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2016 Election Observer: David Campbell

| Thursday, January 21, 2016

Editor’s Note: Throughout the 2016 presidential campaign, The Observer will sit down with Notre Dame experts to break down the election and its importance to students. In this first installment, Managing Editor Jack Rooney asks Political Science Department Chair David Campbell about the upcoming primaries and the biggest issues of the campaign.

Jack Rooney: Iowa caucuses in less than two weeks and New Hampshire votes about a week after that. With voting now imminent and Donald Trump still near the top of most Republican polls, does he actually have a shot at the nomination? 

David Campbell: This, of course, is the $64,000 question. Everything we know—or thought we knew—about presidential nominations has been upended by Trump. Based on past research, it would seem that he does not have a chance—his supporters have a low likelihood of turning out, the party establishment is against him and (it is easy to forget) he is actually not all that conservative. On the other hand, he keeps defying expectations. I would put his chances, however, at no better than 1 in 3.

JR: For the Democrats, Hillary Clinton seems to be the consensus candidate within the party. Is there any way she doesn’t get the nomination?

DC: She is definitely the odds-on favorite. While it is tempting to compare Sanders to Obama in 2008, when Obama was able to beat Clinton in spite of her frontrunner status, there are big differences between them. For one thing, Clinton’s lead in endorsements among the Democratic establishment is much greater this year than in 2008. And Sanders is no Obama. His difficulty attracting support among minorities is a huge problem for him.

JR: The primary debates, especially the Republican debates, seem to have generated more interest and attention this campaign. Based on political science research, though, how much do the debates matter for candidates and voters?

DC: Debates are like pep rallies, as they can fire up supporters. But they rarely change voters’ minds.

JR: Moving beyond the upcoming primaries, in your research and opinion, which issue or issues are set to play the biggest role in the general election?

DC: At home, income inequality and the uneven performance of the economy are sure to be top issues — that is, by many indicators, the economy is booming, and yet wages have stagnated. I am curious to see whether the Democratic nominee decides to make gun control a high priority issue. In the past, they have skirted this, but it has recently become more salient. Abroad, expect to hear a lot of discussion about ISIS and safeguarding Americans from terrorism. Historically, this would make the election like a combination of 2004 — a national security election — and 2008, which was focused more on the domestic economy.

JR: More specific to a college campus like Notre Dame, which issue do you think should matter most to college students this election cycle?

DC: I would pick two. First, the inequality in the current economic system is a pressing issue, as it means that America is losing its traditional middle class. This affects all of us. Second, the environment should continue to be a concern, as it is for many millennials already. While I do not expect the environment to be a top issue in the general election, this does not negate its importance for the rising generation.

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About Jack Rooney

Jack is a 2016 graduate of Notre Dame, and The Observer's former managing editor. He is currently spending a year living and working for the University in Ireland, and writing columns to keep him busy. For more random thoughts and plenty of news links, follow Jack on Twitter @RooneyReports.

Contact Jack