A Political Scientist Weighs In: The 2016 Election

Prof. Rich Holtzman gives his insights on the upcoming election


Groneng: How have the behaviors and actions of the major party candidates in this election been abnormal, and how has it affected this election, elections to come, and the overall political landscape in America?

Holtzman: Well, the notion of something being “normal” or “abnormal” is hard to identify because while there are typical strategies and forms of candidate behavior that we expect to see, they change over time. For example, the advent of social media has really changed the candidates’ campaigns and the way they behave. We’re not sure what’s normal when it comes to social media. We’ve seen some very interesting behavior in Donald Trump, in that his use of Twitter seems to be a mouthpiece for himself, as opposed to the campaign. This is “abnormal” because traditionally we’ve seen everything get filtered through the campaign. Typically, all of these professionals get hired to massage the language; to use certain words to speak to certain voters. What we see with Trump and Twitter is that it appears that all of those tweets are coming directly from him. His personalization of the campaign certainly has excited voters in a much more intense way than we’ve seen before. It is abnormal, but perhaps beneficial to Trump because it does feel more real. So I think that’s interesting; it almost represents the de-professionalization of campaigns. Looking at Hillary Clinton, something that appears abnormal about her behavior and campaign is that her approach seems to be to avoid making a deadly mistake. Instead, she plays it safe, states her views, and puts out generally acceptable policy stances, but doesn’t really make an affirmative case as to why she should be president. She’s running on a campaign that says “I’m qualified, I’m confident, and my opponent is neither of those things,” which is rare. She’s essentially avoiding the landmines and running out the clock. In terms of affecting elections, anything that happens in a given election has some impact on future elections, if only because future candidates and campaigns and strategists look at what happened before to see what went wrong.

G: There has been major talk regarding the future of American politics post-election, specifically in regards to the GOP. Do you think the Republican Party is on the verge of change, and if so what kind of change? Will Trump’s candidacy have an effect?

H: Yes. Yes, I think that we can expect significant change in the Republican Party after this election, and yes, I believe Trump is playing a role in that. There are growing splits in both parties, but particularly in the GOP, due to arguments over which direction the party should go and what the party should stand for, as well as massive internal struggles over how they should be defined as a whole. There was this “autopsy” performed by the Republican National Committee after the loss of the 2012 election that made its own argument about what direction the party should go, in terms of making the “big tent” more inclusive, more diverse, and more welcoming to traditionally atypical voters. Unfortunately, their candidate [Trump] has not embraced that kind of message. He is not the only reason these splits exist, but he certainly precipitated much of it through his candidacy and who he blames in the presumption of his loss. I think we’re going to see the talk of a new direction for the GOP exacerbated now more than ever; there are a lot of different reasons that pundits will offer as reasons why the party is the way it is, and the more reasons there are to explain the loss, should it occur, the more infighting we’re going to see. I can’t say exactly what the splits will be, but they will become incredibly clear in preparation for the 2020 election, especially when the GOP chooses a new presidential candidate.

G: Each election cycle, there are candidates representing third parties. This year in particular there is Jill Stein and Gary Johnson, both of whom have garnered an abnormal amount of support. What does this say about the future influence of third parties in American politics?

H: At no time in recent memory have Americans been so disconnected, disappointed, and disaffected with the American political system, particularly in regards to the two main parties. People have had it with politics and politicians as usual, and that includes parties as well. We can talk about Gary Johnson and Jill Stein, saying “Oh, well the third party candidates are really making a move and having an impact,” and if we take a step back we realize that a plurality of Americans are neither Democrats nor Republicans. So if there was ever a time for a third party to truly be a major challenger, it would be this election cycle. However, we haven’t really seen anything like that so far. Additionally, when we look at the rules of the system and how they are currently set up, they are very beneficial to the two major parties in almost every way. So while we find these third party candidates are interesting to talk about, they’re going to have very little, to no, effect in this election. If they do not change the discussion on policy issues, then their impact is extremely limited.

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Christopher Groneng is the former Editor-in-Chief of The Archway, serving during the 2018-2019 Academic Year. He studied Politics & Law. He also served as the Ranking Member of Bryant's Student Government and a commissioner on Ways and Means, as well as a member of the Bryant University Mock Trial Team. His primary work for the paper included overseeing all creative and operative processes of the paper and writing editorial pieces on topics such as politics, pop culture, and men's fashion. Before leading the paper, he served in various roles including as News Editor, Opinion Editor, and Business Editor. He now works in writing and communications in Washington, DC.