On Friday, October 17, 2008, CSDP and the Brookings Institution held the third of five seminars on this year's election: Issues, Ideology, Gender, and Race in the 2008 Election.
Moderated by LARRY BARTELS, Director, Center for the Study of Democratic Politics, Donald E. Stokes Professor of Public and International Affairs, Princeton University, and THOMAS E. MANN, Senior Fellow, Governance Studies, The Brookings Institution, panelists were: SUNSHINE HILLYGUS, Frederick S. Danziger Associate Professor of Government, Harvard University; DARON SHAW, Associate Professor of Government, University of Texas at Austin; and SHANKAR VEDANTAM, Columnist, Washington Post
Thomas Mann: ...the first two sessions of our seminars have talked about the powerful forces of partisanship, the economy, and the President’s political standing, and leading to a huge advantage for the Democratic Party. This was evident in our last seminar three weeks ago, which was really before the financial meltdown.
But we now know that after the most recent and dramatic economic developments and the four debates, three presidential and once vice presidential, the campaign narrative seems to be reinforcing the election fundamentals rather than diverting from those fundamentals. So a natural question to ask is, could that change in the remaining days of the campaign?...
Larry Bartels: ...We expect the candidates to tell us in their speeches and their ads about their positions on a whole range of issues. We expect voters to listen carefully to what the candidates say and weigh the candidate’s positions in comparison with their own convictions and make a choice of candidates on the basis of their issue position. And then we expect the election to enforce responsiveness by having put the candidate in office who’s closest to the voter’s issue positions, who then implements those policies, and so people get policy outcomes that are close to what they wanted in the way of policies with respect to all the issues that they care about.
That’s mostly not what happens. This progressive ideal that dates back for a century in American politics conflicts with most of what we’ve observed about the way voters actually behave and about the way the political process and the connection between elections and policy actually works....
Daron Shaw: ...Obama has just put together an organization like none we’ve ever seen. And it really is striking for a person who’s not an incumbent and who doesn’t have the backing of an incumbent political party. He’s put this together on his own, and it’s a stunning campaign. And I don’t – as a matter of fact, I think – and we talked a little bit about this last night at dinner, I think that whatever race effect there is, there’s a good chance it will be offset by the ground game and the campaign organization that Obama has put in place.
Sunshine Hillygus: ... most people don’t know about the whole range of issues, that oftentimes those issues do not necessarily align with their party affiliation, and so they begin the campaign with a bit of a dilemma. They might agree with one candidate on one issue, they might agree with the other candidate – affiliate with the other candidate’s party identification, or agree with the other candidate on a different issue. And so the role of the campaign is to determine, of these tensions, which one wins out. And so you have the small business owner who might be a member of the Sierra Club, the pro life Catholic who also wants increased spending on the poor, the union member who owns a gun, and what they have to do is, over the course of the campaign, decide which of their considerations, which of these important considerations are going to win out.
In estimating the size of these kind of torn or cross pressured people, I estimate them about a third of the electorate. And so that very much is a large enough number of people to make a difference.