With the presidential election less than two weeks away, faculty members from the Center of Political Studies hosted a panel discussion Thursday about key issues in the 2020 presidential election with less than two weeks until election day. The event was put on by the Center for Political Studies and the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan. 

The topics discussed ranged from changing demographics, to minority voters to the states’ roles in elections.

The panel featured Jenna Bednar, Vince Hutchings and Angela Ocampo. Bednar and Hutchings are research professors at the Center for Political Studies as well as professors in the Department of Political Science. Ocampo is a research fellow at the Center for Political Studies and an assistant professor in the political science department. 

Vince Hutchings, a research professor at the Center for Political Studies and a professor in the Department of Political Science, began the conversation by talking about how the election is shaping up and how the candidates are performing in key demographics polls. Overall, Hutchings noted that Biden is doing better in the polls among key voting blocs. 

“I’m going to focus on how the state of the races at the moment relative to the last couple of elections, with respect to differences in the context of gender, in the context of age and in the context of race. What the theme will be that I’ll keep coming back to is that Biden is doing better,” Hutchings said. 

Hutchings referenced polls showing that Trump is falling behind with women as well as both younger and older voters compared to previous Republicans candidates and in 2016. 

“What’s not often discussed is the fact that really the foundation of the Republican, the modern Republican Party, is the non-Hispanic, white vote, and that population has been declining as a share of the electorate,” Hutchings said. 

Angela Ocampo, a research fellow at the Center for Political Studies, also focused on minority and specifically Latinx voters. Ocampo noted that it is important to recognize the role gender and race play in a person’s voting preference as well as the growth within certain minority groups.

“What’s important here, and what I really want to underscore, is that Latino eligible voters contributed the most to the growth in the electorate, and so Latinos alone accounted for 39% of the overall increase in our country’s eligible voting population,” Ocampo said. 

Ocampo said this increased voting population could influence the election in states such as Nevada, Florida, Arizona and Texas, which have high Latinx populations.

What that means in the 2020 election, Ocampo said, is dependent on how much the candidates are able to get this demographic out to the polls.

“What I want you all to walk away with as well is that the real story is not only just how much the Latino vote has grown and how important it is, but it’s going to be a story about whether or not Biden is really going to be able to mobilize this community,” Ocampo said.

Jenna Bednar, a research professor at the Center for Political Studies and a professor in the Department of Political Science, explained how Proposal 3, a 2018 ballot initiative in Michigan which allowed residents to engage in same-day voter registration, makes it easier for many residents to vote in elections. 

“And I am quite pleased to be able to show you this, which is in the state of Michigan. We had significant upward movement (in voting ease),” Bednar said. “We were ranked 45th in 2016, and now we’re ranked 13th, and thanks to, in large part, to Prop 3. So, it is the very hard work of our Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson to try to make it as easy as possible for everyone to vote.” 

The panel took audience member questions. One question asked how much the polls can be trusted this election. 

Hutchings said in 2016, pollsters miscalculated non-college educated white people and their role in the election’s outcome. 

“It seems unlikely that (pollsters) will be making that same mistake, because they are aware of it now in a way that they were not in 2016,” Hutchings said. “We may make, of course, new mistakes in 2020, but it seems unlikely that the particular problems that unfolded four years ago are going to unfold in 2020.” 

Another question addressed the role of COVID-19 and how it will affect voter turnout. 

Both Bednar and Ocampo emphasized the role that mail-in voting will have, as well as the greater availability to do so in many states.

“I think that people are trying to find ways to vote, in however (way) they feel the most comfortable,” Ocampo said.

Public Policy junior Sarah Niemann is concerned about claims of voter fraud and other issues around mail in voting. 

“I think this election is super key because with the mail-in ballot issue, election night is going to be very different from any other year,” Niemann wrote to the Daily. “If the incumbent doesn’t lose on election night, meaning all the ballots haven’t been counted then there could be claims of voter fraud, a rigged election, and other arguments blaming mail-in voting.”

The future of the electoral college was also brought up. Bednar said the issue was more complicated than many pundits make it seem.

“The objections that we hear most frequently about (the electoral college) are because it’s flipping outcomes from Democratic wins to Republican wins, and so people argue that it’s biased toward Republicans,” Bednar said. “That argument is a little bit harder to support because you can talk about North Dakota and Wyoming and some other reliable Republican-voting states, but if you’re going to pull those out, you also have to talk about Washington, D.C., and Rhode Island and Vermont and some other small Democratic states.” 

Kenneth Kollman, director of the Center for Political Studies and organizer of the event, commented on the increasing interest in elections.

“There’s a lot of interest on campus among faculty, staff, students, people in our community, our alums,” he said. “They’re interested in what people who have specialized knowledge have to say, and we provide, you know, the kind of expertise that you don’t typically see, even on television or, you know, on the internet.”

Daily Contributor Heather Rooney can be reached at herooney@umich.edu

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