Election Prompts Mixed Reaction
Despite all worries of messy, extended legal ordeals and numbers too close to call, the 2004 elections came and went smoothly. By the morning of Wednesday, November 3, less than 12 hours after the last votes came in, Senator John Kerry had called President George W. Bush and conceded.
Though the Nov. 2 elections were for many different positions, ranging from local officials on up to the President, most people seemed to be primarily concerned with the presidential race.
Students react strongly
On campus and around the world, “most people are reacting along fairly partisan lines,” said Political Science Professor Stephen Ansolabehere. “The Democrats are very upset, and the Republicans are quite happy.”
“I was really surprised at the intensity of people's reactions to the results,” said Political Science Professor Charles Stewart III. “I think a lot of people view this election as a major turning point in the cultural history of this nation,” he said, and “a lot of Democrats weren't prepared to lose.”
Election reactions on campus cover the entire spectrum, though opinions seem to fall on the democratic end. “All universities are heavily Democratic, and MIT isn’t very different in that regard,” Stewart said. When the results came out, the Democrats were upset not only because “they lost the elections,” but also because they felt “the future of America could be different as a consequence.”
I was disappointed,” said Olusola A. Aina ’07, co-president of the MIT College Democrats. “I just feel that the Americans didn’t really make the right choice... and because Kerry clearly won the debates, perhaps they were motivated by some other factor” than the candidate’s ability to be the leader, such as the “moral values of certain religious people.”
Many students who voted for Kerry did so at least in part because of a dislike for Bush.
“I hate Bush,” said Christina A. Peterson ’08. Though she did not strongly support Kerry, she voted for him “because he’s the lesser evil compared to Bush.”
“I’m very disappointed I live in this country,” said Alexander G. Bakst ’08. He dislikes Bush for many reasons, including actions that he perceives as hypocritical. On environmental issues, for example, Bush “supposedly signed a lot of bills that were good for the environment... but made it worse.”
Ryan A. Bavetta ’07 said that he is “kind of disappointed ... I guess it’s going to be another four years.” Bavetta voted in California by absentee ballot, and cited “environmental reasons, the war on Iraq, [Bush’s] explanations for different actions that don’t seem to add up, health care,” and others among the many reasons that he dislikes Bush.
On the other hand, many students are excited that Bush won the election.
“I really like Bush. I’m really glad he won,” said Lisa M. Shank ’08. Calling Bush “a muffin,” she explained her terminology by saying that he is “really cute.” Cuteness aside, she voted for Bush because she likes “his stances on the war on terror and the military budget.” As a ROTC participant, she supports “his pay for the military and tax cuts,” as well as most of his other policies, other than those regarding stem cell research.
Abigail C. Swenson ’07 is “really excited that George Bush was elected,” and she voted for him “mostly because I agree with his stances on gay marriage and abortion.” She said that she feels Bush is a “strong leader” and “will do a wonderful job.”
Many students didn’t vote
According to The Washington Post, “Young voters... made up 17 percent of 2004’s total vote, unchanged from 2000,” which is very low compared to the estimated 50-60 percent turnout for the overall population.
Based on exit poll data, it appears that the age 18-30 group is the only group in which there was a significant political slant, Stewart said. That group’s Kerry-Bush split was about 60-40, whereas for all other age groups, the division was about 50-50.
Christopher A. Casiano ’07 did not vote because he felt he was “sort of going to be unhappy one way or another,” he said, and “neither candidate earned” his vote.
“I’m so politically apathetic,” said Sarah X. Cheng ’08. “I’m kind of disappointed with the bickering and... all the corruption,” she said.
Prior to the elections, there was talk of the increased youth vote perhaps swinging the elections in some states. Some Democrats were banking on increased numbers of youth voting, and as a result, an advantage for Kerry.
Why wasn’t there much of a change? Simply put, it was “because young people don’t vote,” Stewart said. “There was a lot of really sloppy thinking or wishful thinking about the role of the youth vote,” he said, not so much on the part of the Democratic Party, but rather on the part of many Democrats who were trying to predict the results. “Since time began... one of the most sturdy findings is that young people, age 18-21, 18-25 vote at really low levels.”
The overall turnout also didn’t increase as much as many had expected it would, Ansolabehere said. Data indicates the turnout increased from about 50.5 percent in 2000 to 52.5 percent this year, a rather modest increase compared to expectations, he said.
What often “gets people into politics in a big way” is a particularly exciting candidate, Ansolabehere said. This year, the two major candidates were very similar to the two major candidates of the 2000 elections, he said, adding that one was in fact exactly the same.
The “last big turnout increase was when Perot was on the ballot,” and the turnout increased by about five percent, Ansolabehere said. This year, there was no such candidate to drastically change voter turnout.
“I was surprised by youth turnout,” Aina said. She “thought the student turnout would be much greater,” and the low turnout might be because “students didn’t feel like they were being spoken to directly” or that their “issues were being addressed,” though “everything the candidates were talking about would affect” students in some way now or in the future.
“It’s very difficult” to convince students to vote, she said, “because if students don’t feel like they’re getting anything directly from the candidate, it’s hard to convince them otherwise.”
It is very unlikely that the youth vote will ever swing an election, Stewart said, and “people should have known better than to rely” on that. Even during the Vietnam War there wasn’t much of a youth vote... sometimes people’s enthusiasms get the better of their analytical judgments.”
“In sheer numbers, the major growth” was in the number of conservative Christians voting, particularly in areas of the Midwest like Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Missouri, he said.
MIT students participate
MIT student participation in the elections varied widely. Ansolabehere’s students in his Presidential Elections class (17.269) “did different things... Some were up in New Hampshire working for one campaign or another, and some were studying for tests,” he said.
Throughout the election season, students have been running voter registration drives, canvassing neighborhoods, doing literature drops, working at phone banks, and more.
“I was surprised by how many people at MIT were actually interested in going up to New Hampshire, said Aina. “I think there’s more to MIT than meets the eye as far as political activity,” she said.
“MIT students were working really hard and doing great things,” Ansolabehere said. “A large number of students were serving as poll workers,” for example.
Ansolabehere’s students also “were analyzing poll data and coming up with forecasts,” he said. “After careful study... about 95 percent of students said Bush would win, even though the class was overwhelmingly Democratic.”
What changes may come
“A lot will be affected by the results of this election,” Stewart said, adding that though the Senate elections are not getting as much popular attention as the Presidential election, “the shift in the Senate is probably even more significant” than the results of the Presidential election.
“The Senate is now comfortably controlled by the Republicans,” Stewart said, and the control means “the Republican leadership will now be willing to push through things that they weren't willing to before,” such as judicial nominations.
At the same time, Ansolabehere said the Republicans still do not have enough of a majority to “block things from coming to the floor,” and he does not “expect a lot of change” in Congress’s behavior.
“What is hard to anticipate is how the Bush administration will behave without having to seek re-election,” Ansolabehere said.
“Who knows. Clinton worked hard to establish a legacy in his second term,” Ansolabehere said, and he speculated that Bush might try to establish a legacy through a “concerted effort to see the peace process in Israel get back on track.”
There is “a lot of hope that Bush will be a uniter, not a divider,” Steward said, though it seems “the Republican leadership is eager to move through an agenda.”
“I think the only way to judge a president is on past performance,” Stewart said. “Bush has pushed a strongly conservative agenda up to this point, and I suspect he would continue to push a strongly conservative agenda.”
Olusola A. Aina ’07, co-president of the MIT College Democrats, said there are many reasons she is upset that Bush won. He is “still going to be serving his base through tax cuts,” which are “not going to help the lower class at all,” she said. In addition, “if Bush appoints very conservative people to the Supreme Court, that could have very important implications” which “could be very negative,” she said.
The election results are “obviously going to have an effect on us in international relations,” Aina said, and it’s fair to “assume he’s going to continue in the way he’s been going,” with “unilateral decisions... and without the help of the UN.”
Ansolabehere said he thinks the international community would have been more eager to work with the United States if Kerry had won the election. However, with Bush as the president for four more years, “the U.S. will be more independent and more isolated in its foreign policy,” he said.
Europe, for example, “will have to change its foreign policy” and “act more collectively... For Europe as a whole to be a counterweight to U.S. foreign policy, the European Union would have to develop a coherent foreign policy,” he said, and this election “might stimulate that... Rather than following the U.S. or piggybacking on U.S. initiatives, other countries might establish a more independent foreign policy.”
The world is already seeing this change, he said. The rest of the world is effectively saying they will take actions with or without the U.S. - that they “don’t need the U.S.” he said.