2020 Presidential Election: Making Sense of Uncertainty | New Hampshire Public Radio

2020 Presidential Election: Making Sense of Uncertainty

Nov 4, 2020

No matter how the Presidential race eventually turns out, it’s clear we’re a nation divided. We explore some philosophical questions about what that means for our future as a country and as individuals. How do we stay vigilant to misinformation in times of uncertainty, and how do we maintain trust in institutions that don't reflect our values? And given distrust in those whose politics we reject, how can we work on the nation's biggest challenges? 

Airdate: Thursday, Nov. 5, 2020

 


GUESTS:

  • Neil Levesque - executive director at the New Hampshire Institute of Politics at Saint Anselm College.
  • Brendan Nyhan - Professor of Government at Dartmouth College and contributor to the New York Times’s The Upshot.

 

Transcript

This transcript was machine-generated and contains errors.

Laura Knoy:
From New Hampshire Public Radio, I'm Laura Knoy, and this is The Exchange. No matter how the presidential race turns out, it's clear we're a nation divided. And this hour on The Exchange, we explore what that means for our future, both as a country and as individuals exchange listeners. We'd love your thoughts. Given heightened political distrust, how can we find solutions to the nation's enormous challenges? Also, is it possible there's some strength in our political diversity?

Laura Knoy:
And our guests are Neil Levesque, executive director at the New Hampshire Institute of Politics at Saint Anselm College, and Brendan Nyhan, professor of government at Dartmouth College and contributor to the New York Times column, The Upshot. Well, welcome to both of you. I know it's been a busy week for both of you. I want to explore this issue of political division, but ask first and I'll turn to you, Brendan.

Laura Knoy:
Obviously, political scientists and journalists are all over this topic. How much does this matter to the daily lives, though, Brendan, of Americans who are really, really struggling right now with a pandemic and an uncertain economy?

Brendan Nyhan:
Well, it's easy to forget what a small role politics plays in a lot of people's lives. There's a kind of person who follows politics very closely and, you know, that's going to be a group that's overrepresented in the audience of a show like this. But the average person actually doesn't pay very close attention to politics. So I think that's a really important thing to keep in mind. At the same time, though, we've been living with the ways that the actions of government can affect people's everyday lives, most notably in the response to covid-19 and the economic relief efforts undertaken in response to the downturn that took place because of the shutdown. So people's lives are going to be affected depending on how this election turns out. The covid-19 response of this administration, we're expecting Joe Biden, if he wins, take a very different approach. Congress did not act on proposals for another covid relief package. You know, the political circumstances will change depending on how this election turns out. Those will affect every American's lives, either directly or indirectly in profound ways. So I do think the stakes are high, even if it's really a smaller subset of people who are obsessing over the details of the count in places like Georgia, Pennsylvania.

Laura Knoy:
What do you think about this, Neil? Do most Americans, you know, are they deeply concerned about these political divisions or do they say, OK, well, we're divided, whatever? I've got a lot more stuff on my plate?

Neil Levesque:
Well, I think the professor is correct in the fact that, you know, we've been watching the pandemic. All of us, you know, we all know what the Carers Act is, the first bill I think every American knows about. But the fact is, is that we had record turnouts across this country on Tuesday and that shows that there is investment and an interest on Americans parts. You know, for years, people who are in the civic engagement business like you and me have been hoping that we'd have record turnouts like like we did and now we do. And there's a lot of interest in this election and there's a lot of division. And I think that the I think that it's front and center on people's minds.

Laura Knoy:
Well, and down the line, I'd like to do another show maybe with the two of you about this idea of record turnout and all the new ways that people were allowed to vote this year and what people think about whether those will last. But towards this theme of division. And boy, when you look at the results, there's almost no other way to to look at it. Here's what George Will said, longtime conservative columnist. For those who don't know him, he described America this way. I'm quoting here this Republic's institutions, however well devised, cannot channel, dampen and refine the passions of a public evenly divided by mutual incomprehension. I was struck by that last part, mutual incomprehension. And and Neil, to first, what is it that we don't comprehend about those who voted for the other side?

Neil Levesque:
I think there's a general misunderstanding of the other side, and you can look no further than sort of the information sources that Americans choose. They're not choosing. Information when they turn on the news, they're now turning they're turning to affirmation of their own ideas and the those channels are fanning the flames of more increased divisions. I think George Will is right. There is incomprehension. And if you take conflict, you can take wars. An example would be sort of the Balkans and some of the resolutions where longstanding issues have remained and for for generations. If you sit people down and have them explain why they care about what they care about, that's how you create sort of a dampening of that, bring people together. And we don't have that in America right now because everyone is sort of choosing their own information sources.

Laura Knoy:
What do you think about that, Brendan? I thought that was so well put a public evenly divided by mutual incomprehension.

Brendan Nyhan:
Yeah, it's a real challenge, I do want to nuance the point that Neil's making a little bit and just emphasize that it's really the politically attentive people we were talking about earlier who have those more polarized informational diets. The average person. I don't think that's what's driving the incomprehension. When we look at people's news exposure, it's less polarized for the average person. It seems highly politically attentive, high volume news consumers who have more more polarized information. I think it's a it's a it's a deeper problem. Political scientists who've looked at this have talked about how in the past we had different kinds of identities that weren't well aligned with partizanship. So you might be a Catholic and a union member and a member of a PTA that has a bunch of people from different backgrounds. And you have all these different aspects of your identity that don't closely aligned with partizanship, whereas now we may have the aspects of our identities are kind of better suited to partizanship than they were in the past. So people who are a member of a demographic group of some type that they're often very highly likely to be a member of a particular party and they're socially and economically sorted with people who have similar views. And in that context, you have fewer and fewer people in your everyday exposure and you're in your world that you come into contact with who don't. Share the same presuppositions as you do, and we found, for instance, in surveys, when you ask people about the other party, partizans wildly overestimate the stereotypical characteristics of the other side. So the Republicans vastly overestimate the proportion of Democrats who are LBG. Q And Democrats vastly overestimate the number of Republicans who make more than two hundred thousand dollars a year. Right. So there's these kind of bridges in people's understanding of each other that may in part be a reflection of just not intermixing the way that they did before. So, you know, that's a sad state of affairs.

Laura Knoy:
Now, that's really interesting what you're saying. So why don't people mix with the other, so to speak, in, you know, PTA's or bowling leagues or, you know, church or whatever?

Brendan Nyhan:
We don't you know, that's a complicated question, and the people who have looked into it have found it, it's not like people are avoiding people of the other party as such. It's just the way our society has developed. People have sorted it in ways that often correspond to politics. And we have fewer institutions that bring people together across difference than we did. So think of now and many of the examples we can think of from the past were very exclusionary in certain ways. So I want to I want to caveat that and say that they were not perfect. There's no mid 20th century utopia. That was a time of great racial segregation, for instance. But among a certain set of people, white, upper middle class people, there were things like the Lions Club or other kinds of organizations like that that were bringing people together. Religious groups were more politically diverse, less polarized by politics. Right. So there were different kinds of organizations were bringing people together. And I don't think we have as many of those. And we're often living in counties or local areas that are heavily favoring one party. So just purely geographically, where you live based on your lifestyle preferences, often you may be more surrounded with people who think like you do. And and that's really that's really unfortunate. So ask if you're a Democrat, ask yourself how many people you know who have served in the military, who are under 70 years old, and it's probably not very many and you can do the same exercise the other way.

Laura Knoy:
So that mutual incomprehension, Brendan, that George Will writes about kind of makes sense if you're not living and interacting with people who think differently than you, of course, you don't comprehend them.

Brendan Nyhan:
That's what I worry about, you know, and I don't want to suggest that just talking to people is some kind of magic elixir that will solve all of our problems. That would be a really oversimplified way to think about this. But it could at least it could at least be a start. And we do need those institutions that bring people together around common goals and purposes. I think that's a great way to think about how civic renewal can happen at the local level when there's some common purpose. There's some organization that brings people together across difference. And we do need more of that because our partizan divide has become so, so heated and we do need to see each other as neighbor, neighbors and fellow members of the community.

Laura Knoy:
Wow. Neil, your thoughts on this?

Neil Levesque:
Well, I think that the professor is correct in the fact that if the small town Rotary Club or Lions Club, those those organizations are suffering, where do we get together? We get together on Facebook. Right. And when we see a Facebook post that affirms our own beliefs, then we forward it and like it. And a lot of the times that's incendiary to other people. And we're hiding behind the Internet and the computer, which allows us to be much more vocal in a way that we probably wouldn't do if we were sitting in a church pew with our fellow neighbor. And so the technology today has allowed us to sort of spread a lot more of this affirmation of our own beliefs and also to hide behind some barriers, some technology barriers that allow us to be a lot more visceral than we normally would. I'll say that in New Hampshire, our local town town meetings, I think are sort of you know, there's always a really good argument over whether or not the town is going to buy a new fire truck. But it's a lot more civil in those small town situations than it would be in some of the things you see on Facebook today.

Laura Knoy:
That's really interesting and in a couple of minutes, Brendan, I do want to ask you about the role of social media, or as Neil puts it, you know, technology puts up barriers that divide us and perpetuate those divides. As we wait for the presidential race to shake out. One thing is clear. This nation is divided. And we're talking this hour about how that may affect our future both as a country and it's just individual people living in this country. Also, could this political diversity be a source of strength or is it a source of weakness? Again, listeners, let's hear from you. Our e-mail exchange at Nhpr.org. And our phone number, one 800 eight nine two six four seven seven.

Laura Knoy:
Both of you, here's an email from Sarah in Walpole who says, I have been scratching my head over how anyone can support Trump since 2016 when he openly mocked a disabled reporter. Sarah says it's come to the point through the last four years of watching him make a mockery of our highest office where I have drawn a line in the sand. I cannot find a shred of respect for anyone who supports Trump. I have zero interest in any further efforts to understand their position, Sarah says. From where I sit, Trump supporters are the very embodiment of anti-American theology, she says, were way beyond politics, were in moral territory. Here we need to split into two countries, possibly three or four. This divide cannot be bridged. And for my part, Sarah says, I'm not interested in meeting any Trump quote in the middle. Sarah, thank you for writing in. And Brendan, I'll turn to you first. You know, the three of us can sit here and talk about bridging these divisions, coming together. But, you know, people like Sarah are saying, I'm done. I don't even want to meet in the middle. What do you think, Brendan?

Brendan Nyhan:
Well, it's it's a discouraging statement. You know, Donald Trump has put our institutions under great strain in this country over the last four years, but he's also put people's willingness to listen to and hear from the other side under great strain to we've never had a president as polarizing as Donald Trump. And it creates these incredibly intense views like this that there's a very it's very difficult to bridge that divide. And I want to be very clear that I am not going to support all the ways that Donald Trump has undermined norms of American democracy. That's something that every American should be worried about, regardless of what party they support. I can tell he's a political scientist why someone might still support him based on their policy views and their partizanship and the difference between what he says and what he does in office. And we can go through the whole set of reasons for that. But I understand ultimately this is a kind of emotional thing. And I guess the question that we might think about is, let's imagine that Joe Biden does lose. On the one hand, our politics will not revolve around Trump himself in this kind of 24/7 reality show we've been living in for the last four years, potentially, and that may lower the temperature a little bit. I think there's there's reason to think it may not be quite as polarizing, but I also want to caution against the notion that suddenly will all come back together and division will go away, because I think that's a misguided hope as well.

Brendan Nyhan:
So we're going to have to find a way to do better. Donald Trump, if he does lose, will not you know, his disappearance will not solve these problems, but it might lower the temperature a little bit. And maybe that provides a moment of hope. And I guess the last point I want to add, or is just that it may be that the ubiquity of politics in this era has worn people down. I can't I'm a political scientist who thinks about politics every waking moment, and even I am exhausted. By the last four years, politics has crept into every moment of our lives. People are connected and people are connected to it via those electronic means that Neil was talking about in such a minute to minute way. I think that's made all of us feel more intense and impossible to escape. And, you know, people deserve to be able to go about their everyday lives, not worrying about the politics and what the other side's going to do. And in that environment, I think it's very easy to just become exhausted with the process and exhausted with people who disagree with you and to just give up. And that's really something that we have to fight against as hard as it is,

Laura Knoy:
Neil. Love your thoughts, too. And what Sarah wrote, you know, this divide can't be bridged. And she says, I'm not interested in meeting any tempers in the middle. What would you say to Sarah, Neil? Would you encourage her to try or would you say, you know, Sarah, I understand it's it's hard to reach across the divide?

Neil Levesque:
Well, I think Sarah's opinions are shared by a lot of Americans. But remember, half of America is on the other side. Right? I'm in a bipartisan role, which means that pretty much everyone gets mad at me. But I'll say this. It's it's bad on both sides. Now, President Trump does lash out at the institutions in a very visceral way. And we can get into that if we need to. But there is a group of people on the right and half the country at this point that doesn't feel that those institutions represent them and have served them.

Neil Levesque:
And when he lashes out, let's say at the news media, a lot of conservative Republicans have thought for years that the the the media is biased against them. And that's why their way of life, the way of life that they see is the way forward for our country is being taken away from them. And that kind of animosity is is what he's he's capturing. There are people on the left who will say the big corporations have rigged the system against You. That's the same kind of thing that some kind of entity is taking the way your way of life and the good things that you believe are here. And so we need to understand where that is coming from. I know people on both sides of the aisle. I spend a lot of time with candidates. I've spent a lot of time personally with Donald Trump. I've been in Trump Tower and his office with him one on one for two hours. Donald Trump believes that what he is doing. Doing is good for the country, that's hard for people on the left to believe, and I'm going to say that Bernie Sanders believes that the things that he's doing is are good for the country. They are trying to do the best they possibly can. I know that that's hard to believe. I usually get booed when I when I say that at the local radio club radio Rotary Club speech, I get booed out of the room. But the truth is that politicians work very, very hard. And I'm particularly elected officials to do what's right. And we need to recognize that and not necessarily always vilify the other side when we see them.

Laura Knoy:
So you sort of answered this, Neil, but just want to pick out a little bit more with you. You said, you know, we do need to understand the other side. I think a lot of people, including our emailer, Sarah, are exhausted, politically exhausted, and it's too stressful and too exhausting to understand and maybe, you know, reach dialog with the other side and they just don't want to. I just wonder what you think about that. It is exhausting.

Neil Levesque:
Well, it can be exhausting for us as well being in this in the civic world. But the fact is, is that we had this record turnout. The country is engaged. And I think that trying to take a break from some of this and not personalizing it so much all the time, it's sort of like going into court and seeing two lawyers argue against each other. OK, all we see is that argument and it's exhausting. What we don't see is that the two lawyers go out to lunch and have a beer after work together because they're friends and that. The argument is good, but for a lot of people who don't have that kind of combat in their lives, they see that and they think it's strange and terrible.

Laura Knoy:
Let's take a call, this is Dan and Kanon. Hi, Dan, thanks for being with us today. Go ahead.

Caller:
Hi, good morning, thank you so much for having me on. So Sarah from Walpole, she really, I think, speaks for a lot of us. Basically what she expresses is a conversation that we have in our household daily. And I just in listening to your last segment here with your specialist or your guest is speaking. I'm not I think they probably get the point of Sarah and myself and folks are feeling like us, but maybe they're passing over it because they seem to to talk about the fact that our policy isn't the same and that, you know, Bernie Sanders or whoever on that side might be thinking of what they're doing is best for the country and that Trump might be thinking what he's doing is best for the country. But I think and I hope I'm not wrong. I hope I'm not speaking out of turn. But folks like Sarah and myself, we're we're past the policy. We're over the point that one side is trying to do this policy. One side's trying to do that. Policy policy doesn't affect my kitchen table lately. What affects my kitchen table is morals and decency and patriotism and what relatives of mine have fought and died for on the battlefield to keep us as a as a as a nation that holds our head high and and doesn't bash each other for their inability to do as well as us or because you're handicapped or because you say something that we don't like. So anyway, I hope I didn't just get ranting, but that's how I feel. And I wonder if maybe Sarah is expressing that for a lot of.

Laura Knoy:
Dan, I'm really glad you called. Thank you so much. And you know, Brendan, he's right. Sarah said, you know, we're in moral territory here. So for Dan and Sarah, our listeners, it isn't about, you know, should we raise taxes? Should we lower them? Should we, you know, expand the Affordable Care Act or get rid of it? It's moral territory. And I just this is this is deep stuff, Brendan. So go ahead.

Brendan Nyhan:
Yeah, know that the caller very eloquently expressed the challenge that we face, which is that policy, you can often compromise in ways where everyone gets half a loaf, right. So there's some spending bill that the parties need to compromise on and some get some of their priorities funded and the others get different priorities funded. And everyone comes away with with something and there's some mutually productive outcome. That's not what happens with issues of of identity and morals. Those are often much more, Zero-Sum. That's been a kind of general trend in our politics. The parties have been divided over the size and scope of government, which often lends itself to the kinds of compromises I've been describing. But increasingly, as they've been divided over more moral or identity issues, those kinds of compromises are, of course, harder to reach because of the logic I was describing earlier. And Trump himself has made his own behavior a kind of central issue in American politics in a way that I think shatters any possibility of of kind of seeing things in the same way or finding some agreement on a path forward. We've just never had a president who so openly refused to try to appeal to every American to bridge divides. We've never had a president who who attacks his opponents and the way that he does. And there are some people who like it, but it's going to produce the kind of collateral damage that we're hearing from the caller.

Brendan Nyhan:
And then it's not just going to be in their views of Trump, of course, but in in how they view the people who still stand with him after he engages in those kinds of actions. And I think a real question moving forward is how many people start to govern or speak in public life in ways that dispense entirely with the notion that they're trying to appeal to everyone? I do worry when I hear the kind of rhetoric that we've heard, not just from the president, but from other leaders in national life. So, for instance, a member of Congress was talking about how they wouldn't support blue state bailouts. President Trump has kind of talked dismissively about problems in Democrat run cities and states as if they're not part of the United States. And that's where this kind of problem becomes more fundamental, because now we're no longer seeing ourselves as having a kind of shared fate and a shared set of goals that we have to pursue whatever our differences. And that's that's when the problems with the whole system become kind of fundamental. We need to still see ourselves as partners in this democratic process. And that's been incredibly hard in the Trump years.

Laura Knoy:
We're going take a very short break. As we look at political divides, how we feel about them, whether they matter whether you have the energy like Sarah said she did not to bridge them. And if we do want to bridge them, how do we make that happen? Tough stuff, big stuff, deep stuff.

Laura Knoy:
This is The Exchange I'm Laura Knoy today, election 2020, making sense of uncertainty and of the political division that the results show no matter who ends up the winner of the Oval Office. And helping us hash all this out is Neil Levesque, executive director of the New Hampshire Institute of Politics at Saint Anselm College, and Brendan Nyhan, professor of government at Dartmouth and a contributor to the New York Times column The Upshot. And I want to let listeners know that, of course, we will bring you updates if there is a major shift in the election during this hour. But as we are standing by with that, we're looking at some broader questions around political division in this country. And gentlemen, right back to our callers. Ed's waiting in Swanzey. Hi, Ed. Thanks for hanging on. You're on the air. Go ahead.

Caller:
Hey, good morning. Morning. I just wanted I just wanted to say that, you know, the one of the biggest problems is nobody will let the other side just be who they are. And that, you know, if you hold an opinion that's different from mine, it shouldn't make you evil necessarily. And that but yeah, if you're if you're anti-gay marriage or, you know, pro-gun control or something like that, the other side is is literally demonized. And if you wind up going out and expressing your views on something like this or Facebook, you're going to wind up getting flamed and, you know, really punished for holding, holding an opposing view. And until people, both individuals and politicians, are willing to just let the other side be what and who they are, none of this will ever calm down. It will always go back to the trench warfare that we have now where you don't give the other person an inch.

Laura Knoy:
Wow. So you feel shouted down on social media and in other platforms, it sounds like. Do I have that right?

Caller:
Yeah. And that that You it, whether it's there on a college campus, you know, you can't have, you know, an opinion that would be out of what whatever the majority one is, you won't even be allowed to speak. And they hold it as being illegitimate. And until that stops and it's both sides, both both left and right and and a lot of people cut across both of those lines. And, you know, in the end, we we're all individuals. I'm I'm a life member of the NRA and I'm also a leadership circle member of Nhpr.org, you know, and. And you wind up. Yeah. Being able to get your information from different places and if all you do listen to is just one or the other, then you get your views reinforced. I always believe that you should have to fight it out. You know, in the in the realm of ideas, you know, you have to, in the end convince the other person that you're right, not beat them down.

Laura Knoy:
It's so interesting to hear from you. And I really appreciate your call. And by the way, thank you for that leadership circle. Shout out to points he raises. Gentlemen, here's one. And I'm going to throw to you, I think, Neil, first, I love what Ed said about, you know, basically we're not as red and blue as you might think. You know, he gave himself as an example. He holds a variety of different views. And I'm guessing that a lot of people are like that, Neil. What do you think?

Neil Levesque:
I think to some degree that's true. Just going to the earlier caller as well, that that question, you know, the Republican National Committee did not have a platform this year. The platform was the candidate. And I think that most people just get behind the candidates in a tribal it's in a tribal type of way. And we have tribes and whatever the head of the tribe says, people get behind. And I think that in a lot of different issues, it's just, well, the rest of the tribe doesn't feel this way. So, you know, maybe I'm wrong.

Neil Levesque:
I'll just go to what he said is that it's very hard to have those types of conversations because there is a business of politics now and that business is fanning those flames and people are making a lot of money doing that.So when you turn on the news station that you pick because it's right or left station, there are all kinds of opinion people and all kinds of sales being made off of the fanning of those flames. And that is something that I think has definitely worsened in the last 10 or 20 years, where you really can't have a conversation as Laura Knoy as I used to work for a member of Congress and that member of Congress would go and hold town hall meetings. And it was a great thing because if you were a citizen and you want to ask a question of that person, you can go and make your feelings known. We can't even do that anymore, because if we do, people start yelling at the member of Congress. It's almost like a threatening situation.

Laura Knoy:
Oh, that's interesting. So you personally have felt when you worked for Congressman Bass, Neil, that shouted down that Ed talks about?

Neil Levesque:
I do not think that the members in New Hampshire can even go and do that anymore. And it was so valuable not just for the citizens, but it was valuable for the member of Congress who got to say, get out of Washington, go to Plymouth, New Hampshire, and go to hear somebody say, I care about the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. And this is why do you think maybe you could support this and the member would feel, oh, yeah, well, I'm hearing about this. This is this is important. This was what, you know, the republic or democracy was about. And we can't do that anymore. And a lot of that is because of the information sources that we're seeking that do not show that kind of dialog.

Laura Knoy:
You know, it's so interesting to Ed talks about sort of being shouted down on social media, as he put it. No one lets you be who you are. Brendan, you've looked at social media and the impact on our politics. On the one hand, social media allows everybody, anybody to say whatever they want. On the other hand, there are some people who won't say anything on social media because they don't want to be shouted down, as Ed puts it. So in a way, it's less free speech because you're going to get, you know, clobbered and sometimes you don't want to be clobbered. So what do you think, Brendan?

Brendan Nyhan:
Now, I think Ed's call is fascinating in a whole and whole series of ways, you know, I was talking about people who didn't have there were fewer people who had these kinds of overlapping ties. But Ed is a life member of the NRA and leadership circle, supporter of NPR is a perfect counterexample to that. There are those people out there and I want to actually emphasize this really important point, that even as partizan identities have become more polarized, people's views on issues actually aren't don't fit into neat boxes as much. Right. As much polarization as we see in terms of which candidate people support or which party. It's actually, when you look at people's opinions about public policy issues, you see that there's a lot more heterogeneity there. So we don't differ as much along party lines as we might think. So an example is in Florida, the they pass an increase in the minimum wage, even as Donald Trump did unexpectedly better there than against Joe Biden. So we contain multitudes. There's a more complicated situation when you get to social media that diversity in views is is flattened. And, you know, as you were as you were suggesting, Laura. And one key reason is, is exactly what you just described, that some people don't want to talk about politics on social media. I mean, there are lots of people that want to talk about politics anywhere, but especially on social media.

Brendan Nyhan:
So there's a kind of silencing of a certain set of people. And then there's some extremely vocal people who flood any space about focus on politics with very loud and often harshly expressed views. So my coauthors and I actually have studied this. We did a study where we took a nationally representative sample of people and we asked them what comment they would write on a bunch of news article posts on Facebook from major media outlets. And we compare the comments that they wrote in this hypothetical situation with the comments that were actually posted on those articles. And we found the comments that were posed in real life were much more toxic than the ones we saw, you know, everyday people posting. So there are these spaces where the loudest, most toxic voices are overrepresented. And then the final worry there is that those voices are in turn amplified by, for instance, algorithms on social media that are promoting high engagement content. So you think of that comment that your friend or relative posted generates a huge reaction. It's getting replies, it's getting thumbs up, thumbs down, whatever the algorithm is seeing that those comments may in turn get boosted and be shown to more people and further polarize the conversation. So there's real reason to worry that, you know, the heterogeneity that is out there is being obscured as you get the loudest, most extreme voices dominating the conversation online.

Laura Knoy:
Wow. Well, Ed, really glad you called. Let's take another one. This is and Harrisville. Hi, Jill. Go ahead. You're on The Exchange. Thanks for being with us today.

Caller:
Thank you for taking my call. I'm also like decades long sustainer, just as people are giving testimony not required for your report today. But thank you to one of your speakers talked about, you know, half half the nation thinks this way and half the nation the other way. And I don't want to challenge that half and half right now. If you look at the popular vote, Biden has like three point six million more votes than Trump. And we're still counting in the last election, four years ago, Hillary got three million more votes than Trump. So there was a majority that didn't want Trump then and there was a majority that doesn't want him now. And if the system is rigged, it's rigged for the minority. And how much longer are we going? Are we going to sustain this kind of disparity between who actually gets elected and what the population has been voting for? And, you know, the whole thing about Florida legalizing marijuana or at the minimum wage or any number of states where legalization of marijuana and the minimum wage passed in plebiscite, even though the Republican controlled government wasn't doing it. And I think the issues on the ground, a lot more people do agree on a lot more stuff. But right now, the majority minority control, especially in Congress, in the in the Senate has stuff has been blocking so much stuff that could benefit so many more people. And and it's stuff that people in majority polling consistently shows. This is what people are for, higher minimum wage, legalization of marijuana, those kind of issues, health care, those kind of issues. And it's been blocked by minority control.

Laura Knoy:
Wow. Jill, it's great to hear from you. There's so much in what you said. I want to pick up on one thing, but you raised so many points and we may have to follow up in another show, the Electoral College.

Laura Knoy:
Gentlemen, we did a show. On this gush, this week is all turned into a big bowl of oatmeal for me, but I think it was earlier this week. And Neil, we talked about how the Electoral College has created the situation that Jill raises, where twice in the past 20 years we've had a president who did not have more Americans backing him, causing frustration among listeners like Jill.

Laura Knoy:
What do you think, Neil, about the Electoral College? What kind of conversations are you having about this at the Institute of Politics? And I just wonder, is a long time, you know, observer and someone who's been involved in politics, what you think?

Neil Levesque:
Well, I knew that the Electoral College would come up because I think it comes up on every single speech or Zoom that I do these days. A couple of things, Alexander Hamilton, he is the sort of creator of this, and they didn't put it into the into the play. But, you know, at the time and still now we are the United States. And it was obviously created to give smaller states a say. Now, on the practical side, I'm going to just say two things, the first thing is, is that when you're a campaign manager, you're looking to how you can win the election. And the right now, the rules are that you win the Electoral College and that has how the game is played and that's how you're targeting voters, how you're targeting states, trips, everything is around that. So it's not fair necessarily to say that one candidate got more votes but didn't win the Electoral College, because if the if the rules were different, the campaign, the candidate might have changed how they campaigned. The second thing is, let's get to the practical side of this, OK? We we have a hard time passing a budget in Congress every every two years or every year and, you know, trying to change the Electoral College. I always feel that I'll be long gone before that happens, just on the practical side. So those are my opinions. That's another thing I get booed at when I give a speech. But it's it's I just think coming from the practical side of politics, there are things you can change and things you can't. And and I don't think that changing the Electoral College is in the cards.

Laura Knoy:
Well, James on Twitter posted to go off of Ed, that's our earlier caller's point about being blue or red. James says many of us are purple without more prevalence of third parties. We will remain divided if we don't call out the failures of the two party system. And that is another point that I want to ask you about, Brendan. Would we be as divided if we had more parties to sort of cobble together? You didn't have you know, sometimes it's like looking at a menu. You know, I don't want a burger or a veggie burger. I want something else, you know?

Brendan Nyhan:
Yeah, I think there's something to this I don't want to suggest that multiparty systems will eliminate political division, but there are reasons to think that the parties would campaign differently if they were trying, if we had multiple parties that were competing for the adjacent constituencies that you might expect as you arrayed a set of parties from left to right in multi-party systems, you're often trying to build a coalition of parties. So it's very important if you're the center left party to not just think about the left party, but to think about the supporters of the center right party and to campaign in a way that's appealing to them and to lay the groundwork for potentially being in coalition with them to govern. There's a book called "Breaking the Two-Party Doom Loop" by Lee Drutman that I think is quite eloquent about this. There's a kind of inherent zero-sum logic to a two-party system that I think is is quite damaging. Every win by one side feels like a zero-sum loss to the other. And in those circumstances, politics can feel very existential. And and that problem is exacerbated by the minority and bent of our institutions that the caller raises, that we want politicians to be going out and trying to win votes.

Brendan Nyhan:
And our institutions make it possible, right now on the Republican side to govern without appealing to a majority of Americans. And that's not something that political scientists are are comfortable with. There's complicated historical reasons that we have that system that we can talk about. But fundamentally, I think it does change the way people campaign. And and Neil's right. We can't infer from that that the outcome would have been the same under different rules. But we want rules that encourage politicians to reach out to the broadest possible set of constituents. And it really might change things if every if presidential candidates were competing for votes in California or other places. There's a lot of Republicans in California. Donald Trump could be speaking to them. There's also lots of Democrats and independents. Right. And they're completely out of the picture. In New Hampshire we're fortunate enough to be relatively competitive. And so the parties pay some attention to us in a presidential campaign. But that's not actually true for most Americans. And that's a feature of our system that I think we're going to have to reexamine, especially because of the way it's interacting with all these forces of division we've been talking about.

Laura Knoy:
All right, we're going to take another very quick break, gentlemen, and then when we come back, we'll try to get to as many listeners as possible. This is The Exchange on NHPR.

Laura Knoy:
This is The Exchange I'm Laura Knoy this hour, no matter who wins the presidency, he faces a massively divided nation. And today in The Exchange, we're looking at why, how and what it means for the challenges our country faces. Neil Levesque at the Institute of Politics at Saint Anselm College, Brendan Nyhan at Dartmouth College, let's go right back to our listeners who really want to jump in on this topic. Andy is calling from Hollis. Hi, Andy. You're on the air. Thanks for being with us.

Caller:
Good morning. Good morning and and certainly enjoy the program, a couple of things. One, I happen to be retired military, so I've seen the world at it and I'm well, I'm going to say now is a divided vote is not a bad vote. I've seen and been around and have seen countries where those that are running for electoral office of one sort or another get 95 plus percent of the vote. So in those cases, it's not the votes that count so much as those who count the votes that count. So for our nation, having a vote like we have now, about 73 million, 68 million, maybe that's not such a bad thing. Now, it's more things could be put up for a vote versus the animosity that we have on Facebook and what have you. Maybe we have a chance to go forward.

Laura Knoy:
This is great. Andy, thank you very much for calling in. And what do you think Neil Levesque divided is not necessarily a bad thing?

Neil Levesque:
Well, in our business, politics, the argument is good. We want to have the argument, as Andy said, and again, I go back to that courtroom situation where you have a prosecutor and a defense person, you wouldn't want your defense attorney coming in and saying, you know, we know you're not in it. We know you didn't do it. But we're we think we should compromise on the, you know, and plead guilty and and take a year in prison. You wouldn't want that. And for people who are in the argument and in politics, they believe that going this way is the is the correct way and they don't necessarily want to compromise all the time. Does compromise happen? Yes. Is it good that we compromise to move forward? Absolutely. But the argument is good for a lot of people who. Live or work in a world that is very argument free combat, free, if you will, this is a strange world and they and they see it on television and they think it's appropriate that we go out and sort of call the other person names and be visceral in our hatred of the other side. And that's really not the way politics is supposed to be.

Laura Knoy:
Let's take another call. This is Sarah in Walpole. Hi, Sarah. You're on the air. Welcome.

Caller:
Yeah, thanks for taking my call and for reading my email this morning and last. I wanted to clarify that, you know, there's this is really a moral issue for me. It's not about politics. And I think the best way I can describe that is I am I'm a pro-choice person that has many, many pro-life friends. That's a political morality that I can come to another side and have a conversation. But when it comes to Trump mocking people and saying the things he does about women and what he is doing now with the election, those are things that I don't want to find a middle ground. I don't think that those kinds of morals are flexible. And so that's where I got in to talking about splitting up the country and the two party system and the whole disaster that it is. Why do half of us have to be unhappy all of the time?

Caller:
Yeah, getting to what we talked about earlier, Sarah, the idea that there isn't a multi-party system, that is kind of a yes or no. Thank you for calling in and again for helping kick off our conversation with that that email that you wrote. I want to go to Adam in Berlin, gentlemen, and try to get to as many listeners as possible before we have to close out. So go ahead, Adam.

Caller:
Hi, yeah, I'm calling because I do believe that we all need to look at each other as humans. I mean, personally, I'm I'm an active member in my church. I'm a business owner. I'm a veteran, former law enforcement and. I think this divide really stems in for Facebook from Newt Gingrich when he took control of the House, you know, 20, 30 years ago. I remember hearing that he told his his members of the House Republicans they need to move back to their home districts. We need to be out of these seats. And, you know, that affected, I think, the way that our politicians look at each other. You know, back then before that Republican representative had kids that went to school with Democratic Representative Exciter, there's even been an attempt that has happened. You really see that the demonization of of others. I, I consider myself independent because I do live very conservative life, you know? And but I have never voted for a Republican, I just. It just it just hasn't they haven't signed up with me on many issues, and it hurts me because I'm a Democrat and I see people that, you know, that are. That that are on the same side as me regarding like voting for a Democrat that refused to have, you know, these people on the other side as human, you know? And that's because of a lot because of social media and what they post. And it's just it's not human. Those you know, those people on Facebook aren't, you know, aren't looked at as our neighbors. They're look at it as a rivalry and it disheartens me a lot.

Laura Knoy:
You know, Adam, so this is so great to hear from you. It sounds like you travel in a lot of different political circles and that it's painful for you personally to hear, you know, Republicans and Democrats kind of demonizing the other. Given that it sounds like you've got, you know, friends and colleagues in on both sides.

Caller:
Yes, it is, it's really sad and more and more people refused to talk to each other, you know, Republicans won't look at Democratic candidates because of pro-life. And that's the thing that people don't understand is a lot of people, you know, you hear people talk about this is a moral issue. Well, I agree. I when I watched the debate, I it made me sick. And Republicans will continue to say, well, this is this just you know, they use a false equivalency. A lot of times saying, well, you know, how to use it is a moral issue because, you know, Joe Biden supports abortion or he does. He's pro-choice. Therefore, he's a monster, you know, and that's what people are missing, I think in a lot of liberal conservative circles is that these people truly think that they're they're you know, they're they're right because there's nothing bigger than the sanctity of life, even though. We see a lot of same people that are pro-life or pro death penalty are pro, you know, stronger, stronger, you know, prison, you know, like stronger immigration laws. You know, it's to me, I live by the principle of the two greatest commandments and Christianity, love God and love thy neighbor. And that gets lost because of this idea and this partizanship of if you're not pro-life, you're not a Christian.

Laura Knoy:
Adam, I'm going to let you go because I have a lot of emails, but I'm so glad to hear from you today. And I'm going to throw this one to you. Neil, St. Anselm College is a Catholic college. And, you know, Adam mentioned it, the fundamentals of Christian teachings like love your neighbor are part of the grounding of where you work. How are students on your campus talking about loving your neighbor when they might also suspect that, you know, the other side, quote unquote, is trying to cheat their way to grab the presidency?

Neil Levesque:
It's very interesting, the students here are very politically engaged on both sides, so a lot of people think that, you know, liberal college students, I'll use that word. It's it's probably 50/50 or 60/40 in a lot of them get along very well with each other, Democrats and Republicans, and they don't feel like the president is stealing. Now, I'm just going to go to that and I'm going to look at this. I'll just say this from the perspective of what a conservative would say right now. That the AP, the Associated Press is calling states for the other party or has a lead for the other party. But if you're a conservative, the national media has not been on your side ever, and you feel that this is another situation where it's being stolen from you by this entity, the national media, the Associated Press. So you've got you've got to look at things as how both sides look at things and how some people say, well, Trump's trying to steal the election. Well, a lot of conservatives see it from a different point of view.

Laura Knoy:
Right? That's the point I was trying to make, Neil, is that, you know, there's a lot of distrust on both sides and that the other side is trying to steal the election. So given that feeling by Democrats and Republicans, how do you at St. Anselm College talk to students about, you know, love your neighbor?

Neil Levesque:
I think that they can see further that this is a lot of this is is sort of these people on TV and that they do love their neighbor. I know that that's hard to say in the context of what we've been talking about for the last hour. But this next generation, spending time with them, particularly in politics, is wonderful.

Laura Knoy:
All right. And that's a hopeful note to close out on, Neil, that the next generation is definitely getting an education and thinking about it deeply. I want to close it with just a couple emails. One listener says voting for Trump had little to do with liking him. It had much more to do with a flat out rejection of the Democrats want to take this country. David also emailed, I think we have had our emotions reached the base level of feeling safe, safe in our existence, safe in our health, safe and our finances, et cetera. So David says the need to shout down to be heard becomes the only way we think we can be heard. And lastly, Chris from Concord, this reflects we talked about earlier, gentlemen, Chris says, As a Democrat, I just truly want to talk to people who support President Trump so I can understand their thought processes. The problem is, I do not know a single Trump supporter. And that gets to something we talked about earlier. Neil and Brendan, thank you so much for being with us. We really appreciate it. We've been talking with Neil Levesque at the Institute of Politics at Saint Anselm College, and also Brendan Nyhan, professor of government at Dartmouth College. Thanks for contributing everybody today. This is The Exchange on NHPR. Today's program was produced by Jessica Hunt.

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