With about one week left until ballots are due, a question is beginning to surface: Does it really matter
Portland State’s political science faculty tackled that question on Wednesday evening in a panel composed of professors Richard Clucas, Phil Keisling, Kim Williams and David Kinsella. An attentive audience of about 25 people gathered in the Urban Center to take part in the discussion, which was broken into local, state, national and international subtopics.
“Does it matter who wins? In Portland, not a great deal,” Clucas said, discussing the implications of the mayoral and city commissioner races. Portland’s unusual form of government leads to a somewhat diminished role for the mayor, with most of his or her power ending up being informal rather than direct, Clucas explained.
On top of that, mayoral candidates Jefferson Smith and Charlie Hales share miles of common ground.
“This is a liberal town,” Clucas noted.
Still, the city council will see a shake-up of fresh faces—three of its five seats are possibly up for grabs. “I do not anticipate profound changes in the city,” Clucas said, but added that both the mayoral and city commissioner candidates have been highly attentive to PSU. On a state level, Keisling discussed the paradoxical nature of this year’s election.
“This is arguably one of the dullest state elections we’ve had in Oregon,” Keisling said, to laughter. “And yet the results could matter incredibly.” This year’s race lacks strongly contested top-tier races, he said.
“Well, the secretary of state race is very close, but that’s really a second-tier race. I would know,”Keisling, who served as Oregon’s secretary of state in the 1990s, said.
Ballot measures are similarly watered-down in terms of contentiousness, he said.
“It’s kind of cats and dogs and dope,” Keisling remarked of this year’s set of statewide measures. But the makeup of the Oregon legislature will greatly influence a host of public policy issues, from education reform to health care, he explained. The red or blue tilt of the legislature comes down to a handful of districts—and that will affect how the legislature will work with the
The presidential race, however, will have far-reaching consequences, Williams, who discussed the national election, said.
“The two candidates have vastly different conceptions of the safety net,” she said. “The two are really neck-and-neck right now. I have no idea who’s going to win.”
Williams outlined the biggest trends she sees shaping this year’s race—the most significant of which is the role of money—explaining that independent groups’ advertisements have dramatically impacted the race. Data mining should also alert voters to the degree of privacy they maintain, she explained. Both parties laser-target a plethora of information about undecided voters, right down to their automobile preferences.
Williams also touched on the possible implications of new voter identification laws and increasing racial polarization. “In this case, it does matter who wins. They have different ideas about what government is supposed to do,” she said.
Broadening the presidential race to the scope of foreign policy, political science Chair Kinsella sounded back to a familiar theme throughout the night: little difference between the candidates.
“During the final presidential debate, I was astonished at how little they disagreed on,” Kinsella said, describing both President Barack Obama’s shift to traditional foreign policy tactics through his presidency and Republican candidate Mitt Romney’s move to the center from his earlier positions during the primary.
“Part of his shift was debate strategy, but many of these similarities on foreign policy are real. Romney recognizes that the American people are not in an interventionist mood right now,” Kinsella said. He did note some differences in focus between the candidates, including Romney’s increased focus on the Middle East just as Obama is beginning to pivot his attention toward Asia. But Kinsella takes the candidates’ promises with a grain of salt.
“Remember how many things Obama said he’ll do differently when he first ran? He changed some areas of foreign policy, but not fully. Romney will probably fall on similar lines with that,” Kinsella said.
The panel addressed audience questions on a variety of issues, from a possible repeal of Obama’s health care plan to the reality of immigration reform, from the lost momentum of the Tea Party to the president’s possible second-term agenda.
“Could each of you give me your predictions?” one student asked.
All four professors agreed Obama would eke out a victory, though things may change, they said.
“I think it will be close enough that we might not know for days after the election,” Keisling said. “I expect long lines, litigation and attorneys. Chaos is a definite possibility.”