2018 Election Reflection Series: It’s Time for Political Scientists to Come Off of the Sidelines

2018 Election Reflection Series Background

Prior to the 2018 election, APSA’s Diversity and Inclusion Programs Office issued a call for submissions for a new PS Now series entitled 2018 Election Reflections. The views expressed in this series are those of the authors and contributors alone and do not represent the views of the APSA. Read more about the Election Reflection Series below, after the feature essay.

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It’s Time for Political Scientists to Come Off of the Sidelines

By Christina Greer, PhD, Fordham University

The 2018 was a landmark year for the election of diverse candidates from across the country. The 2020 presidential election promises to be an election where we discuss serious questions surrounding the future of our democracy, the historical legacy and lingering effects of white supremacy and patriarchy, the increasing racial and ethnic diversity of Black, Latinx, and Asian groups, as I discuss in my book Black Ethnics, and the ways we cultivate or suppress an electorate based on class and age.

Political Scientists have a moral obligation to share their research beyond what is often an insular research community­­­. It is incumbent upon us to help lead some of these conversations in order to better elevate the discourse for newly interested groups.

Every election season there is quite a bit of “noise”. There are journalists and political pundits making proclamations about what they anticipate will happen in the electorate, how voters will behave in various parts of the country, who to blame when particular candidates don’t win expected seats, or what new patterns have emerged since the last election season. Far too often these individuals do not cite the scholarship behind their declarations. Far too often I am left wondering if these individuals have even read our scholarship, because if they had, some of these conversations and debates would be rendered moot.

There is a need for political science research and scholarship to help inform modern day politics. There is also a real need for political scientists to insert themselves into some of these conversations in order to assist the electorate in better understanding and framing the political world that affects every aspect of their lives.

We as a nation tend to look at the political map only every two years. What comes as a surprise to many are the vast majority of red counties that engulf the blue spots across the country. As someone remarked about Texas, the state is a bowl of cherries with a few blueberries sprinkled in. That essentially sums up each state in the nation. So why are journalists so surprised when a candidate like Beto O’Rourke is not victorious in an incredibly red state against a relatively popular incumbent. It would have been beneficial to have a political science perspective as to why Latino voters in Texas and the Sun Belt did not overwhelming vote Democratically or list immigration as a motivating factor for their vote. As I remind my students, your desired outcome is not always the same as the reality of an electorate or a state in a particular geographic region with a relatively consistent voting electorate. Demographics is not necessarily destiny just yet – meaning, just because the numbers of people of color in America are steadily increasing, those increases do not necessarily translate into Democratic registrants, voters, and tangible wins across the country. The country is still majority white and white men and women have proven to be loyal Republican voters as evidenced by roughly 63% of white men and 53% of white women voting for the Republican candidate in 2016. Latinx groups are just now voting and registering at consistent rates, in that Latinx groups make up 11% of the eligible voting population and voted at that rate nationally. However, there are still wide discrepancies in turnout based on geographic locale. Lastly, Asian American voters are generally ignored by pollsters and candidates alike, considering a brief glance at the major polls cited in national newspapers across the country, Asian Americans are absent from any analyses and are often listed as “Other”.

What would our political discourse look like if journalists regularly read and cited the work of political scientists like of Karthick Ramakrishnan, Janelle Wong, Jane Junn, and Natalie Masuoka (to name just a few) or gone to www.aapidata.com when inquiring about the geographic, generational, ethnic, and ideological diversity of Asian Americans? Conversations pertaining to the elusive “suburban” voter are often framed as a proxy for white voters, more specifically white women. What if analysts had actually read Racial and Ethnic Politics in American Suburbs (Cambridge University Press) by Lorrie Frasure-Yokely? They would better understand the increasingly diverse suburban areas when delving more closely into the changing racial and economic composition of its residents. Frasure-Yokely clearly lays out the how and why behind redistributive policies that accommodate new immigrants and racial/ethnic minorities, redefining how we think systematically about local politics. I often remind journalists that Ferguson is a suburb of St Louis and cities are becoming increasingly whitened not just in population percentages but also in representation (e.g. Philadelphia and Detroit both have white mayors after decades of several Black mayors). It is not acceptable to use the term “urban” if you really want to say Black voters, yet each day you can hear an educated analyst use this term. Due to the geographic diversity of Black voters in and around cities and in states in all regions of the nation, it is incumbent for scholars to be more specific about just who exactly they are speaking of. I wish I could give every journalist a copy of Black Politics in Transition: Immigration, Suburbanization, and Gentrification (Routledge Press) so they could understand the voluntary and involuntary movement of Black and Latinx groups across the nation and how their new locales affect participation and representation. For example, chapters address Black and Latinx populations in Durham, NC, what a sanctuary city in Washington, D.C. really means for its Black and Latinx residents, and how multiracial neighborhoods affect the Black experience.

Black women are the canaries in the mine and the keepers of Democratic Party politics. That is, they often serve as the political conscience of the Democratic party by raising issues and mobilizing their various communities for the highest turnout rates in both local and national elections. Black women know far too well what is at stake in the electoral sphere and often overperform for the Democratic party. Conversely, white women are as Jane Junn wrote hiding in plain sight within the Republican party. Therefore, why are analysts and journalists so surprised that well over fifty percent of white women voted for Cruz in Texas and DeSantis in Florida and a whopping seventy four percent of white women voted for Brian Kemp over Stacey Abrams in Georgia. It is imperative that political scientists insert themselves into conversations surrounding the ill assessed “gender gap”. I am well aware that most academics are treading water at this point in the semester between committees, job talks, teaching, grading, and so much more. However, there are several outlets that need to hear our voices, read and interpret versions of our thoroughly researched data and analyses. Obviously The Monkey Cage in the Washington Post has been an invaluable addition to the public discourse, but there are also several local newspapers and publications which have a majority ethnic readership that want short op-eds and articles written by scholars, not just journalists. I would suggest emailing the opinion editor of your local paper and pitching a short two-sentence op-ed idea. These short pieces are usually no longer than 500-750 words. As political scientists, we often have a unique take on the politics of a story. Therefore, there are ways we can incorporate our expertise and understanding of data and past practices to either further explain a political phenomenon or set the record straight.

By interpreting our research for a larger audience, we not only contribute to and provide guided direction and analysis of complex concepts, we also assist in the framing of some of these conversations for interested but possibly ill-informed groups. In doing so, we also increase our ability to articulate concepts outside of the classroom which inevitably translates into a more nuanced understanding of how to communicate with our students as well, many of whom are thinking about politics and elections for the very first time.

 

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About the 2018 Election Reflection Series

The call asked submitters to respond to one or two of the following questions:

  1. Tell us about an original research project, article, or finding that you are working on, which sheds light upon political behavior and/or public opinion and the 2018 Campaign and Election.
  2. Tell us about how you have incorporated themes relevant to diversity, inclusion, equity, or representation and the 2018 campaign and election into your political science teaching, research and/or service? 
  3. What group(s) of the electorate does your research focus on and what policy issue(s) proved to be salient to them in the 2018 Campaigns and Elections? 
  4. What role can/does political science research play in helping to make sense of the 2018 Campaigns and Elections?

 All submissions were welcome. We were especially interested in featuring content that addressed the political behavior and opinion of individuals from the following groups: underrepresented racial and ethnic groups, women, individuals with disabilities, first generation Americans, Indigenous communities, and the LGBT community. All submissions were reviewed by APSA staff political scientists.

What resulted is a series, covering a diverse collection of political science topics ranging across such sub-fields as public opinion, political behavior, political parties, race, ethnicity and politics, gender and politics, Indigenous Politics, teaching and learning political science and classroom discussion strategies, and the complex intersectionalities contained therein. Additionally, a variety of research methodologies are brought to bear to address and shed light upon these topics and research questions.

We understand that this series is but a snapshot of the political science scholarship being done on the 2018 Campaign and Election. However, it is our hope that these pieces will contribute to election-related scholarship, critical thought, and informed discussion in the weeks and months to come. To that end, we invite your comments. You can find more information and the complete series at 2018 Election Reflections.

Kimberly A. Mealy, PhD
Senior Director of Diversity and Inclusion Programs
American Political Science Association

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