By Andrew Larson ’08

LEWISBURG, Pa. — The political landscape looks a lot like the one 12 years ago when Republicans regained control of both chambers of Congress, members of a panel analyzing the 2006 election said Monday night.

The panel, composed of three political science professors and one religion professor, spoke to an audience of about 100 in the Elaine Langone Center Forum. They addressed issues ranging from how the U.S. arrived at such a hotly contested midterm election and which candidates and issues are at stake to how religion factored into it all.

It’s not uncommon for Americans to vote against the presidential party in a midterm election when they’re discontent with the status quo. In 1994, people voted based on their disapproval of former President Bill Clinton and the Democratic Congress, said Scott Meinke, assistant professor of political science.

Connection for voters
“It was easy for voters to know who to hold accountable,” Meinke said. “The Republicans did a very good job at making that connection for voters.”

This year, President Bush and the Republican Congress have approval ratings almost as low as their counterparts in 1994. Congress’ approval rating currently hovers at 25 percent, compared to 23 percent in 1994.

“There are some similar trends to 1994, but we don’t know exactly what will happen,” said Susan Tabrizi, assistant professor of political science.

Advertising campaign
One potential difference between this year and 1994 is the effectiveness of the challenging party’s advertising campaign.

“It’s not clear to me that the Democrats have run as successful a campaign as the Republicans’ attempt in 1994,” Meinke said, “but maybe it’s not as necessary.”

This year, all 435 seats in the House of Representatives are up for reelection as are one-third of the seats in the Senate.

“A handful of seats are too close to call in both the House and Senate,” Meinke said. “Most of the seats that have a chance of flipping belong to the Republicans.”

Control of House
If the polls are any indication, Democrats have a better chance of regaining control in the House than in the Senate, Meinke said, and if they do, it will be by among the slimmest margins in history.

Two elections that could help to shape the election’s outcome take place in Pennsylvania. In the Senate race between Republican incumbent Rick Santorum and Bob Casey, a socially conservative Democrat, Santorum appears to be lagging behind.

“All the polls I’ve looked at show Santorum edging up on trouble,” Tabrizi said. “Why? Santorum is very connected to the Republican leadership.”

Carney at 51 percent
In Pennsylvania’s 10th Congressional District, of which Lewisburg is a part, the latest polls showed Republican incumbent Don Sherwood tallying 37 percent of the votes with challenger Chris Carney at 51 percent.

“It should be the safest of the safe districts for Republicans to keep,” Tabrizi said of the largely conservative area.

But Sherwood’s extramarital affair exemplifies how some Republicans are becoming alienated with the party.

This underscores how local issues are being played out on a national stage. Congress has been unsuccessful at passing partisan issues such as a minimum wage increase, social security reform, and immigration reform, said Robin Jacobson, assistant professor of political science.

Changing dynamic
It reflects a changing dynamic of the American voter. People are shifting away from religion as an identifier of what a candidate believes and, instead, are focusing on which candidates’ ideologies match their own, said Eric Mazur, associate professor of religion.

During a robust question and answer period, the panel was asked if a Democratic takeover of Congress would result in a spate of presidential vetoes. Meinke said he expected some legislative gridlock until 2008, perhaps accompanied by an increase in investigations of the president’s administration.

One person asked how negative advertisements affect the election when they’re so pervasive that “you reach the point where you just shut off the TV.” Tabrizi said that negative ads serve to energize the fringes of both parties, but the effect on moderates is not always clear.

The panel will reconvene for an “election post-mortem” discussion Tuesday, Nov. 14, at 12 p.m. in Walls Lounge. The public is invited to attend the brown-bag lunch event.

Posted Oct. 31, 2006

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