Before the presidential campaign even started, we witnessed gridlock on Capitol Hill that, at one point, quite literally shut down the government. During this presidential election season, we’ve watched month after month of political surprises and levels of division that pundits declare unprecedented. Books are written on the battle of ideologies and willingness to compromise is positioned as weakness. One well-known NPR political commentator compared the heightened vitriol to pre-Civil War era dialogue. On this edition of CoastLine, we’re going to explore how these divisions play out locally, whether this is actually a new phenomenon, or whether the drama is replayed each election cycle and we’re plagued by a historical forgetfulness.
- Dr. Aaron King, Assistant Professor of Political Science in the Public and International Affairs Department at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington: http://people.uncw.edu/kinga/index.html
- Richard Poole, Chair of the New Hanover County Democratic Party: http://www.newhanoverdems.org/people/officers
- Michael Franklin, Chair of the New Hanover County Republican Party: http://www.newhanovergop.com/about-us/officers/
Rachel Lewis Hilburn: Before the presidential campaign even started, we witnessed gridlock on Capital Hill that at one point quite literally shut down the government. During this presidential election season, we’ve watched month after month of political surprises, levels of division that pundits declare unprecedented, books are written on the battle of ideologies, and willingness to compromise is positioned as weakness. One well-known NPR political commentator compared the heightened vitriol to pre-Civil War era dialogue. But today, we’re going to explore how these divisions play out locally and at the state-level and whether this is actually a new phenomenon or whether the drama is replayed each election cycle and we’re plagued by a historical forgetfulness.
Aaron King, you teach a class called Cultural War: Political Polarization in the United States. How would you characterize the culture war in the United States?
Aaron King: Well, this is a big debate among scholars about whether this culture war actually exists, and it does depend on what aspect you look at. In terms of polarization in government, in Congress, very polarized. In terms of polarization in government in Raleigh, for example, very polarized. But in terms of the public, the average person in the public is probably not that polarized. The average person doesn’t think about politics all that much. Of course, we all know some of the more ideological, activist people, and those people, I mean, then we can have a debate. But it’s not that it certainly is happening, it’s more a debate about where the source is and who is responsible.
RLH: You’re saying that the politicians themselves have become more polarized but the American public has not.
Aaron King: On average, the American public has not. That’s not to say that there aren’t polarized people within the public, but certainly, in terms of polarization in government, we see more of that than we see with the average voter.
RLH: And why has the government become more polarized?
Aaron King: Well, I think if all of the listeners were to think about the most political, activist person they know—and maybe it’s themselves—they would realize that no one is standing from the rooftops yelling, “I’m a moderate. Please listen to me!” The most activist people who are involved in the process are oftentimes on the ideological wings. So, while sometimes we get upset at politicians for listening to those people, it also becomes easy to understand why they do that when those are the only voices that are out there.
RLH: So what is the culture war? Take those—would you call them ideologues?
Aaron King: Sure. People who are more ideological, who have no interest in compromising. Of course, all of us have our own beliefs, and we think that we’re right. As soon as we think that we’re right, we’re unwilling to compromise. One of the difficult things, whether it’s on the party-level even in the county or politicians have, is that everyone is trying to get something done, and ideologues on either side not being willing to compromise is not conducive to that.
RLH: I want to talk to the party leaders now. What do you see as different in this election cycle and what have you specifically had to grapple with that’s new this year?
Michael Franklin: One thing I see is definitely—and I don’t want to speak for you, Richard—but both parties are having trouble rallying around their candidate. You still have the Forever Trumpers and the Never Trumpers and then you have the Bernie Sanders people and the Hillary Clinton people. Typically, by this point, we’ve consolidated around a candidate. You don’t like to like everything, but that’s your candidate and you’re willing to put that forward. And I think what’s going to be difficult now is seeing how that translates for your down ballot tickets. You’re going to have a lot of people who are not a fan of the presidential candidate for their side, and are they still going to come out and vote for the down ballot races or are they going to stay at home altogether and protest without a vote? I think it’s going to be very interesting to see over the next several weeks.
Richard Poole: The last two presidential elections we’ve had a candidate, Barack Obama, who was articulate, eloquent, really inspirational. I think Hillary is fond of saying she’s a work horse, not a show horse, and she comes with a track record that people can use to attack her—in our view, often unfairly and without foundation—but that’s a big difference.
RLH: You’re talking about someone who is a natural politician versus someone who struggles with the charisma part of the equation.
Richard Poole: Right, I think Hillary Clinton’s strength will be governing. Her strength is not campaigning.
George (caller): There’s a raft of strange occurrences this election has produced. I cast my first vote in 1968. What I find remarkable is that Secretary Clinton is held to a higher standard than her opponent on just about everything, where Donald Trump can basically say anything he wants. It is truly a double standard.
RLH: Michael Franklin, do you think Donald Trump is let off the hook?
Michael Franklin: I think the media doesn’t know what to do with Donald Trump because they’ve never had a candidate speak as openly and freely. I don’t know that he gets off the hook. It’s that they don’t know how to call him to the carpet for what he says. Hillary Clinton is very aware of what she says and how the media is going to portray it. She’s been around so long, they kind of know what her next answer is going to be. She’s, for good or bad, predictable, but so is every other candidate the Republican party’s ever put up before Donald Trump. You just don’t know how he’s going to react even when you call him on the carpet. I think now some news and media outlets are nervous about that.
Richard Poole: There’s a natural tendency of the press to try to treat the candidates as equivalent, but if you look at Hillary Clinton’s actions and Donald Trump’s, with in respect to the foundations, they’re really very different. The Clinton Foundation was responsible really for curbing, in part, the worldwide AIDS epidemic. They played an important role in that. The Clintons have not, for the most part, benefitted from the foundation—certainly not directly. Donald Trump uses his foundation to further this own personal interest, and there’s some question whether he used foundation money to bribe a Florida prosecutor who was getting set to investigate him. So, to say those are equivalent really ignores the facts.
RLH: How do you, Michael Franklin, as a Republican party representative, grapple with— There is definitely the core of the Republican Party—some people might call them establishment Republicans—who have publically disavowed Donald Trump. They’ve said he is not someone who should be in the White House, that that’s a dangerous notion. He’s been called a prevaricator, a pathological liar by people in his own party. How do you negotiate that kind of a chasm within the party?
Michael Franklin: I think you’ll always have that and especially during campaign season. We don’t know what he’ll say if he becomes president, but it’s campaign season. Barack Obama did the same thing when he was running against Hillary Clinton, constantly saying she’s unfit. It’s campaigning: “Let’s sling some mud and hopefully they don’t remember this when I get the party nomination.” But with today’s technological advances and a much more information-aware society, you cannot say something and have it be forgotten. It’s always going to come back and get you. A lot of those comments were said at the beginning of the primary.
RLH: Aaron King, give us some historical context here. Has there ever been a time when we’ve seen the two major political parties sort of hold their noses as they carry forward with presidential campaigns?
Aaron King: I think this particular election is very interesting in that Donald Trump is just not the usual political candidate. I mean, both candidates have unfavorable ratings that are much higher than they’ve been in the past. So, a lot of times campaigns increase how much we like the candidates because we learn more about them. In this situation, we certainly know who Hillary Clinton is, we certainly know who Donald Trump is, there’s not a lot of people that don’t already have an opinion.
RLH: Can you think of another presidential campaign in which a former president—in this case, I think it was George Bush Sr. who said, I have to vote for the other party because this candidate is so distasteful and unrealistic.
Aaron King: I mean, there’s been more extreme candidates in the past—George Wallace or Barry Goldwater might come to mind. It is notable now that you do see a lot of the political elites, especially former presidents, lining up and going against what they would traditionally do. I think that’s different this year.
Carolyn (email): I think this election is the worst in my lifetime (almost 60 years) because the filters that people normally use in polite company have been turned off as being “politically correct.” I don’t know how politeness and consideration for others’ feelings became politically correct. If our children called neighbors, people they didn’t know, or people they didn’t like names that have been used by a presidential candidate, they would be corrected. Now, you can call anyone anything and people clap. If we want to “make America great again,” let’s have a return to manners. Use your vocabulary.
Michael Franklin: I 100% agree with Carolyn. I think it’s gotten a little out of hand. It’s not so civil anymore. It’s mudslinging across the aisle and within the aisle. I’d like to see it get a lot more professional and actually debate the issues, instead of debating the way someone looks or how they dress.
RLH: How do we bring politeness back to the political process?
Michael Franklin: I think it starts everywhere. I think it starts with the voters not accepting it from the candidates. You can’t say, I like it from Hillary, but I hate it from Trump, and vice versa, you can’t say, Well, Trump is great when he does it, but Hillary is horrible when she does. And I think it’s within the party leadership, especially here locally for us, Richard and I. I would never stand for a local candidate under my party to act like that, and I think the national level has to do the exact same thing. As soon as you start holding people truly accountable for their actions and their comments, I think you start to see a swing, but it also has to change in society too. If people are going to constantly allow the mudslinging, it’s going to continue.
RLH: Richard Poole, you say the tone of this campaign is not necessarily new. When have we seen this kind of political divide, this sort of nasty rhetoric before?
Richard Poole: Well, in the history of our country, there have been many, many campaigns that have involved mudslinging and insults. I’ve been reading a book by John Dickerson called Whistlestop. It provides sort of anecdotal history of prior campaigns. He compares Donald Trump to Andrew Jackson, who was a demagogue and committed genocide and was in many respects not an admiral person, but we survived his presidency.
Sam (caller): I just wanted to take it down to the state level a little bit. Governor Pat McCrory has been in the news this past week talking about the Charlotte City Council, and going back and forth there, they’re blaming each other about this mess that we’re in, and it’s costing the state a lot of money when it comes to collegiate sports and professional sports and losing business in that way. I was just wondering about the guests’ take on that and where you see this going.
RLH: Sam is talking about HB2. Governor Pat McCrory recently called on Charlotte City Council to repeal their ordinance and said if the City of Charlotte repeals this ordinance, popularly referred to as the bathroom bill, then the state legislature will take a look at repealing HB2. What is happening there?
Michael Franklin: I think it is seen as a political statement or something that some people can hold onto because McCrory has done a great job with the economy. He’s done a great job with teachers compared to the last several governors we’ve had. So the state is moving in a better direction. I think some people have grabbed hold of [HB2]. Everybody wants to focus on the bathroom portion. That’s not everything HB2 has, but that’s the piece that’s gotten all the news press.
RLH: But you can’t deny the fact that the state has seen an exodus of money—
Michael Franklin: I can’t, but I question the timing of it.
RLH: What do you mean?
Michael Franklin: When that was signed over the summer, NAACP and ACC could have immediately pulled their support or threatened to pull it. Not a single one of them commented on it until it got closer to the election, and both McCrory and Cooper are tied. I question that. Maybe that has nothing to do with it, but to me, it’s a little bit suspicious.
RLH: Richard Poole, what’s going to happen with HB2? Where do we need to see this go as a state? How do we stop the bleeding?
Richard Poole: I think Governor McCrory is looking for an escape route. It’s clear to Republicans that it was a mistake—in practical terms if not in broader, moral terms. It seems clear that he would like to step away from HB2 without annoying his base, the folks that favored it. I don’t know if he’s going to be able to do that, honestly, but I noted that when the County Commission candidates were here on CoastLine, I believe it was just last week, two out of three wanted to distance themselves from HB2.
RLH: There’s a new poll from Public Policy Polling, which is a left-leaning polling organization. However, as Richard Poole has pointed out, they do tend to be fairly accurate. They have said the presidential race in North Carolina is about as tight as it can be, and this poll just came out this morning, less than an hour ago. It’s also becoming increasingly clear who will end up deciding the winner in this state: voters who would like to continue the direction of President Obama’s leadership but who also strongly dislike Hillary Clinton. Donald Trump leads in race in this state, with 43-45% for Hillary Clinton, 6% for Gary Johnson, but when Johnson and undecided voters are asked who they would pick if they had to choose between Clinton and Trump, the contest moves into a tie, at 47%. Aaron King, how are we to interpret this poll, and how accurate are some of these polls?
Aaron King: Of course, it’s difficult to say how accurate each specific poll is, and it just came out today. At the same time, I caution anyone to not read too much into a single poll. Every polling firm is a little bit different. Every poll has to think about: Who are the likely voters that we’re looking at? How do we make this sample that we have as representative as possible? I just read an article in the New York Times yesterday about four different polling firms that were given identical data from the state of Florida, and based on how they answered those two questions, all four of them came to a different conclusion about what their prediction might be for the election. I always encourage anyone to look at the aggregation of polls, websites like Real Clear Politics or FiveThirtyEight, where they will take into account sample size, response rates, people who are answering on cell phones, for example. Also look at the track record of polls overall.
RLH: So talk to us about the voting sectors in North Carolina. Why is North Carolina such a critical swing state? Why is it so important in the presidential campaign? What kind of divide are we seeing played out here?
Aaron King: North Carolina is certainly one of the major battleground states. Of course, it’s not alone. Part of that has to do with the diversity of political opinions in the state, the diversity along a number of different dimensions. Unlike some areas of the country where it’s primarily Republican or primarily Democrat, North Carolina is a really interesting mix of people, whether those be locals, urban, rural, academic, lower education, or people that are moving into the state as well. It’s a very diverse state, and with that comes diverse topics of conversation.
RLH: Trump was just here yesterday in the state and campaigned in Kenansville, population 850 as the Associated Press reported it.
Michael Franklin: Sounds about right.
RLH: Yeah, not Raleigh or Charlotte. Why, Michael Franklin? Why Kenansville?
Michael Franklin: He’s been here. He’s been to the much more urban areas. He’s been to Charlotte, Raleigh, Greensboro. I think he’s just trying to spread his message, and that’s another spot, and there’s a place big enough to hold a 5,000-6,000 person crowd. He wouldn’t go to Wallace, I don’t think. They don’t have something, but Kenansville definitely has the Civic Center. I don’t know if maybe it’s responses from people locally asking Trump to come. Campaigns make that decision, and I know they’ll be all over the state.
RLH: So, Aaron King, is it just a matter of time before this influx that you talked about, that is part of the blue movement here in the state, is that going to increase as time goes on, or is this, as Richard Poole has said, a battle for the soul of North Carolina that will be decided in this presidential election?
Aaron King: I think every election, people will say things like that. At the same time, we have to recognize—and these gentlemen know this too—that political parties have greatly evolved over time. As demographics change, we see the political parties adjust and try to change their strategies accordingly. I do think that, whether it’s this election or the next one after this, both parties have to be introspective and think, “How can we appeal to a broad segment of the population?” That’s something that through the primaries, both parties have struggled with keeping their core supporters together.
RLH: What are the consequences of the kind of polarization that we’re seeing? If people don’t eventually come together, if the parties don’t find ways to appeal to broader bases, where will we end up?
Aaron King: I think you’ll see a lot more of what people are worried about today, whether it be the inability to sit down and talk about things. It’s more difficult for people to compromise, but everyone wants to compromise and our definitions of what that is vary based on what we want to see happen. The Democrats want the Republicans to compromise, and the Republicans say, “If I compromise, then I’m giving up my core principles.” And then of course, the Democrats will say the same thing on the other side. Both sides need to recognize the fact that you’ll never get the other side to completely agree. Once we come to terms with that, then it becomes a little bit easier to have civil dialogue.
RLH: Richard Poole, who do you think does a better job of compromising?
Richard Poole: Well, if you look at our presidential candidates, it’s pretty clear that Hillary Clinton has proved over time that she has the interest and ability to work across the aisle, and I don’t see any evidence whatsoever that Donald Trump would.
RLH: Michael Franklin?
Michael Franklin: I guess time will tell. Let’s put him in office and find out if he can compromise. I get it. Hillary has been in the public eye and has been in politics for forty years now. And that’s just the nature of the candidate we have. We know the team he’s put together and what he says, but candidates always say one thing, and then they get in office, they decide to change their mind or find out that it can’t be done, so it’s going to be interesting who goes into the White House, the State House, and Congress and see if they can all work together, no matter which side it is.
RLH: Aaron King, can you pinpoint that moment in history when things started to polarize this way? People talk about the Reagan era when there was a great deal of compromise and things got done and government seemed to work. Is that true? Is that looking at government through rose-colored glasses? When did this deep divide, this vitriol start to happen?
Aaron King: It is important to look at history. When we’re living in the thrill of a campaign, it’s tough to look back and reflect on things. We’ve sort of seen this ebb and flow over time. I’d point out that in the 1800s, there was quite a bit of conflict in the election and there was a Civil War, so we’re at least not at that stage. At the end of the 1800s, things were very polarized on economic issues and with the progressive movement. During the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, there were issues of race and social issues. You can say the social issues, maybe some foreign policy of Ronald Reagan— I think the 1960s were a turbulent time, and that has resulted in a lot of change, particularly around the South, but there’s not just one way to pinpoint that but rather an accumulation of things.
RLH: There’s a majority in New Hanover County of unaffiliated voters. I know the two of you, Richard Poole and Michael Franklin, are keenly aware of this. Richard Poole, how is the Democratic party addressing this? What are your strategies for capturing those unaffiliated voters? Who do you think they are?
Richard Poole: The way I conceptualize it is, broadly speaking, there are three types of unaffiliated voters. There are the type that choose not to affiliate and they lean Republican. There are the ones who choose not to affiliate and they lean Democratic. And then there are the folks in the middle who are truly undecided. It’s a subset of those 50,000 people who don’t have a party affiliation. I think we try to reach those people with messages from our candidates. We encourage them to listen to the candidates on both sides and think about their answers. That can be kind of challenging for anybody. Not all of the unaffiliated voters are necessarily well-informed, so it is a challenge.
RLH: Michael Franklin?
Michael Franklin: I think he hit the nail on the head. There are the three aspects, but then there’s also the bulk of voters are uninformed, whether it’s uninformed in that they don’t want to go search for the messages of the candidates or they don’t know where to go or they look at the wrong thing. There’s a lot of stuff out there. There’s The Onion, which is all misleading news stories, so if you do get caught up in that—I mean, that’s a bit extreme—
RLH: Yeah, hopefully nobody thinks The Onion is an actual news source.
Michael Franklin: Let’s hope so, but I have seen some people say, “Have you seen—?” And I’m like, “Oh man.” But it’s definitely about getting the information out. I think with social media and the information age as it is now, it’s much easier for candidates, but then it’s also much easier to disseminate the wrong message, so it’s definitely people being cautious with the information they read. Take it in from multiple sources, digest it, and then form an opinion.
RLH: You raise a really important point about the role the media plays in all of this and how that role is changing. We’ll get to that in a second, but first—
Allen (caller): We are not talking about third-party candidates. Your guests were speaking of compromise earlier. There doesn’t have to be compromise. There can be fresh ideas laid forth on the table that are completely different from the two-party echo chamber we’ve been stuck in for hundreds of years.
RLH: Is there a specific policy idea that you have that causes you to say that? What are you talking about?
Allen (caller): I’m talking all across the board. We’ve been stuck in a two-party, this-or-that system. We really need to start pitching forth fresh ideas, fresh candidates, and not the same money, the same echoed voices. We need to broaden our horizons as a country, as a community, as people. The world is not black or white. The world is big and colorful. The more options we have, the freer we are.
RLH: Aaron King, there are other countries that have a different kind of system where multiple parties are represented. Can you speak to that?
Aaron King: Sure, I mean, Allen certainly echoes something that many people have talked about, and it’s a concern that is often brought up, particularly when people don’t like either side. At the same time, there are institutional reasons and the rules that govern our country through the Constitution that help explain why we have a two-party system. The political scientists will talk about Duverge’s law, the idea being that, in our country, where we have a winner-take-all system, single-member districts, it favors the two-party system, as opposed to some other countries that have proportional representation.
RLH: And can you talk about how that works?
Aaron King: Sure. So, for proportional representation, rather than voting for individual candidates, you’d vote for a slate of candidates that are associated with one party or the other. In those circumstances, say that there are 10 seats in the legislature. Well, if one political party gets 60% of the vote, they get 60% of the seats in the legislature. In the United States, under our rules, if you lose by one vote, you lose. It’s a winner-take-all system. As much as there’s a call for that to happen, we have to think about what it would take. At the same time, we’ve seen a good amount of success in North Carolina with the third-party movement. This is not to say that they couldn’t have an impact, but as far as our system goes, two parties.
RLH: You mention that the third-party has had some progress in North Carolina. How is the third-party doing here?
Aaron King: More so nationally, third parties struggle with things like getting onto the ballot or getting onto the debate stage. There was a lot of talk about that with this presidential race. Like I talked about, our system as it is set up is not very conducive to that, partially because of the idea that people don’t want to waste their vote. You might really like Gary Johnson, but you say, “Well, if I vote for Gary Johnson, that’s actually taking a vote away from the next person who has the best chance of winning.” And so, I think people do want to have other options. At the same time, maybe it’s driven by the media, maybe it’s driven by the rhetoric of political pundits, but there is a lot of diversity within each of the two political parties. These are not the ideological parties of places in Europe. There’s not one type of person that’s in each political party. If you sit down and think about how diverse the Republican party is—whether it’s the Tea Party conservatives or the more establishment people—or with the Democrats in the presidential primary and the progressives with Bernie Sanders there, there were multiple choices there, even if, by the time Election Day rolls around, you’re left with two choices.
RLH: Do you think we’ve become too big for a two-party system?
Richard Poole: No, I don’t think we’re too big for a two-party system. However, I do think having third parties benefits our debate. I welcome that. But are we big for a two party system, no. The two-party system provides stability and continuity to our government that a parliamentary form of government lacks. I think very few people in the United States would trade our form of government for what Italy has.
Michael Franklin: I 100% agree. I do not want Italy’s government here. To echo what Richard says, I don’t think we’re too big. I understand the concept of third parties, but if you want to see change, there’s two established parties with mechanisms in place to support their views and, for the most part, they are changing and they are open. So you can do it from within an established party. It’s going to take you time, but it’s going to take you time as a third party candidate too to establish yourself to the level of the Republicans and Democrats.
RLH: So what do you say then, Aaron King, to the people who would have voted for Bernie Sanders but who turn up their nose at Hillary Clinton or those people who voted for John Kasich or Ted Cruz or Marco Rubio but can’t stand Donald Trump? There are a lot of those people in the Republican party, but they know, if they vote for the third party candidate, it’s just tossing away their vote.
Aaron King: Right now, even in the polls, it’s hard to know what to make of the third party supporters because I think there are still quite a few people who are offering that protest vote. At the same time, I tell my students that just because you vote for Trump or just because you vote for Clinton, that doesn’t mean that you agree with everything they say. Again, you have a choice presented on the ballot, and maybe it’s choosing the lesser of two evils or maybe it’s choosing someone that you really value. At the same time, I think people have to think carefully about which political party, which candidate gives them the best shot of advancing the agenda that they want. Just because you don’t like one of the candidates mean a vote says that you’re going to have to wear some button around all the time that says, “Hey, I’m a Trump supporter.” or “I’m a Clinton supporter.”
RLH: So it’s not just the policy makers who need to learn how to practice compromise and negotiation. It’s the voters as well.
Aaron King: Sure.
Bob (caller): Since we’re talking about partisan politics, I’d like to hear the Republican chairman’s response to the fact that you can’t get lower or more partisan than trying to take away people’s right to vote, and even in the face of a federal judge saying that the North Carolina law did that, the Republican party still continued to try to limit polling places and polling times. It’s just outrageous. This all started when Republicans went after Barack Obama and they continue to do that. I mean, the birther movement, it’s sad. It’s really sad.
Richard Poole: Nobody was trying to limit voting and who is available. It’s trying to make sure every vote counts. That was the big push for a voter ID law. It was not to exclude minorities. It was to exclude people who do not have a right to vote, who should not be here, who are here illegally, who are casting a vote under somebody else’s name, or registering to vote last minute without there being time to vet that vote.
RLH: Although the court ruling was that African American voters were gone after with surgical precision. I mean, that was the ruling.
Richard Poole: I understand that was the ruling. I didn’t write the law. I never read it as that. So if there was some backroom dealing for that, that may very well have been possible. Locally, here, when we were pushing back against it, that was never in our discussion as to, let’s limit one sector of legal voters, people who have a legal right to vote. That was never in our decision making process, trying to eliminate that.
RLH: You know, it’s an interesting question because there’s the voter ID law and then there’s setting up the hours for voting, the days that people are able to register and vote. Dallas Woodhouse, the Republican state party executive director, was recently called out for encouraging local election boards to favor Republican voting patterns, and he essentially said, “Hey, I’m the executive director of the Republican party. Of course I want to help my party. Wouldn’t anyone?” Richard Poole, isn’t that your job to help, in your case, the Democratic voters, which also tend to be African Americans?
Richard Poole: I like to see people vote. I think that’s good. It is a difference between the parties: Democrats want to see more people vote and make it easier to vote, and Republicans prefer low-turnout elections and prefer to have less people voting. It’s just a fact. Dallas Woodhouse also called on local county boards of elections to cut back on early voting along purely partisan lines. Here locally, we ended up with an early voting plan by the Republican dominated Board of Elections that really only had voting during banker’s hours, from 9-5. For people that work, for people that have children, for people that have care responsibilities for people in their family, those daytime banker’s hours are very difficult. We advocated for more evening and weekend hours. In fact, when it went up to the state Board of Elections, there were evening hours added on only two days, but we’ve got a voting plan that really is going to make it more difficult for people to vote and it’s also going to have effects in this election because of other changes. Here locally, in 2012, 50% of voters voted straight-ticket ballot. You can argue one way or the other about whether voting straight-ticket is smart or constructive, but it’s a fact that you can vote straight-ticket more quickly than if you have to go through and pick out each and every candidate, and we estimate that if it takes one minute longer to vote on individual candidates rather than to vote a straight-ticket ballot, that’s going to add 800 hours of delay into our early voting. If it takes two minutes longer, 1,600 hours. And the way that’ll be expressed is in those final days of early voting when there are already going to be lines. Those lines are going to be much longer.
Michael Franklin: Yes, we have the governor’s seat, so it is a partisan Board. It always has been, always will be. I just want to point out that the plan, which was put forward and voted on by two Republicans and voted down by the Democratic member, is the exact same plan that Democrats who ran that Board in 2012 put forward. We didn’t reduce it from the original plan, which, when you had power for that, you put the plan forward. We said, “Okay, we’ll take it. That’s fair. You guys came up with it originally, and we’re good.” And yes, the state added extra hours. That’s fine, but let’s also think back. I think there are twenty-six states that have no early voting. You vote on Election Day. That’s been the history of this country. I think some people, you get a little piece and you always want more. You’re never happy with the extra little piece you get.
Nicole (caller): I have to say, I am incredibly resentful and disturbed by a comment you made when you referred to third-party voting as wasting your vote. That has been an overwhelming theme for individuals who choose to vote for a third party, who choose to either vote for the Green or Libertarian party. It’s just become this mantra of Republicans and Democrats both saying, “Well, if you do that, you’re just wasting your vote.” A vote for your conscience is never wasting your vote, and there are three presidential candidates on the ticket in all fifty states. So, this year, you don’t have to choose the lesser of two evils. You can choose something different.
RLH: Nicole, you make an excellent point. What do you say then to the fact that we know only a minority of people will vote third party so that is not the candidate— This is the rub. This is exactly the struggle that I think a lot of people who supported other candidates who did not become the nominee undergo when they’re looking at the third party versus the two major political parties.
Nicole (caller): I completely agree with you. That is the rub. As long as the primary political parties continue to force people into believing, “You know, a vote for Gary Johnson is a vote for Donald Trump.” or “You know, a vote for Jill Stein is just a vote for Hillary.” It’s not. It’s your vote. Each of us has the right to vote our own conscience. And the reality is that, in this particular election, I have always voted Democrat, always. I will not vote Democrat in this election.
Aaron King: From the perspective of a third-party voter, I think the wasted vote idea is, in a sense, mathematical. To be fair, for all the listeners, your individual vote, mathematically, will not determine the end result of this election, whether you vote for Trump, Clinton, or Johnson. At the same time, I do respect the idea that many people do see their vote as a civic duty and voting their conscience. I want to be sure to make that clear. This does represent one of the struggles that third parties have because people have the perception of, “Geeze, I want to end up picking the winner. I want to back the winning horse.” It’s a very difficult road for third parties to go on.
Eric (caller): It’s interesting that independents have to work their way into the two-party system as Sanders and Trump did, yet Trump was allowed to go through and Sanders was not.
RLH: Michael Franklin, when you look at the Republican base, the core, how would you explain to your great-grandchildren how Trump became the nominee in 2016?
Michael Franklin: Oh, that’s a loaded question. I think it has to do with what Dr. King said, which is that you have to vote your conscience, and that’s where a lot of people in the Republican party were voting from. They were tired of the same-old-same-old, and they didn’t like the rhetoric. They saw something new, something that challenged the system that we currently have in the Republican party. Whether it works for us, we’ll find out on Election Day. You don’t know unless you try. That’s what your vote is for.
RLH: What role is the media playing in either shining a light on the truths that people aren’t looking at—for instance, calling out candidates when they do a dance with the truth or get a little hyperbolic in their campaign rhetoric—versus furthering the divides in this culture war? Is the media doing a good job? What is the media missing?
Richard Poole: Sometimes I think the media tends to draw equivalencies between candidates when there are none. Sometimes I think the media fails to follow up and dig out information. On the other hand, they have a hard job to do, and it’s difficult to always do it well, so I see both sides of that.