Campus Spotlight: Political Panel at CalU

From California University of Pennsylvania’s Journal:

2012 Election Outlook:  Race for the White House

Addressing an overflow crowd in Eberly Hall, four political experts predicted that President Barack Obama will win re-election by a razor-thin margin in November.

Political analyst Jon Delano moderates an election analysis forum presented by CalU’s ADP on March 27.

Political analyst Jon Delano served as moderator for the 2012 Election Outlook, which brought a popular panel of political scientists back to Cal U on March 27 for a lively discussion of the race for the White House.

Delano grabbed a legal pad and took notes as he elicited forecasts from panelists Costa Panagopoulos, of Fordham University; Dan Shea, of Allegheny College; William Binning, of Youngstown State University; and Louis Jacobson, a staff writer for Politifact.com.

All have visited Cal U before, and even before the presentation began, University President Angelo Armenti, Jr. invited them to return and dissect the election results.

“We’re coming back in November,” said Delano, the money and politics editor at KDKA-TV. “We’ll talk about whether your predictions turn out to be right or wrong.”

The audience of students, faculty, staff and community members listened intently as Panagopoulos explained a mathematical model that successfully has predicted the result of all but four presidential races since 1948.

Only two variables — the incumbent’s approval rating and the state of the nation’s economy — are needed to forecast the result several months in advance, he said.

“It’s likely to be a close election, decided in the battleground states,” Panagopoulos concluded.

“It’s going to be darned close,” agreed Shea.

Elections are won by persuasion and mobilization, he explained: “You have to convince voters, and then get them to the polls.” But a highly polarized electorate and the rise of “super PACs” with millions to spend on political advertising make the current election less predictable than past races.

The panel agreed that Mitt Romney is likely to be the GOP contender, despite his tepid appeal to conservative voters. “But will disgruntled Republicans hold their nose and vote for Romney, or will they stay home?” Shea asked.

Binning focused his comments on the role of healthcare policy, a polarizing issue for voters. The Supreme Court is scheduled to rule on the Obama administration’s Affordable Health Care Act in June, he noted, “and the decision, either way, will have ramifications for the presidential election.”

“No matter what happens … people will realize that who we elect as president will make a difference in the makeup of the Supreme Court,” he said.

Discussing the role of the Electoral College, Jacobson described this year’s presidential race “not as a national election, but as an election of 50 states and the District of Columbia.”

The outcome will turn on results in about a dozen battleground states, he said, including Ohio and Pennsylvania.

In 2010, Republicans in many of those states gained ground in the governor’s mansion and state legislatures.

“It’s still basically a toss-up, and there’s still a long way to go,” he said.

Noting that none of the current Republican candidates appears willing to step aside, “the GOP convention could be an interesting one to watch.”

The conversation took a lighter turn when Delano asked the panelists, “What does Republican candidate Mitt Romney need if he’s going to win?”

“A heart transplant would take him a long way,” quipped Binning, who suggested that a running mate who seems “less robotic and out of touch” might help Republican voters warm up to the candidate.

In the end, the panelists agreed that both President Obama and his GOP rival must focus on the economy if they hope to win votes.

“And that’s frustrating for all the candidates, because they can’t control it,” Jacobson said.

A lively question-and-answer session touched on topics ranging from energy policy to healthcare, clearly a subject of interest to many audience members.

“America is coming to the realization that the healthcare system is dramatically broken,” Shea said, as heads nodded throughout the room.

The 2012 Election Outlook was presented by the American Democracy Project, a multi-campus initiative focused on higher education’s role in preparing the next generation of informed, engaged citizens. Dr. Melanie Blumberg, a professor in the Department of History and Political Science, advises the ADP and organized the presentation.

Co-sponsors of the event were the Office of the President, the Office of Academic Affairs/Provost, the College of Liberal Arts, the Department of History and Political Science, and Cal Campaign Consultants.

For more information on ADP at CalU, go here.

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