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Rutman lecture discusses 2020 election


On Tuesday night, Nov. 11, the College of Liberal Arts (COLA) at the University of New Hampshire (UNH) held the second of two planned lectures on the 2020 election as part of the Rutman Distinguished Lecture Series on the American Presidency. 

This second lecture, titled “The 2020 Election: What Happened and Why” was moderated once again by Boston-based journalist and filmmaker Callie Crossley. Crossley was joined by UNH professor of political science and head of the UNH Survey Center Andrew Smith, co-founder of the Lincoln Project and former chair of the NH Republican Party Jennifer Horn, and UNH professor of history, Jason Sokol.  

The lecture featured talk about the election itself and the shift in demographics of voters for both the Democratic and Republican parties, the races in the U.S. Senate and House, the coronavirus (COVID-19), racial and gender issues, economics, health care and more. 

The pandemic was the most important issue to voters by the numbers, according to Andrew Smith. “It was the one thing the Biden campaign could criticize the Trump administration for without them having any ability to argue against it. No matter what they did, you still ended up with a lot of people who contracted the disease and died from it,” Smith said.  

According to CNN’s exit polling, about one in three voters said the economy was their most important issue, with one in five considering the pandemic the most important. 

Sokol added to Smith’s point, saying “I was surprised by the number of anecdotal stories I’ve read in the New York Times [among other publications] about voters who voted for Trump because he was going to open the economy and Biden was going to close it.” 

According to the New York Times, there are now a total of 10.3 million plus cases of COVID-19 in the United States, and 240,000 plus deaths.  

Smith added that if it were not for the Biden campaign’s shift toward hitting the Trump administration harder on their response to the pandemic, “[Biden] might not be President-elect today.” 

Crossley then asked the panelists which specific issue they felt potentially influenced who voters cast their ballots for. Smith again stated COVID-19 as the main issue but pushed the conversation towards demographic changes, saying “Trump’s perceived disdain of minorities certainly motivated turnout amongst African American and Latino American electorates.” 

“We’re talking about an electorate that was not the much different than 2016, so an increase of Black Americans by a percentage point makes the difference in [those swing states] Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan,” Smith continued.  

Sokol agreed with Smith, saying, “This is why Joe Biden won Georgia.” 

“The other issue is, of course, the gender gap. The day Trump was inaugurated, there were massive protests in the U.S., and those were the voters that powered the blue wave in 2018,” Sokol said, “and if the Republican Party is going to make further gains in the future it has to figure out a way to speak to women’s issues.” 

Horn believed the biggest issues were those of character, saying that “the issues of racism, misogyny, bigotry, the mocking of disabled people, policy of children in cages, these issues were moving amongst independent voters.” 

She indicated that the data The Lincoln Project tracks showed that the organization’s advertisements advocating against President Trump, but not necessarily for Joe Biden, also helped pull in “the [primarily Republican] voters who voted for the president in 2016 and wanted to vote Republican” but they could not bring themselves to vote for Trump, “simply because of the moral and character failings.” 

After some more discussion on these issues, Crossley and the panelists signed off. 

Photos Courtesy of the University of New Hampshire

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