Forums held for post-election thoughts and feelings

On Wednesday, Nov. 4, Kristin Dukes, Dean for Institutional Diversity, and the Law and Policy Program hosted post-Election conversations for students and faculty. 

Dukes’ forum was both in-person, in front of the Campus Center, and via Zoom, and was more geared toward providing a space for those who need support during tense times. The forums continue on Thursday, Nov. 4, and Friday, Nov. 6, 12:45 – 1:30 p.m. 

Robert G. Seddig Chair in Political Science and Political Science Professor Brian Harward hosted the Town Hall for the L&P program, and there were about 10 or more attendees, both students and faculty. The participants were split evenly from those in-person in the Quigley Auditorium and on Google Meet.  

The discussion was informal and wide-ranging, and Harward drafted up six to seven main points that led the conversation before opening the forum up for broader conversation. 

First, Harward started with the projection of record turnout for this Election, with the Washington Post citing over 70% of the eligible voting population turning out to the polls, which would be the highest since the year 1900. 

“There was record turnout, just under 67%,” Harward began. “That’s a big deal. Some are saying this is a good day for Democracy. I don’t know if I’d go that far, but it’s worth mentioning that we had record turnout.”

He noted the efforts of the Center for Political Participation for registering students, assisting with mail-in ballots and the all-day ride to the polls.

“Voting went pretty smoothly from all reports that I’ve seen in terms of the voting process itself,” Harward added. “The counting will continue for sometime.” 

Alex Yarkosky, ’21, served as an election judge in Washington County, Pennsylvania. 

“There was a long line when we opened, but after it was just a steady flow,” he said. “472 in-person votes (were) cast yesterday. 55 (votes) for Biden, one for Jo Jorgenson and the rest for Trump … Biden supporters chose to not turn out and vote by mail-in instead.” 

Across the country, as reported by NPR, vote-counting protests are taking place. 

Locally, Erie County United and Crawford County United are two groups that organize communities around crucial political issues. Both groups have hosted protests to “Count Every Vote.” 

To win the presidency, a candidate needs to secure 270 electoral votes. Election officials suggest that mail-in and provisional ballots could be tallied by Friday, and these ballots may favor Democrats because the party made significant efforts to encourage absentee ballots. But thus far, Harward notes that some of the key states for a presidential candidate to win are Joe Biden victories. 

As it stands, Biden has sealed Wisconsin and Michigan, with 86% to 88% reporting. Arizona is being called as a Biden victory and results are pending, favoring Biden for Nevada. 

Harward denotes that the results from other battleground states like Pennsylvania, Georgia and North Carolina would not matter if Biden seals the 270 from the states cited above. 

“Those of you who went to bed last night, you probably woke up this morning feeling differently now,” Harward said. 

Assistant Professor Jon Wiebel was critical of a campaign strategy geared toward securing electoral votes. 

“With the last two national elections, we potentially see a strategy going forward where candidates run a campaign where there is no concern for the popular vote,” Wiebel re-clarified in an email. “This is overly reductive, but given how close races are in the Great Lakes States, the strategy becomes focusing on Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania to get to 270 no matter what the popular vote may be.”

Harward discussed the “Red Mirage and Blue Shift” phenomena, where initial results may appear to be in Incumbent Donald trump’s favor unofficially, but when mail-in ballots are accounted for, Biden picks up the win. 

“Trump’s declaration last night was totally in character,” Harward said, “… but also just kind of divorced from reality. There isn’t any basis for a legal challenge to recounting of ballots… you can’t declare victory before the counting is done.” 

Harward is referring to the Trump campaign filing lawsuits in three states, demanding a recount, as reported by the Associated Press.

Another impression Harward discusses is that there has not been a “Blue Wave” of Democrats securing more seats in the House, and there is no gain for Republicans either. State legislature and Governorships remained true to their party as well.  

“Democrats picked up one net Senate seat, but need to take at least three if they win the Presidency,” Harward notes.  

Currently, Democrats flipped 2 seats, with 1 net gain, and Republicans flipped 1 seat. In the closely watched Maine race, Incumbent Susan Collins (Rep.) declared victory against Democrat Sara Gideon on Wednesday. 

Locally, Incumbent Mike Kelly (Rep.) of PA-16 Congressional District has sealed his victory over first-time candidate Kristy Gnibus. Unofficial results for the PA-6 State Representative race with current English Professor Matt Ferrence vying against Incumbent Brad Roae (Rep.), appear to favor Roae. 

“The political geography is changing,” Harward added, and gave the example that, “Michigan is not a reliable Democratic base anymore.” 

Another important note brought up was how the intersectionality of Latinx voters shaped early analyses. 

“That really got that conversation going, how Cuban-Americans were linking Biden with Socialism differently than other Latino voters,“ Harward said. “Who are Latinx voters, how are they distinctive … How will that matter in places like Florida and Arizona … They have very different political cultures… it’s not a monolith, and I think we see that now.” 

The topic of polling data and reliability had many participants engaged. 

“Kansas and South Carolina didn’t turn out like polls indicated,” Harward said. “For those of us relying on polls and the averages of polls, and feel like we’ve been led astray… I think it’s a little too early to come to that judgment … The outcomes that we are seeing are well within the parameters … We don’t have outcomes to know in what ways they’re systematically wrong.”  

The issues of polling discussed ranged from low participation rates, which has fallen in recent years, to representation of participants polled, to the reliability and usefulness of the data in predicting election results. 

“I’m interested to see how we view polls as political scientists, and how the media is gonna cover them,” a virtual student said. 

“When pollsters ask a sample of a population and they get their response, that sample might not be reflective of the whole population,” Harward said. “… in 2016 they caught the one thing that caused some of the malfunctions this time.” 

That malfunction, as Williams clarified, is people without college degrees, and in particular, Harward said it is white voters without college degrees. 

“We have to raise a question about the fundamental logistics of polling and what has to happen if we can get a reasonable sample size,” Wiebel said.

The conversation noted things like how people’s expectations are getting raised in regards to polling data, and how voters use this polling for predictive value of elections.  

“In terms of the electoral college, a lot of different possibilities were on the table …” 

Assistant Professor Tarah Williams added via email. “What we have seen so far was well within that range, though the polls do seem to have overestimated Biden’s popular vote margin. It is tough moving forward to know what to make of this and to know whether it can be fixed.” 

Sarah Holt, building coordinator for Quigley Hall, brought up the concern of voters who go to the polls on one issue, and namely, the relevant issue of the state mandated shutdown. 

“While ‘we’ are surrounded by a lot of blue voters … the red voters were so upset by the shutdown, that that was their top issue,” Holt said. “‘I don’t want to have another shutdown,’ is this feeling that was underlying that might have surprised people.”

Other faculty and students chimed in.

“I think a lot of people, if they never directly experienced a problem, it’s another person’s problem,” Associate Professor of Political Science Andrew Bloeser said, “… the growth of your 401k and opening up the economy, that was the message that resonated. Look back at 2016, the same sentiment is shared.”  

Bloeser added that exit polls showed Trump supporters did prioritize a reopening of the economy versus Biden supporters who prioritized taking action to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. Bloeser cited a Pew Research study that found the feelings of fear and anger as the main sentiments shared by voters should their opposing candidate be elected.

“What does that say about Trumpism and where we are as a country?” Harward asked.

The conversation turned to consider the loss of Trump and the state of the Republican Party.

“It’ll be interesting to see where the party goes,” a student attendee said. “Less government, more personal freedom, but on issues like marriage equality, it’s gonna be interesting to see how the Republican party transforms itself if Trump loses, but if he wins … will we see even more Trumpism?”

Emma Godel, ’21, mentioned as well the complications of a Democratic presidency with a Republican Senate. 

“Trump right now is the face of the Republican Party, and with tweeting, he has the potential to ruin peoples’ careers,” Godel said.” I’m really curious to see how Republicans will behave now assuming that Biden will be in office.” 

Williams discussed the complication of incoming results.

“The overall results do paint a complicated picture,” Williams stated in an email follow-up. “…In 2012, the Republican’s post mortem after Romney’s loss suggested that the party really needed to take seriously expanding their base … When Trump became the nominee in 2016, that strategy seemed to fly out the window. But last night, Trump did grow the Latino constituency voting for the G.O.P. … If Trump does not win a second term, it will be interesting to see how the party thinks about and reckons with this loss.”

A student described voters who are disillusioned with both candidates as those experiencing “political homelessness.”

“This is a modest loss, but not a rejection of Trumpism,” Harward added, “He’s still got a very strong base around the country.”