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November 1, 2004
History Center panel examines Election '04
BY Michael Terrazas
One short week before what looks to be one of the most hotly contested elections in recent American history, Emory lent two of its renowned political voices to a panel discussion on “Presidential Elections in an Age of Uncertain-ty,” Oct. 26 at the Atlanta History Center.
Alan Abramowitz, Alben W. Barkley Professor of Political Science, and Merle Black, Asa G. Candler Professor of Politics and Government—both widely quoted experts on elections and politics—joined Harvard University’s Thomas Patterson (Bradlee Professor of Government and the Press) for a discussion moderated by CNN anchor Carol Costello, host of “CNN Daybreak.” The event was cosponsored by Emory’s Center for the Study of Public Scholarship and the Institute for Comparative and International Studies.
Each panelist delivered a 10-minute address before the floor was opened for questions from the 100 or so in attendance. All three men agreed that the 2004 election could see the highest voter participation rate in decades, perhaps rising into the 60 percent range of eligible voters casting ballots. Certainly fueling that interest is a presidential race—indeed, a state of partisan politics in general—that is bitterly divisive.
“I can’t recall any time in history when the division of the political parties in the electorate was so clear,” Black said. With both houses of Congress narrowly divided between Republicans and Democrats, he added, each party has hopes of winning control. “There’s little incentive to compromise when you think you’re one election away from a majority.”
Abramowitz predicted two keys to the election: the decisions of swing voters (“Historically,” he said, “the late-breaking undecided vote goes to the challenger.”) and the effect of the expected high turnout. Huge numbers of new voters have registered this year, Abramowitz said, and added that this could produce unexpectedly large coattail effects as new voters vote the straight party ballot of their chosen candidate.
Patterson partly blamed campaign coverage in the media—and unimpressive leadership from the politicians themselves—for the highly partisan nature of this year’s campaign, saying the country is “close to a new low in the quality of public discourse,” and this suggests a “politics that is out of control.”
Indeed, the heated campaign might have spilled over into the event itself, as a crowd that began as quiet and polite became restless and even hostile during the Q&A session. One audience member was nearly heckled from the microphone when he prefaced his question about changing the Electoral College with a four-minute preamble. Costello also turned vocally defensive in explaining CNN’s campaign coverage.
“If you yell loudly, you can attract an audience,” Patterson said in criticizing the sensationalization of political news coverage, “but that doesn’t mean you have to yell loudly to attract that audience.”
There was no yelling involved, but if the Oct. 26 panel is any indication, there will be quite a few electoral fireworks come Nov. 2.