Professors offer election perspectives

By Gus Bode

Campaigns and presidential platforms mean little to the outcome of the 2008 presidential election, three university professors told students Monday.

In a free-forum discussion in the Saline Room at the Student Center, the professors told an audience of roughly 20 people the election’s outcome would rely on good acting, demographic appeal, the public’s opinion on the incumbent president and party affiliation.

Good actors


Politics became a performance when clothing budgets became a discussion point and candidates began using Teleprompters for speeches, said the Rev. Joseph Brown, professor and director of Black American Studies.

Democratic presidential nominee Sen. Barack Obama is nothing more than a brilliant actor, Brown said.

‘He does something that we don’t normally attribute to acting because we don’t normally understand it,’ Brown said. ‘He has created and written his own part, his own role, his own persona and because of that, there are almost no scenes that people can rip apart.’

Brown said some critics say they do not know Obama’s stance on the issues but have still labeled the senator’s ideas invalid.

He said candidates use gender, race and economic background as tools.

‘If that does not strike me as one of the essential problems of racism in this country, I don’t know what is,’ Brown said.’ ‘If we don’t think those are as important as anything on the political platform, I think we’re deluding ourselves.’

He said Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin’s criticism of Obama’s personal life is the perfect example of a candidate playing a role.


‘She’s acting out a role that is as old as the theater called America,’ Brown said. ‘I have been fascinated to see some of the oldest myths of America acted out on our political stage.’

He said the public is responding to tried and true performances.

Appeal to a demographic

The 2008 election revolves around framing, or how collective actors in social movements persuade others to embrace their version of reality, said Robert Benford, professor of sociology.

‘It’s been a smorgasbord of framing that’s going on all the way through the primaries and now into the homestretch,’ Benford said.

Obama’s ability to make himself a champion of the middle class was a brilliant political move, Benford said.

‘This is very smart in the sense that almost every poll that social scientists have taken in the last 50 years shows that about 85 percent of all Americans identify as being members of the middle class,’ Benford said.

Independents and libertarians prefer McCain, Benford said, because his ‘maverick’ behavior appeals to their distrust of American government.

He said Palin’s goals with the ‘soccer mom’ persona are obvious, but Americans were disappointed by her $150,000 Neiman Marcus wardrobe makeover.

He said he and his colleagues monitor election polls on and

Obama’s popularity in swing states such as Virginia and New Mexico reflects the demographics of those areas, he said.

‘ ‘The states low in white, working-class voters, but high in white college graduates and minorities are leaning toward Obama,’ Benford said.

Political party and the incumbency

Predicting the outcome of an election is simple because 80 percent of voters vote by political party, not candidate credentials, said John Foster, associate professor of political science.

‘It’s like rooting for the Bears or Cubs,’ Foster said.

The other 20 percent, which he called ‘floaters,’ don’t follow the campaigns, polls or news, Foster said.

‘They go pretty much good times, bad times kind of stuff,’ Foster said.

Foster said he follows the election model created by Alan Abramowitz, a political scientist and polling expert. In it, Abramowitz determines the outcome of an upcoming election July 1 during the election year based on three factors:

1)’ ‘ ‘ Gross domestic product growth from April through June in the year of the election.

2)’ ‘ ‘ The incumbent president’s popularity in the first week of July in the election year.

3)’ ‘ ‘ How long the current party has been in power, specifically after eight years.

He said the Abramowitz model had roughly a 1.1 percent average error over the last 15 elections.

‘The average miss on polls the week before the election is 2.5 percent,’ Foster said. ‘Most of what happens after July 1 is irrelevant.’

Abramowitz’s poll puts McCain at 46.7 percent and Obama at 54.3 percent of the two-party vote.

‘That means that all this stuff … may not matter to the 20 percent who decide,’ Foster said.

He said the election is primarily a referendum on the incumbent president.

The vote from the Electoral College only matters if the candidates are within a percentage point of each other, Foster said.

Brandy Oxford can be reached at 536-3311 ext. 255 or [email protected].