After election, not much changed

At discussion, profs talk campaigns

By Lily O'Gara
On November 9, 2012

  • The Prince of Darkness, played by Chi Alpha member Bryan Bessette, dressed in a red cape and horns with matching red make-up. Bessette roamed the MUB during busy lunch hours talking to students about religion and spirituality.

Even after billions of dollars were spent on political campaigns and TV ads flooded American households for the past six months, Andy Smith, the director of the UNH Survey Center and associate professor of political science, maintains that not much has changed due to this election.

Even with President Barack Obama's re-election, the country is still pretty divided and, according to Smith, faces the same challenges that existed prior to the election season. Now, there is just more time for policy change.

Dante Scala, another UNH professor of political science, dissected the election results and implications with Smith in a public forum on Thursday night. Scala agreed with his peer to a certain extent.

"In some sense, nothing happened and everything happened," Scala said.

The political expert admitted that there was not the same level of excitement or drama this year as there was surrounding the 2008 election. However, he does believe change occurred.

"It [the election] had enormous implications about the polls and about the country, in a way," Scala said. "I think we reached a tipping point with a lot of things: gay marriage, a gay senator elected in Wisconsin, pro-marijuana legalization."

Scala also believes Obama's re-election solidified the groundbreaking legislation that is ObamaCare. He does not predict that the next president, regardless of political affiliation, will overturn ObamaCare. According to Scala, Obama is set to leave as strong an impression as Lyndon B. Johnson or Franklin Delano Roosevelt did in terms of his social policy.

New Hampshire was a hot spot this election season, as a battleground state and also as an area that politicians frequented.

In terms of the presidential race, Obama's approval rate in the state was 52 percent, despite the fact that the national unemployment rate (7.9 percent) is the highest since Ronald Reagan's presidency. In 1984, the unemployment rate was 7.2 percent.

Though many predicted that Obama would not be re-elected for this reason, Scala said that the Obama campaign succeeded for three reasons.

First, margins in issues that were expected to be strongly Republican were not as strong as predicted. Secondly, the Obama campaign played every angle that they could, and to every demographic. In addition, Obama focused on social, rather than fiscal policy, while the Republicans walked right into the trap and were not on the offensive.

Lastly, statistically speaking, women are moving away from the Republican party, especially at the state level. For example, only one-third of women voters voted for Ovide Lamontagne in the New Hampshire gubernatorial race.

Party loyalty played a part in all elections, as well.

"The truth is, when people vote ... they vote for the 'R' or the 'D' after the name," Smith said.

According to Smith, earlier in our history the American people wanted a European- style party system in which it was clear-cut as to which party was conservative and which was progressive, and citizens voted strictly on this. Now, we have this kind of system, meaning that there is a lot of straight ticket-voting.

The gubernatorial race reflected this party divide, as well. Scala reported that Lamontagne came within a hair of winning a seat in the Senate 2010.

Smith agreed that Lamontagne was too conservative, and was not on the offensive enough to win the race; he had the money to combat Hassan, but he did not choose to do anything useful with it early enough, Smith said. Rather, he let Hassan define him and had to then fight the race based on social issues, which were his weak points. This allowed Hassan to avoid talking about fiscal policy, according to Smith. The Republican party always knew, however, that Lamontagne was going to be a tough sell in New Hampshire.

One thing that the experts both agreed on was that the election came down to the wire, and that the polls are not necessarily a good indication of determining a candidate's success, at any level of government. One year ago, for instance, Mitt Romney was 10 points ahead in the polls.

According to Smith, he said that the biggest problem with election polls is not figuring out whom people will vote for but, rather, who will show up to vote. There are dozens of variables that affect both polling and the actual election results, even just weeks before Election Day.

"Polls are an incredibly volatile measure that we should not let define public opinion," Smith said.

TV stations, pollsters for campaigns, and ad buyers are like the "wizards of Oz," according to Smith. They skew how the public views candidates' success. In the long run, however, the impact of negative advertisements targeting opponents is not very significant, nor does advertising significantly decrease voter turnout. Smith does not see campaign finance reform in the near future.

 "Money has always been in American politics, and it always will be. Campaigns run on the paranoia of being outspent," Smith said.

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