does not indicate it is the “new normal.”

In terms of analyzing the current election as it stands, Karol believes that although third-party candidates Jill Stein and Gary Johnson are attracting media buzz and notoriety, it is unlikely they will be the victors come November. Karol affirmed (unsurprisingly) that one of the two major candidates, Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump, will become president. Though this may seem like a given, it is important to recall that the original electorate field began at around two dozen candidates.

Though this election may not be the new norm, our political system is an evolving one. In the current post-reform party system period, the media has had a significant impact on our elections. As has been demonstrated by the current candidates for president, “no press is bad press.”

The media, especially social media, has allowed for the emergence of strong outside contenders for the nation’s highest office.

“No Twitter, Facebook, YouTube … Imagine they still managed to have an election. How did they used do it?!” Karol said.

Seen most notably this year in the #FeelTheBern movement supporting Sen. Bernie Sanders and in Trump’s campaign, social media has allowed non-traditional candidates to become serious contenders. While Karol doesn’t necessarily think outsider candidates are the new standard for elections, it’s safe to say social media will have a lasting impact on which candidates are able to gain footing in a large electorate pool.

“It’s getting much harder for parties to keep control of their nomination processes because of things like social media and online fundraising … people like Ted Cruz or Bernie Sanders could have easily been suppressed by party leadership a couple of decades ago, whereas they can take their messages to the people much easier now,” Associate Professor of Political Science Chris Ellis said.

After attending Karol’s lecture, Emma Mustion ’20 saw the link between Trump’s popularity and the idea that “no press is bad press.”

“Previously, it’s hard to imagine how such a polarizing, inexperienced character could get a major party nomination but after realizing it is easier for well-known individuals to gain popularity than experienced obscure politicians, Trump’s success is a lot more clear,” Mustion said.

In explaining the typical nominating process of prior elections, Karol explained that an “invisible primary” process occurs within parties, where “a candidate will emerge and the party will rally around that person as their nominee … before any voters are involved,” Karol said.

Clinton was the product of the Democrats’ invisible primary in this year’s general election, whereas the divided Republican party could not coalesce around a single candidate, resulting in the split conservative field seen this year.

Karol transitioned into a discussion about Trump by displaying a blown-up portrait of the candidate onscreen. In the context of the Republican Party, Karol states that nominating Trump was “a huge and epic failure on the organization” but he does not think “Trump-style candidates are the wave of the future.”

While Karol didn’t end his talk with an official prediction on 2016’s winner, he did offer a call to action to the Pennsylvania voters in the room, stating that the candidate who wins Pennsylvania will win the general election.

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