Elections forum sheds light on national, local issues

This past Tuesday, Portland State’s political science department hosted an event called “Making Sense of the Midterm Election Muddle.”

This past Tuesday, Portland State’s political science department hosted an event called “Making Sense of the Midterm Election Muddle.” The forum aimed to reach students who know little about specific measures and issues that are important in the November elections.

Four PSU faculty members presented their thoughts and research on topics ranging from local to national politics.

Senior Matt Fleskes, the president of the National Political Science Honors Society at PSU and the leading student organizer of the event, said that the audience turnout was better than expected. The attendees were a mix of political science majors, faculty and friends of the department.

At the forum, Ian McDonald, a political science professor, discussed the likelihood that Republicans will win more elections than Democrats in national Congress this year.

McDonald cited widespread disapproval of President Obama’s economic policy as the reason for the congressional switch.

“The failure of the economy to rebound this year is the reason why we started to predict a switch of control,” McDonald said.

In a Wednesday interview, economics professor Mary King contested Obama’s responsibility for the current state of the economy.

“People are pinning the deficit on the stimulus, and that’s not true,” she said, referring to the $800-billion package that Congress approved in the winter of 2009.

According to King, the stimulus was relatively small and the economy is still recovering from Bush’s term. More stimulus is needed, particularly in the green infrastructure and the social realm.

Julia Rabadi, president of the College Republicans at PSU, disagreed with King.

“At some point, you have to stop blaming the past administration; it’s an old rhetoric,” she said.

Bill Lunch, chair of the Political Science Department at Oregon State University, said that some polls indicate shifts back towards Democrats, at least on the West Coast.

“This doesn’t mean that democrats will dominate but that their losses may be minimized,” he said.

“The polling for the race for governor shows the race to be essentially tied,” Lunch said. “Some surveys released last week show the race to have shifted towards Kitzhaber slightly.”

In Oregon, the gubernatorial race represents a close call between Democratic incumbent Governor John Kitzhaber and Republican Chris Dudley.

Because Democrats are likely to lose seats in Congress, the result of this November’s elections might be that fewer women will be represented in politics, according to Melody Rose, a former professor in the political science department who became vice provost for Academic Programs and Instruction this year.

At the forum, she observed that, for the first time since the late ’70s, the outcome of this November’s elections might see fewer women in elected roles.

“Since 1978, women have been making very steady, moderate, slow gains in the U.S. Congress,” she said. She predicts that the trend line may reverse this November because it’s a bad year for democrats.

Phil Keisling, Oregon’s former secretary of state and the recently appointed director of the Center for Urban Affairs, spoke at the forum about voter turnout. He wove together voter numbers from the election in January on measures 66 and 67 and the May 2010 primary election to conclude that the median age of voters in Oregon is 60 years old.

“I think it says an awful lot about what gets talked about and what doesn’t,” Keisling said. He suggested that the clout exercised by older voters results in the security of more benefits. “The federal budget, on a per capita basis, according to some accounts, provides $7 [more] for those who are 65 and older than it does for those who are under the age of 30.”

However, polls predicting voter turnout are difficult to trust, according to Keisling.

“If young voters somehow get more interested in the final two or three weeks, as they often do, that could very well cause some unpredictability,” he said.

In an attempt to combat the reality that older people vote more than young people do, the combined campus-wide efforts of ASPSU’s Vote OR Vote campaign and the Sierra’s Club’s Reenergize the Vote campaign succeeded in the registration of 2,574 new voters at PSU, a number presented by Oregon Student Association Campus Organizer Casey Dreher at the Student Senate meeting on Tuesday.

Dreher acknowledged the fact that the participation of youth in voting is negligent, but he was hopeful about the trends towards greater participation that he’s noticed. He cited an April 2009 study by the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement showing that the number of voters under thirty who appeared in the national polls increased by 11 percent, while the number of older voters only increased by three percent.

The same study concluded that young voter turnout in Oregon increased by 4.2 percent between 2004 and 2008.

“What’s important about that is that it’s double the national increase,” Dreher said.

A survey of forty random students on campus this week revealed that many students are not aware of the measures on Oregon’s 2010 ballot.

Three of the forty students identified Measure 74, which would make medical marijuana more accessible to patients, but none of the students could name other measures.

Measures 71 and 74 are two of the most interesting measures on this year’s Oregon ballot, said Richard Clucas, a professor in the political science department. He spoke at the forum about state and local politics.

None of the students surveyed had heard of Measure 71, which would require the Oregon Legislature to meet every year. Currently, the legislature meets every other year.

“Local politics tend to be far less understood than what goes on nationally,” Clucas said. “You watch TV, and 15 or 20 minutes after the crime report goes on, there’s that 30-second talk about state politics, and then they move on to the weather and sports.”

Some students in the campus survey couldn’t identify specific measures but grasped the major local issues.

“I can tell you that we’re voting on medical marijuana, property tax increases and veteran benefits,” said Dylan Grimes, a sophomore.

Election day is Nov. 2, and all of the students approached for the survey are registered to vote and plan to vote. Ryan Graven, a senior at PSU, is confident he’ll be able to quickly catch up on the election.

“I’ll look at the ballot on voting day,” he said. “I’ll do my research then.” ?