Sue Stricker, a political science professor at Eastern New Mexico University, recently spoke about the current political climate in America and the upcoming presidential election. Stricker holds a master’s and doctorate degree in political science from the University of Iowa.
Q: What do you think are the key differences in the two candidates and the two parties this year, and how are these differences manifested in this election?
A: What both parties are trying to do, of course, is get elected, but they’re really going at it in much different ways in terms of — well, if you look at the conventions, and the tenor of the conventions, the Democrats very specifically chose, because they were looking at the polling data that said that the public wants a positive kind of campaign, so they had a very positive, well-managed, well-manicured convention. And the rhetoric that came out of that was all the positive things — “hope” was a word that was used over and over again, “what we can do for the country from this point on” — very-limited-to-no use of the other opponent’s name … It was, what we can do as a party? On the other hand, the Republicans, there’s is very old-style politics, more confrontational in its style, they used John Kerry’s name a lot. In fact, there’s some analysts saying there are two major themes that are there: Terrorism, because that works well for the Democrats and it works well for the Republicans, and Iraq works well for Democrats as an issue; but John Kerry seems to be working well for both of them.
How they are addressing, in terms of what do they need to do to succeed … get elected: Both of them are solidifying their base. The electorate is split basically 50/50. There’s between five and nine percent that are undecided. Those tend to be moderates, they tend to be independents — independents don’t usually vote. So they not only have to sway them over to their side, but they actually have to get them out to vote, too, which is going to be hard.
Republicans are better at getting their base to the voting booth then the Democrats are. Both of them are already starting their “get out and vote” campaigns in the key battle ground states, New Mexico being one of those.
Of course democrats always hope for good weather, because if its bad weather the democrats melt and don’t come out to vote. Republicans vote if there’s a hurricane going on, it doesn’t matter. Just in trends and looking at history that’s, you know, it’s a goofy thing, but weather actually makes a difference.
Q: Pertaining to the swing voters, the possible five to nine percent that you mentioned, what do you see as the key issues that will determine which way their votes are going to go?
A: We’ve got two months, and two months in politics is an eternity. We’ve got employment figures coming out on Friday. For most people, even if you look at those who are committed to the two bases, the main issue is the economy, after terrorism. Terrorism works for the Republicans. The economy works for the Democrats. If those numbers come out and they’re not good — and all indications are they will not be as good as the Republicans would like them — that’s going to be the driving issue for most people.
People’s pocketbooks haven’t been as full lately. So in most elections, and I think in this one for those middle people, it’s going to be economic kinds of issues, pocket-book issues.
Now, in two months we could have an event, a foreign policy event that will be to the advantage of the Republicans. He is the president, the country tends to rally around the president in times of crisis; so if some event happens in foreign policy, that may swing that way. So, I feel like I’m fudging. . .
Q: You mean a terrorist event?
A: Yeah, like a terrorist event, or just some major foreign policy event; something with Iran, the things that are going on there.
There are satellite pictures that — someone in the administration is saying this is evidence of nuclear weapons, and the people who did the photos and were analyzing said, “no it was not.” If that becomes an issue, then that kind of strength the people see in the president to deal with those kind of things will be to the Republicans’ advantage.
Q: What do you see as the difference between this election and the 2000 election, as far as what the candidates are doing differently?
A: The big difference is the Internet, in terms of process. Howard Dean was phenomenal at bringing in the Internet to play in terms of finances — and, you know, the mother’s milk of politics is money.
In terms of reporting — what’s going on — people getting information: A greater number are getting information from the Internet then they are from the press and from television. That’s a major difference. It puts a whole different kind of spin. What the parties are hoping is the Internet is kind of seen as the inroad to the young vote, to the youth vote. Eighteen to 24 year olds tend not to vote. If they can get those 18 to 24 year olds out — the largest part of the electorate — and get them voting for them, that’s a huge thing.
I think one key difference, a fundamental difference, is the Internet’s interplay in it. It’s still a 50/50 split as it was in 2000. That hasn’t changed, those five to nine [percent] really hasn’t; it’s not a new influx, its not a new group.
Both parties have been trying to get more people registered to vote. Anytime you have an increased number of voters they tend to split between the parties. It doesn’t usually tend to be toward one party or the other. It probably will be a wash for this election, it may actually have an impact on the next election.
The Hispanic vote was huge. It was in the last election and it will be in this election, as a growing part of the electorate, as a growing participating part of the electorate. They tend to be cross-pressured though. They are not a “monolithic” — no group is a monolithic, neither women, Hispanics, African-Americans or Anglos, it doesn’t matter — but as a whole Hispanics are cross pressured because on social issues they tend to be liberal but on foreign policies issues and on social issues like religion they tend to be more conservative. So they are cross-pressured: “Should I go democratic? Should I go republican?” It’s just going to depend on what the big issue of the moment is.
But economics, for a newly assimilated group, tends to be higher.
Q: Which way do you think New Mexico will vote?
A: Oh gosh! (Laughing) It sounds like I’m being coy, but it is just too close to call. It really is, and it’s all going to depend on “get out to vote.”
— Compiled by CNJ staff writer David Irvin