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BU professors share insights on 2020 presidential election, political future

Boston University students and staff gathered for a virtual event Tuesday evening to reflect on last week’s presidential election. JANE AVERY/ DAILY FREE PRESS STAFF

One week after Election Day and a few days after the announcement that President-elect Joe Biden won the 2020 election, Boston University students, faculty and staff gathered virtually to reflect on the election Tuesday night.

The event, entitled “Post-Election Reflections: a Boston University Student-Faculty Forum,” was hosted by the Howard Thurman Center for Common Ground and other offices, and featured six faculty — of political science, journalism and advertising — speaking to around 50 guests.

Virginia Sapiro, a professor of political science, moderated the forum, which started with short speeches from faculty panelists. 

Lauren Mattioli, assistant professor of political science, discussed the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the election. In the short-term, she said, voters’ political behavior was affected by people’s willingness to vote in person due to COVID-19.

“It led many states to pursue something they’d never done before,” Mattioli said. “It prompted them to experiment with vote early or vote-by-mail.”

Mattioli also said these voter methods resulted in “a lot of consequences,” such as extended lengths of time for ballot counting, which led to slower results overall.

Voting, Mattioli said, is “habit-forming,” so the increased voter turn-out this year — resulting from the increased early vote and vote-by-mail options — might lead to an increased voter turnout for future elections.

David Glick, associate professor of political science, said it can be easy to miscalculate polls based on whom pollsters are able to speak with. He also compared 2020’s polls to the 2016 polls, and said each appeared to have “missed” by similar amounts. 

Glick said a good polling analysis should look to collect data from people from diverse backgrounds.

“What percent will be Democrats? What percent will be Republicans?” Glick said. “ What percent will be younger? What percent will be older?”

Tina Martin, associate professor of journalism, said having Kamala Harris as a running mate likely helped Biden win the election, because Harris’ roots in historically Black colleges and universities gave her a large base of voters who might feel a connection to her.

President Donald Trump’s open discrimination toward certain people, Martin added, probably hurt his candidacy. She said Trump never acknowledged the killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, despite mass protests over the summer seeking justice for their deaths.

“There has just been a slew of disrespect to all kinds of people,” Martin said. 

Maxwell Palmer, assistant professor of political science, said Biden is entering his presidency during a tumultuous time, with the economic recession and the continued COVID-19 pandemic.

“This is a complicated and overwhelming effort in the best of times,” Palmer said, “and certainly we are not in the best of times.”

Palmer added the Trump administration’s efforts to prolong the presidential race leave more time for these issues to exacerbate, despite there being just 70 days until the transition of power. 

“Every day, every week that’s lost is a really large share in this very, very short period of time,” Palmer said. “These challenges are enormous, and the longer this election is unresolved or is disputed, the harder challenges get.”

Graham Wilson, professor of political science, discussed the intricacies of the Electoral College and said the popular vote tends to diverge from the electoral vote.

“We continue to have this danger that the Electoral College will deliver a result that is a variance with a fairly clear popular vote,” Wilson said.

He added that this year’s vote showed consistent outcomes between the popular vote and electoral vote, although the numbers in some states were very close.

Wilson said he foresees pushback against the Biden administration from Trump’s followers throughout the next four years.

“We have to pay attention to the intensity of the following that Trump has created for himself and will continue to demand even out of office in the next four years,” Wilson said.

Tobe Berkovitz, an associate professor of advertising, said the constitution “disadvantages” Democrats because the party’s leads come from cities, as opposed to entire states.

A lingering question, he said, is whether future elections will still see the effect of Trump’s alienation of certain demographics.

“Is it going to be all about Trump?” Berkovitz said.

The odds for 2022, Berkovitz added, do not look to be in the Republicans’ favor because they are defending more Senate seats than Democrats are.

Following the speakers, HTC Associate Director Pedro Falci posed questions submitted by attendees throughout the presentations.

In the Q-and-A portion of the event, attendees asked whether voter suppression might be able to explain discrepancies between polling and election results, to which Glick said it is possible, but definitive reasons are unclear at this point. 

Berkovitz said he thinks the country is “rushing to judge the polls too quickly” and should wait for the final vote counts.

Another attendee asked what panelists thought Biden’s biggest task for his first day in office would be, which elicited various responses from speakers. Sapiro said she thinks COVID-19 and the economy will take foremost priority.

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