newspaper reporters have Emorys Merle Black on speed
up almost any news story that has to do with Southern
politics, and theres a fair chance the Asa G. Candler
Professor of Politics and Government will be quoted. Co-author
of three thick analyses of key political developments
in the South dating back more than a century, Black is
among those University faculty most frequently seen in
print, heard on the radio, and glimpsed on television.
have to be able to explain something fairly complex as
succinctly as possible, Black says. Thats
how I teach, so Im not really doing anything differently.
Talking to a reporter is just another way of teaching,
only Im reaching a broader audience. Plus, I can
learn as much from a reporter as he or she learns from
the U.S. presidential election closing in, Black isnt
the only Emory political expert whose telephone is ringing.
Alan Abramowitz, Alben W. Barkley Professor of Political
Science, also fields frequent calls from media looking
for tips on the political racetrack. Abramowitz is best
known for his presidential election forecasting model,
which, not surprisingly, has been in high demand in recent
publicity boosts Emorys image as well as the facultys,
according to Nancy Seideman, assistant vice president
for public affairs.
an academic star in the political realm means you have
to keep up with daily events, you have to have enough
knowledge to forecast certain outcomes, but most of all,
you have to know your political history cold, says
Seideman. This is an area where substance matters
enormously, and thats why Merle and Alan are tapped
so often. Plus, their availability and their willingness
to express an informed opinion are enormous assets.
first found himself on the receiving end of media calls
some twenty years ago, when then-North Carolina Governor
James Hunt challenged incumbent Senator Jesse Helms for
the U.S. Senate seat in an ugly battle that brought Helms
trademark racial divisiveness to the fore. Black was teaching
at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill at
the time and fast becoming known as a scholar of Southern
my research has to do with the politics of the modern
South, which has changed more than any other part of the
country in its partisan politics in the last decades,
Black says. The South is the largest region, and
when the largest region changes its politics, it has national
consequences. So one of the reasons I do a lot of media
work is that there is a lot of interest in the impact
of the South on national politics.
then, Black has become accustomed to answering the rapid-fire
questions of political reporters on deadline. The calls
come in waves, he says, depending on the days election
news; during a hot political season he might give several
interviews a week or even a day. Last year, he did some
five hundred interviews and media appearances.
it depends on how close a contest appears to be in Southern
states, he says. If the election is not seen
to be close, Im not as busy. Right now, for instance,
Georgia is not perceived to be close, so there is not
a lot of media interest in Georgia.
reporters are looking for very specific information, Black
says: whos winning, whos losing, and why.
He doesnt typically discuss the issues behind the
numbers. Im not really an issues person,
he says. Im more of a horse race person.
too, is looking to pick a winneror rather, to make
a very educated guess. His recent book, Voice of the People:
Elections and Voting in the United States, is an analysis
of the factors that can determine an election, from unemployment
to Ralph Nader.
you take a variety of factorsthe performance of
the economy, the presidents standing in the polls,
and in my case, whether a party has controlled the White
House for a short or longer timeand try to come
up with a statistical model that tells you how those factors
can predict the results of a presidential election,
Abramowitz says. In past years its done pretty
well and I was able to forecast the correct outcome. In
2000, I predicted the right winner [Gore] in the popular
vote, at least.
the upcoming November race, Abramowitz wont make
his official prediction until closer to the election,
but he hinted the contest may be closer than the GOP would
when you have an incumbent president whose party has been
in office only one term, thats a big advantage,
he says. But there are reasons to think the time-for-change
factor may come into play in this case if there is a combination
of poor economic conditions, low job approval, and a very
controversial, unpopular war going on in Iraq. A lot will
depend on his performance in office in the next few months.
also has been answering questions about the increasing
partisan polarization throughout the country. The media
is looking for close competition where often there simply
isnt any, he says. For instance, Abramowitz recently
was questioned about the voter category NASCAR dads
and drew a flurry of attention with his response.
said that it really wasnt a swing voting group,
he says. Even though they were using it like soccer
moms, it really doesnt make sense to think of NASCAR
dads like that. Theyre a Southern, white, male group,
so theyre pretty solidly Republican.
Black, Abramowitz says the calls he gets fluctuate with
the news, but volume is heaviest during the presidential
election cycle. Its always fun, he says.
These are usually really smart people who write
in the media spotlight may be fun for some faculty, but
on a higher level, it benefits Emory as well, Seideman
perform an incredible service to Emory by spending their
time to give their knowledge and research, she says.
I think it shows the wealth of expertise at Emory.
Whenever a faculty member is quoted, its a sign
of excitement that Emory is up on issues and involved
in the world.P.P.P.