Campaigns and Elections: 2012 Edition
The 2012 US election is shaping up to be an exciting moment in American political history. President Barack Obama entered the White House in 2008, promising hope and change, and energized large numbers of the electorate that, historically, had not previously been electorally engaged. Four years later, many Americans feel disillusioned about the economic and political scene and believe that things in the United States are headed in the wrong direction. Many Americans see an economy that is not improving and a social and political world that is deeply divided and full of anger—from the “Tea Party” to the “Occupy Wall Street” movements. While these sentiments are not entirely correct, they are widely believed by many in the media and the populace alike and will have a potent impact of the outcome of the 2012 elections. This course will examine these current sentiments as the backdrop for understanding the 2012 electoral cycle. The course will focus on what political science can tell us about electoral politics, with the electoral process itself being one of the most fundamental aspects of American democracy: allowing citizens to choose their representatives, from local town or county boards to the occupant of the White House. Accordingly, we will examine present and past research on numerous questions relating to elections, such as: Who votes and participates, how, and why? How do income, religion, race, and geographic region play into electoral behavior? What about institutions such as electoral rules, various debates and the Electoral College? What about the role of mass media and the social media platforms? What about the art of persuasion; that is, do campaigns matter, or is it simply about the economy? These are a sampling of the puzzles that we will tackle and, while the course will certainly spend a considerable amount of time looking at the Presidency, we will focus on Congressional and local races, as well.