Posted by Jean-Ann Kubler
On Nov. 6 at 5:30 p.m., over 100 members of the College community congregated at the Tang Teaching Museum to celebrate democracy and follow the results of the 2012 presidential election in real-time.
The event, "What to Expect When You're Expecting the Election: Election Returns Extravaganza," was part of an on-going exhibit, "We The People."
Upon arrival, participants in the event were greeted with gifts: pocket Constitutions and PEZ candy dispensers adorned with the faces and names of Founding Fathers, including James Monroe, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. The George Washington dispensers were the most in demand and disappeared quickly. Participants were also invited to create their own "I Voted" stickers with the provided supplies.
After receiving their gifts, participants moved into an exhibition room patriotically decorated in red, white and blue. Three flat panel TVs, each tuned in to a different news network, were mounted on the back wall of the event space and computers were set up so that participants could conduct their own research as they watched the results roll in.
The most talked about segment of the night's events was likely the crash course in electoral politics, presented by Government department Professor Ron Seyb, which kicked off the event.
Seyb began his talk with a preface, saying "I've been brought here to offer some clarity about what has been a very murky election season, and to give some predictions." But, Seyb continued, "The only prediction I'll offer is that we may not have an outcome tonight."
Equipped with a PowerPoint presentation, Seyb went on to explain the ways in which the Electoral College allows for just eight swing states to control the results of presidential elections. Each state is given a specific number of electoral votes based upon its total number of federal representatives (Senators and Congressmen).
48 out of 50 states use a winner-takes-all system inwhich the presidential candidate that receives the largest percentage of the state's overall votes is then given all of the states electoral votes. So, even if a candidate only wins 51% of a state's popular vote, that candidate receives all of the states electoral votes.
For this reason, Seyb explained, only states that are not reliably Republican or reliably Democratic really matter to a candidate's ability to be elected, and these are the states where most of the campaign money is spent.
"There are 15 major media markets in these 8 states," Seyb noted, and those markets are saturated with mostly negative campaign ads. In October, 89 percent of Romney's and 94%of Obama's swing state ads were negative.
To help the audience understand the nature of these ads, Seyb screened one from each campaign.
Seyb suggested that the reliance on negative advertising might not benefit candidates in the way the public might expect. "I'm more of the opinion that [negative ads] actually repress voter turnout-particularly among Independents and Republicans."
Prof Seyb went on to explain the importance of not just specific states, but specific voting districts within those states, to a candidate's ability to win. Like states, there are some districts that are reliably partisan and some where the politics are not as clear or frequently change. "These are the districts that will get the most attention tonight."
He also explained that though the Electoral College is often viewed as a less democratic system than a direct popular vote, it actually offers more of a role for minority voters. Using Colorado and Florid, both swing states, as examples, Seyb noted that the Latino population is higher within those states then it is nationally. "This forces candidates to court votes that they could otherwise ignore in a direct election system."
The event ended with questions from the audience about a variety of topics directly and tangentially related to the night's election, including foreign affairs, and electoral reform.
Following the event, Seyb noted that he had two main goals going into the event: to provide a defense of the Electoral College that didn't neglect any of the valid criticisms of the system, and "to help students who, like most Americans, find the Electoral College to be as understandable as the proof for Fermat's Theorem to gain some purchase on the how the Electoral College operates to choose a president."
Senior Government major and event participant Jeremy Wood '13, thought Seyb's talk was particularly useful for community members without an educational background in government.
"I think for people who don't have a real depth of knowledge in electoral politics, it really helped explain why presidents focus more on some states than others," Wood said.
Seyb's talk was the last formal aspect of the night, but festivities continued until 11pm and participants were invited to tweet their reactions to the Tang event as well as the election results using the hashtag "#skidelection2012."
Participants also happily posed for pictures with life-sized cutouts of Mitt Romney and President Obama and snacked on the provided appetizers and pizza.