Polls, People, and Politics: Understanding the U.S. Presidential Elections
From April 25 to April 27 2016, The German Marshall Fund of the United States (GMF) hosted a series of events with Colin Woodard, writer, and journalist for the Portland Press Herald and Maine Sunday, and Sewell Chan, international news editor for the New York Times in London focused on the new dynamics and novelties behind the upcoming presidential elections in the United States.
On April 25; Brussels office; moderated by Corinna Horst, deputy director of GMF’s Brussels office
In Horst’s opening remarks, she highlighted how this U.S. presidential race has been unique, fostering passionate debates across both sides of the Atlantic. The speakers started by illustrating that even though the United States is strongly connected with the ideal of freedom, this value has been strongly challenged by the diversity of religion, race, and geographical ideologies within the country. Chan mentioned that the present economic situation marked by an increasing social inequality, high cost of education and healthcare, and the lack of social mobility, has also shaped the political discourse of this election. According to the speakers, the low turnout in the U.S. congressional elections in comparison to the high turnout in the presidential elections has also proven to be problematic, increasing even more the political polarization. Meanwhile, the journalists also exemplified how Trump’s campaign continues to raise a political divide within the Republican Party, and the surprisingly low number of young female voters Hillary Clinton seems to attract.
The discussion bought together representatives from the private sector, the European Commission, and the European Parliament. During the question and answer session that followed, topics such as the elections media coverages, the role of ethnic minority voters, the fight against the so-called Islamic State Group (ISIL), the outcomes of the elections, and the global challenges the elected president will face.
On April 26; Paris office; moderated by Alexandra de Hoop Scheffer, senior transatlantic fellow, and director of GMF’s Paris office
Woodard and Chan underlined the need to understand the great diversity of electorates within the United States in order to comprehend the general trends at the national level. They notably highlighted the historical, geographic, economic, and social drivers of the elections, emphasizing that the United States cannot be considered a homogeneous political unit, but rather a multinational body. They also analyzed the potential implications of the election results for the Democratic and Republican party. The current frustration from a portion of the U.S. electorate was explained as a consequence of a series of crises of confidence. From the questioning of the U.S. military power and role in the world, stemming from 9/11 and the failure of the wars in the Middle East, to the growing feeling of inequality following the economic crises of 2007 and 2009, the 2016 elections take place at the end of a decade-long process that has led to deep divisions within the parties themselves. The speakers also identified the key demographic trends that will influence the results of U.S. elections in the short- and long- term future.
This discussion brought together French journalists, experts, and government officials, who raised several questions, including the inability of experts to anticipate or even, imagine the success of Donald Trump in the Republican primary, the implications of these elections in terms of foreign policy, and trade agreements.
On April 27; Belgrade office; moderated by Ivan Vejvoda, GMF’s senior vice president for Programs.
The Balkan Trust for Democracy (BTD) hosted the final roundtable in an event called, “2016 U.S. Presidential Elections: Beyond the Headlines” at GMF Belgrade office.
Woodard and Chan opened the debate providing complementary views on how the election preferences of U.S. citizens are being shaped. Woodard underlined the influence of U.S. colonial history on political outcomes and choices today, ever since the first U.S. settlers, the dominant issue in the US public discourse has been freedom and its meaning. Matching that, Sewell argued that the socio-economic dimension has the major impact on the voter’s preferences. As he noted, U.S. is still struggling with the effects of the 2007 economic crisis, and what people desire the most is quick and effective fix for their issues. Their stimulating presentations provoked many interesting questions during the debate. Almost 40 representatives from the media, political parties, civil society organizations, and business sector had a chance to inquire about the future of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), implications for international politics, and the future of social-democrats in the U.S. political arena. The topic that drew the most public attention was the place of the Western Balkans in U.S. foreign policy after the elections, on which both panelists agreed that regardless of the election’s outcome, the Balkans can count on further U.S. support to the EU accession process. Despite the recently held early parliamentary and local elections in Serbia, the presidential race in the United States proved to be equally interesting to the local press, as the event attracted noticeable media attention.