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By Andrew Larson ’08
LEWISBURG, Pa. — Democrats’ victory in the midterm election doesn’t necessarily signal that the United States is teetering toward the left side of the political spectrum, a panel of three Bucknell political science professors said.
The country actually has moved closer to the center, the panelists said in a discussion entitled, “After the Shouting: The Post-Election Postmortem,” on Tuesday, Nov. 14.
“What you don’t see a lot of are true liberals, much less left-wing Democrats,” said John Peeler, professor of political science. “So the Democratic Congress is likely to be a moderate Congress.”
Choosing centrist candidates
Peeler said Republicans have alienated some constituents through their right-wing policies. Voters, even ones like white evangelical Christians, who tend to vote overwhelmingly Republican, were more likely this year to choose centrist candidates.
“On Iraq and on American rule of the world, the Republicans have largely allowed their center of gravity to shift significantly to the right, and away from the center, in a way that opened the center for the Democrats,” Peeler said.
Susan Tabrizi, assistant professor of political science, said in Democrat Bob Casey’s "real thumping" of incumbent Republican Rick Santorum in the Pennsylvania Senate race, Casey actually won in many conservative areas. According to exit polls, among voters who said the war was extremely important, 71 percent voted for Casey. Self-proclaimed "values voters" were split 50-50 between Casey and Santorum.
New party parity
These types of results reveal parity between Democrats and Republicans, said Scott Meinke, assistant professor of political science. He said the gains Republicans made over the past decade may have subsided.
"There really was a shift back towards parity, in this case in Democrats’ favor, between the two parties in the electorate," Meinke said. "Republicans had made significant inroads in terms of religious voters and voters in certain categories like Latinos. Formerly Democratic strongholds seem to have flipped back to a more even balance."
Will Congress be so evenly matched that it can’t accomplish anything? Meinke said there is reason for "slight optimism."
Issues that unify Democrats
"Even though moderate Democrats may create factions in parts of the House, I think they’ll be able to unify over key party issues" such as minimum wage and immigration, Meinke said.
By ousting some of the most vocal supporters of the Bush administration and the Iraq war, the country’s foreign policy is likely to be reevaluated, Peeler said.
"The attitudes on the Iraq war made a big difference, and that is likely to mean that the conduct of the Iraq war will be up to questions over the next two years," Peeler said.
Looking to the 2008 election
During a robust question and answer period, the discussion jumped forward to the 2008 election and whether Illinois Sen. Barack Obama and New York Sen. Hilary Clinton are viable Democratic candidates for president.
"Barack Obama, while he is very charismatic and he has a lot of appeal to a lot of people, and may at some point parlay that to an electoral advantage, he’s really an unproven candidate," Tabrizi said of the senator, who’s served just a year.
Clinton has the problem of being too moderate for left-wing Democrats, but the appearance of being too much of a feminist for some Republicans, panelists said.
"If Hilary Clinton runs for president, she must know something about her chances that a lot of people don’t," Tabrizi said.
Posted Nov. 16, 2006