AADL hosts political journalist Clare Malone

Sunday, October 20, 2019 - 6:13pm

The Ann Arbor District Library hosted a lecture from political journalist Clare Malone on Saturday afternoon.

The Ann Arbor District Library hosted a lecture from political journalist Clare Malone on Saturday afternoon. Buy this photo
File Photo/Daily

The Ann Arbor District Library hosted a lecture from political journalist Clare Malone on Saturday afternoon. 

Malone, a senior political writer for online media platform FiveThirtyEight, discussed the role of gender, class and race in the 2016 presidential election and how those identities may affect the 2020 election. About 80 faculty, students and Ann Arbor residents attended the event.

Malone noted the immense stress that is often associated with discussing politics in our current climate. 

“I know that politics can be an overwhelming topic to talk about these days, so I first of all want to thank all of you for spending your night here talking about this,” Malone said. “I hope I can be of some help unspooling a few of the tangled threads in our political debate.

Malone began her discussion by explaining the concept of electability. Malone said when people discuss a candidate being more “electable,” they are often describing a white man due to the biases that exist in this country. Because of this, Malone said, people think of women, people of color and members of the LGBTQ community who run for office as being not as electable. 

“I’m not trying to deny the reality that more people are probably comfortable with a white man for president, and I’m not even trying to deny the reality that it might be a more sure-bet political move for the Democratic Party to nominate a white man,” Malone said. “That's how we get this echo chamber or self-fulfilling prophecy of electability though.”

Malone said race holds a different meaning in politics than it did before 2008. In discussing this, she spoke of studies showing that voters became more comfortable with having a Black president after Barack Obama’s presidency. Malone also discussed former Vice President Joe Biden and Obama’s relationship, looking at the effect it is having on Biden’s campaign for 2020.

“Biden’s stature as Obama’s vice president is really key,” Malone said. “There’s a sense that if Biden was good enough for Obama on race, then he’s good enough in the eyes of Black voters. Basically, he’s been vetted by a trusted party, and that’s something, again, that the campaign is eager to play up. … And I should say here that Joe Biden is the electability leader in many polls.”

A demographic Biden is really struggling with, though, are young people, Malone said. Malone explained how young people only knew Biden as Obama’s right-hand man but didn’t know much about his former politics until he announced his campaign, which led many young voters to search his background. One piece of legislation younger voters take issue with, Malone said, was Biden's role in the 1994 Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, which emphasized tougher sentences for criminals and allotted vast amounts of money to prisons. 

“Biden has a lot of trouble connecting with younger voters for one thing,” Malone said. “Younger voters who previously only knew Biden as the friendly older man next to Barack Obama are a little perturbed when they see the 1994 crime bill.”

Malone attributed Hillary Clinton’s loss in 2016 to a low voter turnout, noting that voters didn’t seem as enthusiastic to vote for her as they did for Obama. 

“Black voters were a key part of the Obama coalition that stayed home more in 2016, and in states like Michigan, where the margin’s small, there’s been some work that’s been done to show that if Clinton had gotten Obama level turnouts in the areas of, say, Detroit, she could have won the state.”

Malone said female presidential candidates have a harder time gaining traction, citing her experience talking with a group of voters in South Carolina.  

“During that same South Carolina trip, I was talking to a group of older Black women, who were also pleasantly arguing among themselves, as friends do, about which candidate they thought was best,” Malone said. “And the three names that they were throwing around were Biden, Harris and Warren. This older woman, Annet, interrupted the group and said that a woman couldn’t win in 2020. And she said ‘because the men, they’re going to do females just the way they did Hillary. They’re going to cheat her out of the election just like they did with Hillary. They will lie, lie, lie.’”

Rackham student Safiya Merchant said she was interested in this event because of her background as a reporter, and that she learned more about reevaluating one’s bias.

“I liked how she basically addressed that we need to reevaluate stereotypes that we have about why people vote and who they would vote for, and I think that the lecture really broke that down well,” Merchant said. “It showed that we need to ask the second and third or fourth questions about why we do the things we do.”

AADL collections librarian Evelyn Hollenshead said she planned this event for the community because of Ann Arbor’s tendency to be politically involved. 

“I know that Ann Arbor is a very politically engaged town, and I thought that there would be a lot of interest in how race and gender had affected the last election and would affect the upcoming one,” Hollenshead said.