University faculty reflect on role of Latino voters, polarization in election
Wednesday, a panel of four political experts, including LSA Dean Andrew Martin, evaluated the role of Latino voters in the 2016 presidential election and the implications of President-elect Donald Trump’s politics.
The discussion, which was hosted by the Center for Political Studies at the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research, was attended by about 75 political science researchers.
During the event, University alum Yanna Krupnikov, associate professor of political science at Stony Brook University, presented the findings of her research about the political polarization and inconsistency of potential voters. The research was conducted in the days leading up to the election with Timothy Ryan, assistant professor of political science at the University of North Carolina.
They first polled about 300 students at UNC to determine if there was a difference between how voters said they felt about the candidates compared to how they responded to them. Once their political affiliations were determined, Ryan and Krupnikov administered an implicit association test, in which a person’s bias is evaluated through their immediate, visceral response to imagery associated with campaigns or candidates.
“The first survey that we sent out was at the end of September, the second one came in late October, and the last one came just before Election Day,” Krupnikov said It just so happened that the Friday before the second survey was scheduled to be sent out, the video of Donald Trump making lewd comments about women with Billy Bush came out, and the Friday before the third survey was scheduled to be sent out, FBI Director Comey re-opened his investigation into the Clinton e-mails.”
The results of the findings, she said, were not surprising despite the timing of the high-profile events that occurred prior to the administration of the surveys, because they revealed that registered members of each party still felt strong ties to their nominee. However Krupnikov said the most interesting data came from individuals who identified as Independents — in the lead-up to the election, their responses largely shifted away from Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton — which she largely attributed to ongoing attention to Clinton’s use of a private email server. The issue, initially thought settled in July when FBI Director James Comey announced that he would not recommend charges after an FBI investigation of the issue, was reignited in the final days leading up to the election when Comey sent a letter to Congress saying he had discovered more potentially relevant emails. He ultimately decided not to reopen the inquiry.
“Across all lines, for Independents, attitudes towards Clinton became more negative,” Krupnikov said. “There is a general convergence among Republicans and Democrats that they generally dislike the other party’s candidate; however, among Independents there is the greatest shift. But Independents are the hardest group to understand because the question is, why are they Independents?”
Following Krupnikov’s presentation, Mara Ostfeld, a postdoctoral research fellow and lecturer at the University, presented her findings about the important role of Latinos in the 2016 election.
“Latinos are changing the landscape of American party politics,” Ostfeld said. “The number of Latinos in America and in the American electorate has nearly doubled over the past 20 years. Importantly, about three out of every four Latinos identify with the Democratic Party, which is a useful tool to understand how that affects elections.”
However, Ostfeld noted in this election, the predictive tools used to forecast Latino voting trends were imperfect — such as a reliance upon past voting trends to anticipate the voting habits of Latinos this year. In particular, she noted a greater-than-expected Latino turnout for Trump — according to the Pew Research Institute, roughly 29 percent of Latinos voted for Trump, but polls projected percentages of as low as 24 percent.
Following Krupnikov’s and Ostfeld’s presentations, the topic of discussion shifted from analysis of how Trump won the election to the uncertain future of American foreign policy and the judicial makeup of federal courts. Political Science Prof. James Morrow, who specializes in world politics, said he couldn’t answer what the future of U.S. foreign policy under Trump would look like.
“When I am asked about what President Trump will do regarding foreign policy after he takes office, I have a simple answer: I have no idea,” Morrow said.
In his presentation, Morrow said foreign policy is the area in which the office of the president is given the widest discretion, and a new leader could be like “hitting the reset button on foreign policy.”
However, he noted multiple areas where Trump’s campaign promises may prove difficult to enforce. In particular, he focused on the Iran nuclear deal, an agreement to relax international sanctions on Iran in exchange for a scaling down of the country’s nuclear program, and the Paris Climate Agreement, which is an international commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. On the campaign trail, Trump pledged to back out of or modify both, but Morrow noted that these policy agreements would be difficult to leave because of their multinational nature.
In contrast, he said Trump could more easily back out of pending free-trade agreements like the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, a trade deal between the United States and the European Union, and the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a multilateral deal made between the United States and several Asian and South American countries, and instead choose to favor unilateral trade agreements with individual countries. A shift towards trade deals with individual countries was an important cornerstone in his candidacy.
"I pledge to never sign any trade agreement that hurts our workers, or that diminishes our freedom and independence," Trump said according to The Hill "Instead, I will make individual deals with individual countries."
Overall, Morrow said he was concerned about the legions of Republicans, such as former Secretaries of State Condoleezza Rice and Colin Powell, who opposed Trump during the presidential campaign. He argued that without the input and support of Republican foreign policy experts, the future of American international relations could be weakened.
"Going forward, my concern is that the traditional Republican foreign policy brain trust who were Never-Trumpers won't be involved in the coming four years,” Morrow said. “That could prove to be a problem."
Concluding the panel discussion was Martin, whose research centers on the role of the judiciary branch. He emphasized the political implications of the potential multiple nominations to the Supreme Court Trump might have, given the current makeup of the court. Currently, there is one vacancy on the court due to the death of Justice Antonin Scalia in February, but multiple justices are over the age of 80.
“The replacement nominee does not really change the court,” he said, noting the decades of Republican-appointed justices controlling the court. “However, the future (of the Supreme Court) is more uncertain.”
Martin, who co-developed the Martin-Quinn scale, a tool used by judicial analysts to determine the political median justice of the court by giving a score denoting how liberal or conservative a court decision is, said if another vacancy arises during Trump’s tenure, it would have a large impact.
“Actuarially speaking, the odds that the president will have the opportunity to fill another Supreme Court vacancy is pretty high,” Martin said. “And if any other justice leaves, it will be incredibly consequential. That would present President Trump will have opportunity to select court’s median.”