The State of Politics

November 26, 2020

The Globe examines the internal and external workings of current and future American politics

Election Strategy

John Moore/Getty Images/TNS

U.S. President Donald Trump smiles while disparaging Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden at a campaign rally at Oakland County International Airport on October 30, 2020 in Waterford, Michigan. With less than a week until Election Day, Trump and his opponent Joe Biden are campaigning across the country.

Election Strategy

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed everything in our lives. From online learning to grocery shopping, nothing is the same. These effects were also felt heavily in the presidential election. COVID quickly moved to the top of many people’s voting criteria, and worries about the future of the economy have intensified. Additionally, millions of people voted by mail for the first time, testing the limits of our voting infrastructure. Both candidates adjusted their campaigns. Trump continued holding large in-person rallies, but had to leave the campaign trail for a few days while he was positive for coronavirus. Biden shifted to Zoom town halls, as well as small in-person events. Both candidates increased their digital capacity by sending out emails and phone calls to supporters, running ads and posting to social media.
In St. Louis, Cori Bush’s win in the democratic primary for the Missouri District 1 congressional seat provides an example of a successful socially-distanced campaign.
Another contested primary that took place over the summer was the Democratic primary for senator of Massachusetts. Incumbent Ed Markey beat challenger Joe Kennedy in what had originally been predicted to be an easy win for Kennedy.
Despite the changes the pandemic has brought to campaigning, many of the basic principles remain the same. When it comes to election strategy, there are two basic approaches: top-down or bottom-up. Top-down refers to a strategy in which a campaign tries to attract large donors and focuses on running TV ads. Bottom-up, also known as grassroots, emphasizes connecting with individual voters with the hope that they’ll tell their friends and family about your candidate.

[Grassroots] has been an important strategy, particularly for progressive ideas”

— John Walsh

“Grassroots as a concept means starting with the voters and right from the ground and building that energy. [Grassroots] has been an important strategy, particularly for progressive ideas,” said John Walsh, campaign manager for Senator Ed Markey. “The most opposite of a grassroots campaign is top down. It’s very much dependent on money and television advertising. In other words you’re not taking in direct contact with people, but you are trying to distribute information to them using top down methods rather than bottom up.”
The rise of social media has allowed campaigns to connect with voters in new and unique ways. Apps like Twitter, Facebook and Instagram allow candidates to reach new audiences. Additionally, new technology has made it easier for campaigns to find who they should target with their ads.
“We’re both in an era of big data, where campaigns can go by national voter files. These are just records of whether people are turning out to vote or not. Those are paired up with commercially available data, maybe your credit score or what magazines you subscribe to. And then they use some psychometric and statistical models to try to figure out who to target… campaigns can potentially bolster turnout in ways that they couldn’t 10 years ago,” said Washington University political science professor Andrew Reeves.
Campaigns also evolve during their duration. In the beginning, campaigns must clarify their message and marketing. As the election nears, they must focus on reaching individual voters and making sure they will get out and vote.

U.S. Rep. Joe Kennedy III, D-Mass, left, and Sen. Ed Markey, right, square off in the first senate primary debate hosted by WGBH News on Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2020 at the WGBH Studios in Boston. (Meredith Nierman/WGBH via AP, Pool)

In the case of Senator Markey’s campaign, initially, the polls showed Markey trailing behind Kennedy. Typically incumbents have a much higher chance of winning re-election. However, Markey’s case was different since Kennedy was so popular.
“I think his name recognition was high, his favorability was high, he had his job approval ratings high … As a matter of fact, by any standard measures you would say unbeatable based on those numbers, but we had an opponent who had equally strong numbers,” Walsh said.
Additionally, many people currently feel dissatisfied with the government which opens them up to voting for a challenger.
After creating a clear message for your campaign, the next step is focusing on voter engagement. Since many voters are too busy to focus on an election until right before, voter engagement efforts continue to ramp up as the election draws closer. The major way campaigns connect with voters is through the media.
“I believe any organization needs to become their own content generator. What that meant for us was to build an in house capacity to tell our story directly through digital, through social media and other direct voter methods. So we built a studio with analysis, audio, video and graphics capability, which included equipment space and professional staff,” Walsh said.
Because of the pandemic, digital content became crucial. Campaigns could no longer send volunteers to knock doors, so they were forced to reach voters digitally. Another important aspect of campaigning is fundraising. In order to create ads and other media posts, campaigns must have funding. A relatively new development in campaign funding is trying to reach out to small donors.
“One of the things that the Obama campaign did back in 2008 was to specifically decide to try to target those lower dollar donors. Before, it was $2000 [donors targeted]. Obama was one of the first candidates to really embrace this idea of getting the small dollar. The other part of it is once [a campaign] has your email address they can come back to you and ask you to do something else,” Reeves said.

In terms of the presidential campaign, two main factors affect strategy. First, the electoral college affects where presidential candidates allocate their resources.“In more recent times, especially with the Bush election in 2000, we see this hyper focus on 5, 6, 7 states where they’re the only ones that matter. Missouri used to be one of these states but now Missouri [always] goes Republican. No campaign resources will be expended here, the candidates won’t visit here and why should they?” Reeves said.
Another challenge for presidential candidates is shifting from a primary audience to a national audience. For Biden, in the primaries he was criticized for being too conservative. After winning the nomination, Biden has had to make it clear he will not advocate for the more progressive Democratic policies like the Green New Deal or defunding the police. Candidates must balance their more zealous base with a general audience.
Regardless of the results of the election, political strategy will continue to be important to our democracy. Walsh urges everyone to find a way to be politically involved in their community.
“I do think that’s a real risk for our democracy that more people don’t see a way to impact [politics] and then a smaller and smaller group of people start making decisions. I think there is an importance to engaging in politics. And for some people it may be doing this as work, or as a career, either being a candidate, being an activist, or just engaging as a volunteer,” Walsh said.

Data

The Globe surveyed 198 CHS students, 264 parents or guardians and 71 teachers and staff on their opinions regarding the 2020 presidential election.

Social Media

Ella Cuneo

Social Media

Russian interference. The Facebook-Cambridge Analytica data scandal. QAnon conspiracy theories. The finding that fake news travels six times faster than true news. In an age where claims about candidates and elections can be posted by users on the Internet and rapidly spread across social media, how can we tell what’s real and what’s not?
The COVID-19 pandemic has led the 2020 election to face a unique set of challenges. With obstacles around voting by mail, along with worries about ballots being counted properly, there is a critical need for factual information on voting guidelines. In conjunction with the rise of social media usage to an all-time high amidst the pandemic, the role of social media in elections is more important than ever.
The recognition of social media as a large issue in elections can be traced back to events surrounding the 2016 election. “I think one thing that what happened in 2016 really did was raise the salience of the possibility of fake news and misinformation. [It’s] to the point where I think there are some people out there who now just don’t trust anything because they think there’s nothing that can be trusted,” said Taylor Carlson, assistant professor of Political Science at Washington University – St. Louis.
In 2016, there were a number of misinformation campaigns from fake sites to debunked allegations of “rigged” voting machines that were used to delegitimize the election circulating on Nov. 8. As for state-sponsored disinformation, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence found in a bipartisan report that “the Russian government engaged in an aggressive, multi-faceted effort to influence, or attempt to influence, the outcome of the 2016 presidential election.” These incidents in the last election have served as a warning signal to the American public regarding mis and disinformation online.

The attention that misinformation got in 2016 is perhaps helping us in 2020 to be able to try our best to prepare the public to try to differentiate what’s real and what’s not”

— Taylor Carlson

“I think that there have been more measures put in place to try to help people be able to distinguish fact from fiction. I think in some ways, the attention that misinformation got in 2016 is perhaps helping us in 2020 to be able to try our best to prepare the public to try to differentiate what’s real and what’s not,” said Carlson.
In preparation for the 2020 election, groups have been working to combat mis/disinformation by spreading awareness. One of these groups is the 2020 Election Integrity Partnership (EIP), a coalition of research entities with an objective “to detect and mitigate the impact of attempts to prevent or deter people from voting or to delegitimize election results.”
Isabella Garcia-Camargo, an organizer of the 2020 EIP, explained the reasoning behind why the EIP was created. “We talked to a lot of election officials of how they deal with missing disinformation incidents and it became clear that they didn’t have great avenues because the government can’t monitor social media for disinformation, given that you can’t monitor the American population. Because of this, we needed an independent third party, non-governmental organization to be doing the real-time monitoring aspects for the election officials,” said Garcia-Camargo.
The EIP publishes policy analyses and rapid response reports on their website (eipartnership.net) that evaluate specific mis/disinformation campaigns affecting the election. Their publishings range from analyzing narratives targeting electronic voting machines to looking into claims of ballot harvesting.
Another group working to fight mis/disinformation is the team who published the documentary The Social Dilemma, a “documentary-drama hybrid [that] explores the dangerous human impact of social networking, with tech experts sounding the alarm on their own creations. Daniel Wright, co-producer of The Social Dilemma, described the documentary as covering how social media causes “big picture issues all the way from mental health issues and addiction to the breakdown of truth and democracy.”

The Social Dilemma is a documentary about social media on Netflix

The idea for The Social Dilemma was rooted in the parallels that could be drawn between the dangers of technology and the environmental issues that The Social Dilemma’s production company, Exposure Labs, favored covering.
“With the issue of climate change, it’s caused by an extractive technology where we’re pulling these resources out of the ground and using them to our benefit, but it’s causing all these downstream effects. We realize that’s the exact same thing that’s happening with these tech companies, but instead of mining fossil fuels and lumber, they’re actually mining our human attention or human experience,” said Wright.
With mis/disinformation being a key issue of informing voters in this year’s election, criticism has been widely directed at social media platforms to take accountability. In response, social media platforms like Facebook Messenger will limit message forwarding and Twitter will label or remove false or misleading information around the laws of the election process, unverified information that delegitimizes the election, and premature claims of an election outcome.
Garcia-Camargo finds that these responses by social media companies should be viewed positively, since the scale of aspects such as calls to question the election are new to 2020, and that the platforms should continue to make policy changes in preparation for the election.
“This is why we push the platforms to do more and have these written and set in stone before the election itself, because it allows the decisions to be made at a lower level, and then that will lead to better outcomes,” said Garcia-Camargo.
Beyond the election, Wright ties the platforms’ responses into the broader issue of how social media operates, saying that these responses are ultimately a band-aid solution for the broader problem of the advertising business model.
“As long as there are incentives for a third-party to be paying lots and lots of money to get in front of you, these problems will still exist,” said Wright.
Between all of these conversations, a resounding theme has been that fighting mis/disinformation ultimately relies upon the people. Social media users must be cognizant of the media they are consuming and sharing in order to limit the spread of false information. However, the current state of social media intentionally makes this evaluation process difficult.

All it takes is hacking the minds of you and I and voters to plant just the tiniest seed of distrust and doubt in the process that can be magnified at unprecedented scales”

— Daniel Wright

“These tools are available [to manipulate us through social media], and it’s not a hack. That’s what’s so dangerous about misinformation. It doesn’t take hacking the actual infrastructure, [for example] the actual voting machines of an election. All it takes is hacking the minds of you and I and voters to plant just the tiniest seed of distrust and doubt in the process that can be magnified at unprecedented scales,” said Wright.
The limited amount of information that can be contained in a single social media post makes it particularly volatile to be rapidly liked or shared. Referencing the rise of political information being posted in infographics or Instagram stories across the high school to college age group, Garcia-Camargo explains that simplifying complicated key political issues into short snippets, that can be injected with mis or disinformation first, can be harmful to our democratic process.

“My suggestion is that you take your political conversations off of these platforms as much as you can. It’s great to spread awareness but think about the impact that has on the larger information space and what you’re encouraging people to do. You’re encouraging more authority of information on these 10-slide Instagram posts,” said Garcia-Camargo.
Furthermore, she stresses that even the interaction with information online can create a chain effect that amplifies misinformation.
“When you see something, don’t take it at face-value. Always go and check sources, always go and get two or three opinions and really think through the votes that you’re giving on social media. Every time that you retweet something, that’s like a vote because it creates more authority in that piece of information.”
Similarly, Carlson urges users to increase their information literacy and identify personal biases.
“There’s a lot that can be done by way of information literacy, like learning about potential biases that different sources have and thinking about that every time you consume it. If it’s a news outlet, thinking about: does this news outlet have a known bias? If it does, which direction does it go? How should I then interpret the information in that context?” said Carlson.
The largest consequence of this rampant mis/disinformation is how it can influence the way people think and the beliefs that they present.
“When [opinions on the value of a democracy] are based on mis or disinformation, or just based on not factual evidence, that’s where we get into problems because then you can unfairly break down a democracy,” said Garcia-Camargo. “[The process by which we vote] is a very, very important portion of the democratic process, and we need to make sure we have the facts. Losing faith in the democratic process is losing faith in the way that we vote. Without faith in that, we don’t have an overall democracy.”
In the imminent scope of the 2020 election, the mis/disinformation online can also be weaponized to delegitimize the election results. President Trump has cast doubt upon mail-in ballots, a claim that has swept social media to dominate a face of the election. Although these claims have mostly been proven false, these words factored into inciting a wave of mis/disinformation including allegations that the Democrats planned to use mail-in voting to ballot-harvest and that Republican ballots for Trump were being dumped.

CNBC Television

President Trump, echoing his sentiments from 2016, has used mail-in ballots to question the integrity of the election. When asked if he would commit to a peaceful transfer of power if not re-elected, Trump responded by saying, “Well, we’re going to have to see what happens. You know I’ve been complaining very strongly about the ballots, and the ballots are a disaster.”
With the leading public figure in the US casting doubt on the election, mis/disinformation has taken an unprecedented role as a foremost threat to democracy. If what is supposed to be facts can be questioned under a system that is plagued by mis/disinformation, our democracy fails to operate appropriately.
“If we don’t have a peaceful transfer of power or a reliable election result, that is democracy breaking,” said Wright. “We’re going to be tested as a nation.”

Supreme Court

Supreme Court

The Supreme Court is the highest court in the United States and the only one specifically stated by the Constitution. Article III of the Constitution states that there should be one Supreme Court and that the legislature may create lower courts as it sees fit. It also states that the president must nominate or choose justices to serve on the Supreme Court, and the Senate must confirm them.

After their confirmation, the Justices hold office for as long as they choose on the condition of good behavior, and their salaries cannot be reduced. However, they can also be impeached by the House of 

Representatives and convicted by the Senate, similar to the President. These processes are intended to keep the judiciary non-partisan. Currently, there are eight Associate justices and one Chief Justice, though this number has fluctuated from six to ten over the last 200 years.

Importance
First and foremost, the Supreme Court is a check on the other branches’ power. It can overrule laws and executive actions if they betray the constitution.
The Supreme Court is designed to protect the rights of citizens and is the last resort for citizens seeking justice.

Cases

The Supreme Court hears and makes decisions on between 100 and 150 cases a year. However, they receive petitions or requests for over 7000. It has two types of jurisdiction or authority over cases. Trial jurisdiction covers cases where the Supreme Court is the first court to hear a case; this only occurs on cases involving two or more states, ambassadors and high level public ministers. Mostly, the Supreme Court hears cases where it has appellate jurisdiction, meaning it reviews the decisions of a lower court. These cases generally involve issues of Constitutional law, federal law, and trade.

Precedent

Precedent also ensures constitutional interpretations remain similar over time, keeping the judiciary non-partisan”

Precedent is a legal concept that means to stand by things decided. The Supreme Court uses it to refer to a past ruling, when they believe they have already decided on an issue brought by a case.
This fosters efficiency, because it quickly decides certain cases. Precedent also ensures constitutional interpretations remain similar over time, keeping the judiciary non-partisan. Precedent can be overruled in two instances: if a prior decision doesn’t seem to fit the case at hand, or when American society has changed significantly since the last decision.

The Federal Courts
There are three levels of federal courts. The lowest are the district courts. There are 94 district courts, at least one for each U.S. state and territory. They handle the first trials of civil cases, when someone is suing someone else and criminal cases and when someone has broken the law. Missouri has two district courts, the Eastern District and the Western District. Above the district courts are thirteen appellate courts that handle appeals, or people who want another court to review decisions in their case. Superior to them is the Supreme Court.
In addition to Supreme Court justices, there are several types of federal judges. District court judges and appellate court judges are Article III judges, just like Supreme Court Justices. They must be nominated by the President, confirmed by the Senate and can be impeached. Magistrate judges are appointed by district court judges to assist them in preliminary trial matters, such as search warrants and setting bail. They are appointed for eight year terms. Bankruptcy court judges are appointed for fourteen year terms by appellate court judges. They preside over matters of bankruptcy and debt. The bankruptcy courts also have their own appellate courts and judges.

Electoral College

Mark Wilson / Getty Images file

Staffers organize ballots during the counting of electoral votes in Congress on Jan. 6, 2017.

Electoral College

Your vote matters.
For many American citizens, this message embodies what it means to be a member of a democracy. Selfies with “I Voted” stickers flood social media feeds on Election Day, celebrities encourage fans to make a plan to vote, and numerous organizations are dedicated to voting rights advocacy. Voting is the cornerstone of American democracy. But once a voter casts their ballot in a presidential election, where does that vote go and what system is it fed into? What significance does a single vote hold on the larger scale of American government and politics? That’s where the contentious and complicated system known as the Electoral College comes in.
“It’s sort of a game,” said Dr. Kenneth Warren, a political science professor at Saint Louis University. The game begins the same way in each state, with the tallying of the popular vote. Then the candidate who receives a plurality of the votes is awarded all of the state’s electoral votes. To win the whole game, a candidate must amass 270 electoral votes out of the total 538. The number of electoral votes allocated to each state is determined by the size of the state’s Congressional delegation. For example, Missouri has 8 Representatives and 2 Senators, so it gets 10 electoral votes. Because every state has 2 Senators and at least 1 Representative, every state is guaranteed a baseline of 3 electoral votes. According to Warren and many other election experts, this is when the rules of the game start to become unfair.

“You have a lot of small states that don’t deserve the electors they have based on population. […] The fact of the matter is people in Wyoming and Alaska have more than equal representation in the Electoral College,” said Warren. He pointed to the fact that the entire population of Alaska is only two-thirds that of St. Louis County, but the state still gets 3 electoral votes. Warren also explained that Missouri’s population is over 10 times that of Wyoming, but only receives 3 times more electoral representation.
States with small populations, such as Wyoming, Idaho and Montana, are disproportionately represented in a system that is supposed to represent all states’ populations proportionately. Voter influence isn’t equal between all Americans; a vote in one state can hold significantly more power than in another state. For example, statistics from electoral reform organization FairVote show that a citizen in Wyoming has 3.18 times as much power in the Electoral College than the average U.S. voter.
Another frequently criticized rule of the Electoral College game is how the electoral votes are actually allocated to candidates.
“The way those electoral votes are awarded is on what’s called a winner-take-all basis,” said Jesse Wegman, New York Times editorial board member and author of “Let the People Pick the President: The Case For Abolishing the Electoral College.” “And what that means is, in all but two states, the state has decided that the candidate who wins the most votes in that state gets 100% of its electors, no matter how close the vote is, even if it’s almost exactly a tie.” To understand this rule better, let’s lay out an example. The Globe surveyed a total of 536 members of the CHS community. The portion of those respondents who said they planned to vote in the 2020 election were broken down into 3 groups: 257 parents, 71 teachers, and 13 students. Let’s call the parents State A, the teachers State B, and the students State C. When asked which candidate they would support, Biden won approximately 84% of the State A popular vote, 87% of State B, and 62% of State C. Now that the popular vote has been tallied, let’s give each state 2 electoral votes and an additional number of votes based on population. State A will get 77 votes, State B will get 23 votes, and State C will get 6 votes. Biden wins all three states’ electoral votes, and 44 votes will not count. That means around 13% of survey respondents who plan to vote would not get a say in this mock election.

Additionally, the winner-take-all method of assigning electors means that a candidate can lose the national popular vote but still play their cards right to win the Electoral College game. This has happened 5 times in the history of American elections, with the election in 2016 as the most recent example. Ultimately, American presidential elections can be determined more by strategy than popularity. If a candidate knows how to play the game to their advantage, they will still win even if the rules may not be fair.
The key to winning the game is not through gaining the most votes from the American people. Instead, it is played in a few specific locations on the board: swing states. Most states will reliably go red or blue in every presidential election. Because of the winner-take-all method, Democratic votes cast in Missouri, Wyoming, Tennessee and other Republican strongholds are largely erased once they enter the Electoral College system. The same goes for Republican votes in safe Democratic states such as California, New York and Massachusetts. In our CHS survey simulation, States A, B and C would all be safe Democratic states. Electoral votes in these states are almost guaranteed to be cast for the Democratic candidate in every election. For example, FiveThirtyEight’s election forecast gives Biden more than a 99% chance of winning California. He has less than a 1% chance of winning Wyoming.
“My students coming from, let’s say, Mississippi or Wyoming or New York or California, will say to me, why should I vote because my vote doesn’t matter? And they’re right. It doesn’t matter,” Warren said. Wegman pointed out that in 2016, 4.5 million votes were cast for Donald Trump in California. In just one state, millions of votes did not count at all.
The Electoral College creates a disproportionate focus on battleground states: the handful of states where both candidates actually have a decent shot at winning. This focus is reflected in both policy platforms and campaign stops. According to National Popular Vote Inc., an organization that advocates for the abolition of the Electoral College, two-thirds of 2016 post-convention campaign events by both candidates took place in only six states. 94% of events took place in 12 states.

The problem with that is that it means [candidates] focus on a tiny sliver of the American population to win the entire election.”

— Jesse Wegman

“The problem with that is that it means [candidates] focus on a tiny sliver of the American population to win the entire election. They should be having to talk to all Americans everywhere, but because of that winner-take-all rule, they only have to worry about a few states – this year it’s states like Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin and Florida and Arizona. Those states are no less important than any other state but they’re no more important than any other state, and a president is the only person in the country who has to represent all Americans equally no matter where they live,” Wegman said.
Candidates know that the decisions made by Pennsylvania voters on Election Day matter far more than those made by members of the electorate in safe states such as Maryland or Alabama. Many critics of the Electoral College contend that this creates a stark disparity in which states’ interests are catered to by campaigns. Wegman pointed out that the issue of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is a main focus of both Biden’s and Trump’s policy platforms.
“Fracking is a tiny issue in the larger question of the American energy system and the issues of environmental harm. So why do they talk so much about it? Because it’s of great interest to people in western Pennsylvania, where a lot of fracking occurs, and Pennsylvania is a battleground state,” Wegman said. “Meanwhile, they completely ignore issues that matter to millions of more people, like public transportation in the big cities or climate change and the effects of climate change and wildfires and floods out west. Those are the kinds of things that presidential candidates should be talking about because they affect everybody or they affect millions more Americans, and yet they end up focusing on these niche issues that only affect small numbers of Americans.” Wegman emphasized that fracking is not unimportant – but it should not hold more importance just because it applies specifically to a swing state.
Obviously, the rules of the Electoral College play a massive role in how the American political system works and how presidential candidates run their campaigns. So how were these rules created? What was the original rationale behind them?
Dr. Randall Calvert, a professor of political science at Washington University in St. Louis, explained that the system “was originally designed to put some distance between the popular electorate and the President.” The Electoral College is often described as a mechanism to prevent tyranny of the majority and to provide stability to the electoral system by ensuring that a candidate always receives a majority.

National Geographic

Calvert said that preserving the integrity of elections was an original aim in the system’s creation: “Part of the story was to prevent demagoguery, part of the story actually also was to provide the least possible opportunity for manipulation and parties and strategizing to form behind who would be the president.” However, Calvert explained that the creation of parties was in fact accelerated by the Electoral College because organized party systems were needed to get one candidate to a majority of 270 electoral votes.
Justin Fox, a professor of political science at Washington University, said, “An Electoral College advocate might believe the fact that a person who gets a minority support among the citizens can actually become a President might be a feature and not a bug, because it would increase the chances of divided government, which makes it harder for majorities to oppress minorities.” Fox explained that opponents of the Electoral College often find oppression of the majority by the minority more of a cause for concern than the other way around.
“The founders themselves were actually very ambivalent about the idea of popular participation in government,” said Wegman. The Electoral College reflects this concern about what would happen if the people’s will was truly represented in government and whether that will would gain too much power.
The system was also created to close the gap that existed at the time between limited voter knowledge and the complicated reality of politics.
“They designed it in part to deal with the fact that most Americans would not know anything about national political candidates,” said Wegman. “There was no transportation network, there was no communications network, there was no TV or radio, people didn’t travel far from their home. And so, when it came to electing a national leader, they feared that a lot of Americans, most of them would not know anything about those candidates and wouldn’t know how to make a good choice.” The idea of electors was created to put the presidential election into the hands of highly educated, politically aware people who could make a more well-informed decision than the average American voter. However, that original intent no longer holds true.

Wegman continued, “The problem was that that system collapsed almost immediately because national political parties developed and electors and voters suddenly became affiliated with one party or another, and so they stopped thinking so much about what’s in the best interest of the country as what’s in the best interests of my party.” Instead of engaging in intellectual debate and careful deliberation, electors have become more of a symbolic figurehead.
Many frequently-criticized aspects of the Electoral College stem from the fact that it is an antiquated system. It was built during a time when women couldn’t vote, when there was no two-party system, and when the protection of slavery dominated legislative interests. Because of the 3/5 Compromise, which stipulated that every enslaved person would count for 3/5 of a person in matters of representation, white voters in slave states benefited from the Electoral College because their increased representation in Congress meant more electoral votes. The modern world does not align with this system anymore.
Many critics of the Electoral College say that it doesn’t have to be this way. The rules of the game can change.
“We could do it any number of other ways, like having the electors selected from congressional districts like in Maine and Nebraska. […] Or we could have them allocated proportionately – the Democrats get three quarters of votes, they get three quarters of the electors,” Calvert said.
Maine and Nebraska both use a split system instead of winner-takes-all. Both states assign two electoral votes to the winner of the statewide popular vote, but the winners of each individual Congressional district also get one electoral vote. Another more drastic shift away from the current system would be the implementation of a popular vote: the candidate with the most votes from the American people would win the presidency. The National Popular Vote Interstate Compact is an agreement enacted by 15 states, as well as Washington, D.C. If enough states eventually enter the compact so that their combined electoral votes are 270 or more, these states would commit to allocating all of their electoral votes to the candidate who wins the national popular vote, instead of the statewide popular vote. This would circumvent the rules of the game and allow the winner of the popular vote to win the presidency by gaining a majority of electoral votes, but without abolishing the Electoral College. Under this solution, every person’s vote would count equally towards a candidate no matter the political climate or coincidental demographics of individual states.

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However, the chances of transitioning away from the Electoral College in the near future remain slim.
“Politically speaking, the Democrats and Republicans still like the Electoral College because it protects their parties from third party competition. Under the Electoral College, there’s no way a third party candidate can win realistically,” Warren said.
Even though public opinion polls show a majority of Americans oppose the Electoral College – 58%, according to one Pew Research Center poll – the two-party system is protected by the current method of choosing the president. Politicians who benefit from a system are unlikely to spearhead calls for its abolition. And the Electoral College doesn’t always advantage Republicans the way it did in 2016 – in fact, Wegman explains in a Times Opinion video that total popular vote shares between 1932 and 2008 have been roughly split equally between Republicans and Democrats. So even though many Democrats currently support abolishing the Electoral College, would that change if in a few decades if more swing states start to tilt blue?
Right now, the game has been played for so long that it feels normal. But sometimes, even as impossible as it seems, all it takes is simple rule change to make the game more fair for everyone playing.

Law and Order

CNN

Law and Order

“Are you in favor of law and order?”
“Law and order with justice where people get treated fairly.”
During the first presidential debate, President Donald Trump posed this question to former Vice President Joe Biden. After a summer of economic crisis and protests for racial justice, the issue of law and order has come to the forefront of the 2020 presidential race. But, this is not the first time law and order has held significance in an election. Law and Order politics has no official definition but refers to a political platform that emphasizes stricter sentencing and more support for law enforcement. Law and Order politics began to enter the American consciousness in the 1960s.
“Law and Order politics really has its origins in 1964 and 1966. The first six years of the 1960s saw… an increase in crime. And in particular, there was an increase in really sensational graphic crime… and many Americans were deeply concerned by it,” CHS History teacher Daniel Glossenger said.
During this same period, the Supreme Court headed by Chief Justice Earl Warren, ruled on two monumental cases that strengthened the rights of the accused: Gideon v. Wainwright and Miranda v. Arizona. Gideon v. Wainwright ruled that in criminal cases, states must provide an attorney to all defendants who are unable to pay for their own. Miranda v. Arizona ruled that in order for a defendant’s testimony to be used in court, they must be informed of their rights (now known as the Miranda rights).
“The Warren Court began to expand the rights of the accused in ways that many Americans were really not comfortable with… these two Supreme Court cases, they don’t have a really huge impact actually on what law enforcement do on a day to day basis, but the perception was that they were tying the hands of police,” Glossenger said.
As the crime rate rose, many white Americans wrongly attributed the increase in crime to the civil rights movement and integration.

Detroit Riot of 1967 (Keystone Pictures USA/Alamy)

“The third thing that’s happening historically in the 1960s, is that virtually every year, one or more major American cities experienced riots. Some of these were an outgrowth of Black uprisings about the failures of white society to actually grapple with civil rights. But, at the same time, there was also rising inequality and there’s major economic disruptions happening in urban areas. So you can’t just say these riots are happening because of the civil rights movement, but in many cases the militancy of the Black civil rights movement was being viewed in the eyes of many whites as this is driving that crime wave,” Glossenger said.
In 1968, these three phenomena came to a head in Richard Nixon’s presidential campaign. During his acceptance speech, Nixon emphasized his focus on Law and Order: “And if we are to restore order and respect for law in this country there is one place we are going to begin. We are going to have a new Attorney General of the United States of America. I pledge to you that our new Attorney General will be directed by the President of the United States to launch a war against organized crime in this country.”
Despite Nixon’s claim, it is important to note that the power of the president to reduce crime is significantly less than that of individual states.
“It’s interesting because presidents talk a lot, or at least a fair amount about crime and maintaining the law in order, yet it’s something that we tend to think of it as mostly a local function of police power that belongs to the States. [There’s] a little bit of a mismatch there between what presidents can do and the things that they want to say,” Washington University political science professor Andrew Reeves said.
After Nixon’s presidency, an emphasis on Law
and Order helped Ronald Reagan defeat Jimmy Carter in the election of 1980. Reagan, and then later George H. W. Bush cemented Law and Order as a successful Republican strategy.
In the 1988 election between Bush and Democratic candidate Micheal Dukakis, the racist undertones of the Law and Order rhetoric became starkly clear. Bush’s campaign ran the notorious Willie Horton ad. The ad compared Dukakis and Bush’s differing views on crime. It stated that Bush supported the death penalty, while Dukakis not only opposed the death penalty, but allowed convicted murderers to have weekend prison passes.
Then, the mugshot of convicted felon Willie Horton, a Black man, was displayed on the screen as the narrator explained that Horton kidnapped a couple, stabbing the man and raping the woman, while using a prison pass. Although the ad did not explicitly mention the race of the murdered couple, Horton’s mugshot made his race clear to viewers. The ad used the racist trope of a Black man raping a white woman to evoke racial fear in white voters.

There wasn’t really a need for somebody like Nixon to spell it out… because the white suburban voters in the 1960s knew exactly what he was talking about”

— Daniel Glossenger

However, Bush was not the first candidate to use racial messaging to popularize his campaign.
“That racialization piece is something that’s been going on for a very long time. And so for many of these white voters in the suburbs in ‘66 and ‘68 they felt threatened by this rising Black militancy that was in their minds hand in hand with the rise in crime rates that were happening around them […] There wasn’t really a need for somebody like Nixon to spell it out… because the white suburban voters in the 1960s knew exactly what he was talking about,” Glossenger said.
After losing in 1980, 1984 and 1988, Democrats fully embraced the Law and Order strategy. Bill Clinton was able to win the 1992 election running as a tough-on-crime Democrat. During his presidency, he signed the 1994 Crime Bill into law, which was heavily supported by Biden, allowing states to pass stricter criminal justice laws, such as mandatory minimums.
Beyond affecting the polls, Law and Order politics created policies that changed the lives of millions of Americans.
“Mass incarceration is an effect of having decades of Law and Order politics be a force at the forefront of the American electorate. Mass incarceration doesn’t really start to happen until both political parties converge on the issue. We start to see Democrats in the 70s, 80s and 90s leaning into the idea of hiring lots more police on the streets, building more prisons, [etc.] … when they start to agree it’s really where we see the rise of the carceral state in America,” Glossenger said.
The rise of mass incarceration in the US as a result of Law and Order politics caused the US prison population to balloon from roughly 200,000 in 1956 to 1,600,000 in 2010. According to the Prison Policy Initiative, although the US makes up only 5% of the world’s population, it houses 20% of the world’s incarcerated population.

The number of violent crimes per 1,000 persons ages 12 and older (blue) versus the % of Americans who believe crime has increased since last year (red). Data from the US Bureau of Justice and PEW Research Center. Americans tend to believe crime is increasing more than it is.

The effects of the rise of the American carceral state have disproportionately affected Black Americans. According to the Sentencing Project: “In 2016, black Americans comprised 27% of all individuals arrested in the United States—double their share of the total population… What might appear at first to be a linkage between race and crime is in large part a function of concentrated urban poverty, which is far more common for African Americans than for other racial groups. This accounts for a substantial portion of African Americans’ increased likelihood of committing certain violent and property crimes. But while there is a higher black rate of involvement in certain crimes, white Americans overestimate the proportion of crime committed by blacks and Latinos, overlook the fact that communities of color are disproportionately victims of crime, and discount the prevalence of bias in the criminal justice system.”
A clear example of the disproportionate effect of Law and Order policies is the War on Drugs. Starting in 1971, Nixon began what he called “a war on drugs.” Reagan continued the War on Drugs with the implementation of zero tolerance policies. Bill Clinton carried on with the incarceration as prevention model, refusing to eliminate the disparity between crack cocaine and powder cocaine sentencing.
Although crack cocaine is just a different form of cocaine (powder cocaine mixed with water and baking soda), the 1986 Anti-Drug Abuse Act stated that the distribution of only 5 grams of crack cocaine had a minimum federal prison sentence of 5 years while the distribution of 500g of powder cocaine carried the same sentence. Because crack cocaine is much cheaper than powder cocaine, it became popular in many low income areas. Media outlets began to report on the crack epidemic, showing only Black sellers and users. Although the majority of crack users are white, the American public began to view crack as a drug used mostly by Black people. For this reason, police officers overpoliced Black neighborhoods when looking for crack.
According to the ACLU “In 2003, whites constituted 7.8% and African Americans constituted more than 80% of the defendants sentenced under the harsh federal crack cocaine laws, despite the fact that more than 66% of crack cocaine users in the United States are white or Hispanic.”
In 2016, President Trump updated the Law and Order rhetoric to fit new worries of the American electorate: unchecked immigration and ISIS.
“In 2016 Trump was talking about immigration and ‘build that wall.’ That’s not something we always think of in the same vein as Law and Order, but in some ways he was expanding and sort of linking together Law and Order and immigration,” Reeves said.
However, because of the rise in protests and homicide rates, the 2020 election has returned to a more classic Law and Order rhetoric.
According to statistics released by the FBI “When data from the first six months of 2020 were compared with data from the first six months of 2019, the number of rape offenses decreased 17.8%, and robbery offenses were down 7.1%. The number of murder and non-negligent manslaughter offenses increased 14.8%, and aggravated assault offenses were up 4.6%.”


Both candidates have called for order. Trump’s message is explicit. On August 30, 2020 he tweeted simply “LAW AND ORDER!!!” Biden has said he does not support defunding the police, has condemned riots and his choice of Kamala Harris as a running mate supports his ‘Law and Order with justice’ approach since Harris is a former prosecutor.
“Biden Harris can’t be too far to the left of where the American electorate is on this issue, particularly now with crime rates rising again [however] they’re not high, that’s the other piece of this is that many Americans think that crime is really high and getting higher… even in years when it’s declining dramatically. There’s this media interest in creating a narrative of rising crime. That kind of feeds this fear, and then politicians adopt and respond to,” Glossenger said.
Overall, Law and Order politics has been and continues to be an important platform for both Republicans and Democrats. The increased strictness in the criminal justice system caused by Law and Order has devastated millions of Americans, leading to disproportionate arrest and sentencing rates for Black Americans.

Global Perspectives

Global Perspectives

A recent Pew Research study shows how countries outside of the United States view the U.S. on certain topics such as coronavirus handling, Trum­­­­­­­­p, and racial injustice.
According to the study, “Across the 13 nations surveyed, a median of just 15% say the U.S. has done a good job of dealing with the outbreak.”
Is the United States still as admirable as it was before? Have countries outside the United States changed their perspective? Is the understanding of America more influenced by past alliances or the current news? The Globe acquired personal responses from residents of several of the countries included in the survey.
The government of the United States has helped Israel in terms of financial and military aid. One example of US interference in Israeli events could begin in 1978, with the peace accords at Camp David between Egyptian president Anwar al-Sadat and Israeli prime minister Menachem Begin. The United States was one of the earliest countries to recognize Israel as a sovereign state.
Many people in Israel were supportive of moving the embassy from Tel Aviv to Israel. According to the Spring 2019 Global Attitudes Survey, 74% of Israelis (who were mostly Jewish) approved of Trump moving the embassy to Jerusalem.
“I know a lot of people who are not very educated about Donald Trump. They see that by the book, he is pro Israel. Then everything is great and everything is amazing and that we have to love him,” said Ella Benkemoun, a teenager from Jerusalem. “Even my dad, who is the farthest person from being racist or anything that Donald Trump is, says that at the end of the day – Donald Trump is supportive of Israel and is helping our country. But I would not want to get his help.”
According to the Israeli Foreign Policy Index done by the Miviztim Institute, Israelis rank the state of Israel-US relations at 8.05 out of 10. Since 2015, the relations have increased in trust. The study also states that 50% of Israelis want Donald Trump to be elected as US President, compared to 21% who support Joe Biden. In the mass of people who chose Donald Trump, 57% were Jews, while the other 11% were Arabs. Joe Biden was chosen more in the survey, among Arab citizens than Jews, with the leading amount being 41% Arab and 17% Jewish.
In a Pew Research study done to analyze the confidence in six of Trump’s policies, Israel stood out as being one of the only countries to approve of Trump’s policy, accounting for 55% in approval.

I would summarize the debate into one word: pathetic… It was just funny to laugh at”

— Ella Benkemoun

“I would summarize the debate into one word: pathetic. I saw some of the clips where Trump was criticizing Biden for wearing a mask and then in the end he was the one who got the coronavirus. It’s just very, very, funny. My friend agreed that it was a joke and it was pathetic. It was just funny to laugh at it. We may have problems in our country right now (Protests against the prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu), but the least of our problems is Donald Trump,” said Benkemoun.
South Korea, on the other hand, has seen a large drop of confidence in the United States coronavirus response. In a Pew Research study released in September that surveyed adults in different countries, South Korea ranked the lowest for “..if the U.S. has done a good job dealing with the coronavirus outbreak.” South Korea stood at the lowest preference for the United States handling of coronavirus,As 20% of people in Spain who believed that the coronavirus outbreak in the U.S was handled well.
Mi-Hwan Lee, a South Korean resident previously perceived America positively, but since Trump became president, she has become disappointed in the U.S. She wondered how people were willing to elect a person like Trump into office.
But many Korean adults have a favorable view of the US. 59% of people surveyed, expressed positive views on the United States. But confidence in Donald Trump was 17%.
In 2017, the confidence in Donald Trump doubled due to Trump’s policy to negotiate with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un about the country’s nuclear weapons program.
“The people want to have good relationships with North Korea. Some just support him because they are conservatives,” Hwan-Lee said.
71% of the people surveyed in Korea who view the U.S. as favorable have a right-wing ideological orientation, compared to the 43% of left-wing surveyors.
The ideological divide between the left and right-wing in Korea can also account for the influx of support towards Trump’s policies from 2017 to 2018.
There was a gradual decrease of favorability towards the U.S. in 2015, continuing into Trump’s presidency. In summary, the favorability towards the U.S. and the president decreased in Trump’s presidency.

Confidence in the United States’ response to the coronavirus outbreak was 66% very bad, compared to the 6% somewhat good.
“Korea did things around the nation. The government made sure to find the people who had COVID-19 and made sure they got treated and found the infected people. There was almost nobody who wasn’t wearing a mask. The whole country did a great job,” Hwan-Lee said.
Germany’s near recession and fallout in 2019 is an increasing factor to the discontent towards Trump’s tariff increase. According to a Pew Research study done, 85% of Germans disapprove of the U.S.’s implementation of increased tariffs on imported goods.
The car industry, one of Germany’s largest exports, was impacted greatly by the tariffs implemented.
However, young people in Germany are more likely to see the United States in a positive light. Two Global Attitudes tests show the increasing favorable view of the U.S. In 2018, only 24% of young people stated that their relationship with the U.S. was good. From 2018 to 2019, however, the percentage of people who stated their relationship with the U.S. as good had gone up to 34%.
Germany and the U.S.’s militaries are highly connected. Recently, Trump finalized the plan with the Pentagon to bring back over 11,000 troops stationed in Germany. One might concur that the German people were unhappy with this decision. But, according to a survey done by the research institute YouGov, 47% of surveyors said they were “in support of reducing the numbers of U.S. soldiers in Germany”.
Confidence in Trump is common among the right-wing parties in Germany A survey done by PEW Research in 2020 found that 34% of The Alternative for Germany (AFD) supporters have confidence in Trump, compared to the 5% who do not support the AFD and have confidence in Trump.
Aside from the support of right-wing parties, Germany gave some of the worst ratings in the PEW survey. Only 26% of surveyors have a positive view of the United States, while just 10% have confidence in Trump.
Views of Trump and the United States itself have changed drastically. As the favorability during the Obama presidency was at a high of 90% in 2009. Comparing that to the highest of 13% favorability towards Trump in 2019, It is safe to assume that many people in Germany no longer hold confidence in the U.S. president.

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