Capstone: Kristen Andersen Predicts 2020 Democratic Primary

As part of the annual 2020 Capstone Lecture Series, students taking the V Form Capstone course watched virtual lectures centered around this year's topic, the 2020 presidential election.

As part of the annual 2020 Capstone Lecture Series, students taking the V Form Capstone course watched virtual lectures centered around this year's topic, the 2020 presidential election. Their first online lecture was given by Chapple Family Professor of Citizenship and Democracy Emeritus at Syracuse University Professor Kristen Andersen. Andersen presented an overview of the American presidential election process and some of its shortcomings while also explaining the state of the 2020 Democratic Primary.

Andersen opened with a history of the presidential election process, explaining how the Electoral College's original purpose had been subverted with the introduction of political parties. She then spoke about the development of the primary election process, outlining the transition from party leaders deciding the candidates in secret political gatherings called "smoke-filled rooms" to the current system of choosing nominees through popular vote. Then, she explored the implications of the current primary system; namely, the fact that turnout in primaries is less than half that of the general election, and largely among party loyalists. This may result in candidates' shifting away from the center to win their party's nomination, then pivoting back to the center during general elections.

Andersen then discussed the topic of the 2020 Democratic Primary, analyzing how after the first three states, Iowa, New Hampshire, and Nevada, Bernie Sanders was in a firm lead. However, soon after, Joe Biden was able to sweep South Carolina, as well as most of March 3's "Super Tuesday" primaries. Andersen pinned this on two major factors: the high turnout among African-American voters in the South, which benefitted Biden, as well as the lack of turnout among young voters, which hurt Sanders. She then predicted that Biden would be the nominee; at the time, Sanders had not dropped out yet.

Finally, Andersen touched on the topic of the general election, explaining how electors in the Electoral College are allocated in a "winner-takes-all" fashion, where every elector in a state is given to the candidate who wins the popular vote there. According to her, because of this, candidates only need to pay attention to "the so-called swing states: states that are close enough that if [a candidate] got two more votes than [their opponent], [they] would get all the electoral votes." This results in turnout being increased in those states, while it is depressed in states that always vote for one party, and it could even mean that a candidate that loses the popular vote nationwide ends up elected president.

Andersen also spoke about some solutions to these issues, including the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact, a compact in which states that ratify it give all their electoral votes to the winner of the national popular vote, as well as a system of proportional allocation that has already been adopted in Maine and Nebraska.

Overall, the lecture informed students on how U.S. presidential elections worked, especially when it came to primaries. Natalia Ibarra '20 said that the lecture "has made [her] a much more informed citizen," and that "There were a few things [she] didn't know…about primaries prior to the lecture," which she found to be quite interesting.

After hearing the lecture, Makayla Boxley '20 shared her own thoughts, saying that on the Democratic side, Joe Biden had to shift some of his policy further to the left to appeal to more liberal Sanders or Elizabeth Warren voters. Going into the general election, she believes that "In order to court centrist voters, Biden will have to make himself sound more moderate."

Anika Bagaria '20 agreed, saying, "It's definitely a race to the center…in many cases for the general," although she noticed that both candidates in the 2020 race appeared to be pandering to their own party's bases more heavily during this election.


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