STA Northern & Southern Division Virtual Fall Meeting
Poli sci professor 'mines Ps’ and takes ‘Qs’ on election
Posted November 19, 2020
By Devin Steele (DSteele@eTextileCommunications.com)
At last week’s Southern Textile Association (STA) Northern & Southern Division Virtual Fall Meeting, Dr. Susan Roberts, an esteemed and often-cited political science professor at Davidson College, assessed the recent U.S. elections.
During an informative presentation and highly engaging Q&A, she offered a rundown of the eight “Ps” that should be examined after this election cycle: Polarization, Pandemic, Population, President Trump, Patchwork quilt (of disparate state voting laws), Polling, Party and Projections.
“Polarization is one of the most important things to look at it down the road,” Roberts said. “There is such partisan antipathy. The Democrats hate the Republicans and the Republicans hate the Democrats. There are deep divides on many values such as diplomacy, stronger environmental restrictions, immigration, stricter gun laws, legalization of same-sex marriage, a government safety net and more. There are also differing views on religion. So it’s not just Democrat vs. Republican – it’s the issues that separate each them. That gives us pause going into 2020 and 2024.”
Also with polarization, she pointed out that the U.S. presential election drew the largest turnout in history, before diving into the reasons voters turned out in record numbers. Among the top reasons, she said: President Trump and the pandemic.
“I put President Trump in a category by himself,” Roberts said. “Sometimes, his rhetoric and his ability to become pugilistic became very disconcerting to many people. He is a norm buster, and he said that when he said, ‘I’m not a politician.’ People were motivated to vote against Trump.”
She added: “The first debate did not serve President Trump well. He made mistakes, and Biden didn’t make that many mistakes. People looked at Trump and said, ‘this isn’t presidential.’ That did more harm to Trump than people anticipated.”
Regarding the coronavirus pandemic, Roberts pointed out that the striking difference between Democrats, who preferred to vote by mail-in ballot, and Republicans, who chose in greater number to cast their vote in person. And the record number of mail-in ballots has led to the protracted process that has left several races, including the presidency, unofficially decided. And the two parties differed on issues they felt were most important, she added.
“Republicans felt the economy was the premier issue, and Democrats thought the pandemic was the premier issue,” she said. “In addition to that, we had concerns between safety and small business. This was borne out across the country. It was exacerbated by people divided into maskers and anti-maskers.”
And, during the Q&A, she noted that there was probably less enthusiasm to vote for Biden than a motivation to vote against Trump.
Also pivotal this year was the “patchwork quilt” consisting of every state governing the election process – early voting, when votes can be tabulated, when people could vote, if IDs are required, etc., she said.
“By and large, the Supreme Court wants to keep voting laws in the hands of the state,” Roberts said. “The average early voting across all states is 19 days. One thing to think about is what voters feared the most. We went into 2020 worried about foreign interference. That was something that was still very clouded from 2016. But when NPR polled people, this is the order they feared, in order: Misinformation, 35%; voter fraud, 25%; voter suppression, 15%; foreign interference, 12%; and fear of being intimidated at polling place, 5%.”
On population, Roberts noted that the U.S. has become increasingly diverse across demographics, with a rising number of minorities and young people entering the electorate, as well as an “urban vs. suburban” divide.
Another factor that played some role in the election was polling, Roberts said.
“There were a lot of people who rejected polls because they weren’t correct in 2016, and they ended up not being correct in 2020,” she said. “If you look at it state by state, the polls weren’t off that much this time around. In the polls of 2016, they undercounted people without a college degrees, and they didn’t estimate the turnout for Trump in those blue states. He overperformed in those areas. This year, we had so many absentee ballots and new registrants that I don’t know how we will end up judging the polling.”
She also touched on projections as they relate to future elections. In the mid-terms in 2022, she predicted that unaffiliated voters will have the most influence. After a “blue wave” in 2018 as Democrats took control in the House, she said she envisions a red wave occurring in two years because of the economy and other issues. “Joe Biden may not be as popular within his own party then. The Republican and Democratic parties both have challenges. Democratic will wrestle with left-wing, progressive ideology, and Republicans will still be wrestling with Donald Trump.”
Regarding party, Roberts pointed out that the tally for the popular vote or the Electoral College vote don’t favor Trump. But she added that what will last beyond the election is that Republicans had a “very good night,” picking up seats in the House that were never anticipated, and Republicans, as of now, maintaining control of the Senate.
“Republicans increased what they call their ‘trifecta,’ ” she said. “A trifecta is when a party holds the state house, a state senate and a governorship. They picked up New Hampshire and Montana. These will be important for 10 years in terms of redistricting purposes.”
Asked during the Q&A that if Biden indeed is inaugurated as president, as it appears, if he would keep the pressure on China, which will help the U.S. industry, she answered, “I wish I could say I knew. I think Biden will have to reconcile some things. I think he probably will put pressure on China, but I don’t know when or how. Another issue that might be on your mind is questions of deregulation. Biden does not have to rely on legislation to deal with regulation, but can use executive orders.”
Roberts ended her presentation, moderated by Cory Bowman of SANS Technical Fibers, by quoting national pundit and pollster Frank Lunz: “We’re at a place now where half of the country will think that POTUS will be illegitimate every four or eight years. That really is unhealthy for the nation.”
STA President Rick Carpenter advised attendees that the association’s next association will take place January 25-29, 2021 with a lunchtime session scheduled each day during its virtual Winter Technical Seminar.