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Speakers Offer Post-Election Political Perspective

November 1, 2018

The College of Social Sciences and Public Policy at FSU has long been a source of expertise on the most important - and often thorny - political, economic, and public policy issues of our day.

In October 2016, the college presented a lecture by its Distinguished Alumnus Susan MacManus, a nationally known political analyst, looking at the upcoming presidential elections of that year and how campaigns differed greatly from those of preceding races.

That same fall also saw the kick-off of Policy Pub, the free public forum series that has proved to be immensely popular with the university and local communities. The first three Pub sessions were all focused on the 2016 election, seeking to make sense of a perplexing presidential race, understanding the factors that influence voter behavior, and examining the implications of the outcome, particularly for health care and women's rights.

In that same tradition, the college once again offers two events that will shed light on the 2018 midterm elections, some of the most anticipated and contentious races across the nation in many years.

The final Policy Pub of the fall 2018 season features FSU Assistant Professor of Political Science Douglas Ahler presenting "Unpacking the 2018 Midterm Elections: What Happened and What’s Next?" After discussing the consistencies and novelties of 2018 vis-à-vis past midterm elections, Ahler will turn to what comes next: What will the relationship be like between the 116th Congress and President Trump? Will government improve, or will gridlock and polarization continue to be the norm? And what, if anything, does 2018 suggest about the upcoming 2020 presidential election?

Ahler's research focuses on such questions as: How do citizens evaluate policy representation? Why are ordinary Democrats and Republicans so polarized despite relatively low political interest? How do Americans conceive of the policy-making process? And, ultimately, how competent is the American electorate, and what are the implications for democracy?

After the brief talk, audiences will have the chance to join the discussion by asking questions and offering their comments in the relaxed, interactive pub atmosphere. The event takes place Tuesday, November 13, 5:30-6:30 p.m., at Backwoods Bistro, 401 E. Tennessee St. (corner of Gadsden) in downtown Tallahassee. It is free and open to all. More information here.

In 2018, Ahler's research on perceptions of political parties was widely featured on national media, including a program produced by Minnesota Public Television. He will speak about that research in his presentation, "The Parties in Our Heads: How Our Biased Political Stereotypes Fuel Polarization," at the FSU Faculty Luncheon Series on Election Day, November 6. Details about that event can be found at this link.

“There’s an open debate as to whether ordinary American citizens are polarized on the issues; what is clear is, regardless of their own feelings on the issues, Americans increasingly face polarized choices,” Ahler said. “The substantive and stylistic gulf between Democratic and Republican candidates has widened considerably over the past decade.”

The result, he said, is voters who are more entrenched in their political choices, even if not in their own policy views, and the number of genuinely undecided voters has diminished.

“So the name of the game for parties and candidates, especially in midterms, is turnout, not persuasion,” Ahler added. “Voter turnout tends to be relatively low in midterm elections, so those who most effectively rally their consistent supporters to the polls are most likely to succeed.”

The evening after Policy Pub, the college's Anderson-Ashby Lecture Series presents Professor Emeritus of Political Science Byron Shafer of the University of Wisconsin-Madison speaking on “Interpreting an Era of Partisan Volatility: The 2018 Elections in Context."

Throughout his career, Shafer has taught and published widely on “big picture’ issues confronting our nation’s political system. These include reform politics, institutional change, policy divisions, structural influences, public opinion, and strategic dilemmas of time. He has written in collaboration with the late William Claggett, Ph.D., who retired from the FSU Department of Political Science in 2015.

The lecture is free and open to the public and takes place Wednesday, November 14, 5:00 p.m., at the Broad Auditorium in the Claude Pepper Center, 636 W. Call St., on the FSU campus. More info here.

"We have a great wealth of expertise in our faculty and our connections beyond campus that enable us to present highly diverse and incisive assessments of where American politics stand in these unique times," said Tim Chapin, dean of the college. "We're always excited to bring these divergent perspectives and insights to FSU students and faculty and to the greater Tallahassee community."