With the 2016 presidential election just weeks away, USF hosted a discussion between the California state chair of the Democratic Party, John Burton, and the chair of the Republican State Party, Jim Brulte, moderated by San Francisco Chronicle Editorial Page Editor, John Diaz. The theme of the discussion was “What’s at Stake on November 8.” The event featured a Q and A portion after the discussion, led by USF Professor and Director of the African American Studies Program James Taylor.
From the beginning, this election season has brought controversial issues to light and tested the way that America views politics. With each presidential election season, we are met with at least a few unexpected candidates, like Republican candidate Herman Cain in the 2012 presidential election and libertarian candidate Vermin Supreme in 2004. However, it is incredibly rare for an unexpected candidate to be named presidential nominee.
Presidential races in recent history have been relatively close (within a 10 point margin), while this election is predicted to prove otherwise. Recent polls have shown that democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton is leading the polls, with 12 points over republican Donald Trump. Trump has earned a reputation as being unpredictable, and has been involved in more than a few controversial incidents since he announced his candidacy. “I don’t think any of us saw Trump’s ability to do whatever he wants,” said Burton, after noting the difficulty Republicans have in supporting their party but not their presidential candidate.
Brulte, when faced with a question about how he reconciled Trump’s unpopularity, expressed that he is focused on every local, state, and national election. “I’m focused on scores of races, not just the presidential race,” he said.
This election is especially important for voters aged 18-29. After 2012’s young voter turnout dwindled at a mere 19 percent, democratic candidates like Bernie Sanders and green party candidate Jill Stein gained popularity with young voters and mobilized them to vote. The youth voter turnout is predicted to increase substantially in the 2016 election, already having increased to 31 percent in the 2016 primaries. Both presidential candidates have clearly made attempts to appeal to the youth vote, which has brought youth issues to light, such as student debt, unemployment and social security.
Burton indicated that the reason voter turnout is increasing with this election year is because voters are motivated by negativity toward Trump and the historical possibility of a female president. “Constituents know that they have a chance. They’re not saying ‘my vote doesn’t matter,’” said Burton.
An audience question directed at Burton asked if he believed that people who hate Clinton are sexist. “Sexism, much like racism, is deeply imbedded; do you think Obama would be so criticized if he looked like me?” Burton replied.
During the Q and A portion of the discussion, Professor Taylor read a question from an audience member directed at Brulte regarding the fate of the GOP if Trump loses, and if the party will fracture more following that loss. “You can recover from an election loss; an election loss is not terminal for a party,” said Brulte. An unpopular candidate is not the only thing the Republican Party has to worry about this election season. In California, there has been a 10 percent decline in Republican voters, and the wealth of Republican voters is decreasing as well.
2015 statistics showed that Latinos outnumbered whites in California, which mirrors a national upward trend of “browning” as multiracial families become more and more common. Brulte asserted that, in order to grow the Republican Party in California, his goal is to increase the number of women and racial minorities in the GOP. Brulte described a few preliminary changes that the California GOP is making in response to the browning of America, but the national GOP is yet to make similar changes.
Sophomore Virginia Differding said, “The party chairs have definitely given us a lot to think about; this election has brought up a lot of difficult issues […] no matter how comical certain candidates may be, we should take them seriously because they have a real effect on America.”
This election marks a turning point in the way we view politics in this country. Sophomore Claudette Vanmaarschalkerweerd, said, “I think when you hear the phrase ‘what’s at stake?’ you expect them to say what we can expect from either of the candidates and I don’t think we heard that, but we did hear discussion of why outcomes would be expected.” Regardless of political affiliation, the 2016 election season has proven itself different from any other U.S. election in recent history.