Is this the biggest election of our lifetime?

By Mark Rivera

Supreme Court: Ideological shift? Daily Illini: What impact will the next president have over the Supreme Court? Andrew Liepold, University law professor: The answer is the same in every presidential election: Who knows. Probably the next president will have a great deal of say over the next Supreme Court.

Supreme Court: Ideological shift?

Daily Illini: What impact will the next president have over the Supreme Court?

Andrew Liepold, University law professor: The answer is the same in every presidential election: Who knows. Probably the next president will have a great deal of say over the next Supreme Court. Statistically it is very likely that at least one or two judges will retire or die in the next four years. That means that the next president will have a chance to put quite a stamp on the new court.

DI: What important Supreme Court decisions could be affected by new justices?

AL: All of them. It really depends on who goes off the court and who replaces them. If you replace certain justices with (justices) with a different view, that could change the court dramatically. If you replace them with people with like-minded philosophies they will stay intact. That’s what makes this such a fantastically interesting issue.

DI: Do presidents always nominate judges they agree with?

AL: Many presidents, probably most, care at some level about the judicial philosophy that their nominees have. They want someone that is compatible with their over-arching view at least with the role of the courts in society. It’s hard to predict what the big issues of the day will be over the next five, ten or 15 years. It’s hard to figure out how your justice will vote on each particular issue.

DI: What is the impact of the justices President Bush elected?

AL: He has appointed Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Alito. The likelihood is that they will be around for many, many years and will be an influential voice on the court, so it is likely to have quite a substantial impact. Justices are almost always on the court longer than the president is in office. That is what makes this one of the most important issues in any presidential election.

DI: What important Supreme Court decisions could be affected by new justices?

AL: All of them. It really depends on who goes off the court and who replaces them. If you replace certain justices with (justices) with a different view, that could change the court dramatically. If you replace them with people with like-minded philosophies they will stay intact. That’s what makes this such a fantastically interesting issue.

DI: What may happen to the Roe v. Wade opinion?

AL: Roe v. Wade has survived numerous challenges and at the moment that’s all you can speak to. There doesn’t seem to be a lot of enthusiasm on the court to keep revisiting the basic issue of abortion but there may be more questions in the future as to the scope and size of the right to abortion.

DI: Why is this an important part of the election process for students to understand?

AL: Because it’s hard to think of any issue of any importance that doesn’t have a legal component to it. From how we treat prisoners, prisoners of war, abortion to freedom of speech and religion – all these issues at some point or another pass before the Supreme Court and what they say matters. It’s hard to think of any issues that couldn’t be influenced by the Supreme Court, so people ought to care a whole lot about who sits on the various courts and who’s picking them.

DI: Why are the lower court judges important?

AL: They are the front lines. There are hundreds and thousands of legal matters every year that go through the courts. Fewer than 150 end up before the Supreme Court. A huge percentage of the law is interpreted, explained, and justified by lower court judges. Supreme Court is highest profile, but there is a lot of important work that gets done in the lower courts.

DI: Is this the most important election of our time?

AL: That is said about every election. I think it is hard to say which are the most important elections until you’ve been through them and look back. Certainly we have issues today but we have issues every 4 years. Not extraordinarily important, but they are all important.

DI: What can students do to understand the issue better?

AL: Just educate themselves about who is on the court now, what kind of issues the court deals with. Look at who are the justices that McCain and Obama have voted for or against at different levels and how did they vote. There are plenty of things they can do to educate themselves.

Media: Are ads still effective?

DI: What has been different about political advertising during this election in comparison to past elections?

Jason Chambers, University advertising professor: There are certainly more advertisements than in the past. One of the very interesting things we are seeing this year is the ability of a candidate to be able to buy a large block of time on television.

DI: How integral is advertising in this campaign?

JC: We attach ourselves to the cost of these ads, but they are supposed to only be a part of the message. We often look at them as though they are the only way people can learn about the candidate, but they are not. There has been a lot of coverage for these candidates. I think these political ads should be looked at with the same amount of skepticism as other product ads.

DI: What impact do negative ads have?

JC: Negative advertisements in many ways deflect from reality. This year I find them to be particularly unfortunate. We are in a crisis economically and militarily, but to reduce things to such negativity in an ad is an insult to the public, and I think it speaks poorly for either candidate. As far as the impact they will have, we will have to wait and see on Nov. 4.

DI: What has been the impact of negative advertisements in past elections?

JC: Just because the public says an ad is negative and they don’t like it, doesn’t mean its not effective. The thing we can’t calculate is how much they pay attention to those negative ads. As much as people say they don’t like it, it’s a like any other kind of product advertisement where they might find an ad annoying but still buy the product. At the end of the day we only have two choices. Technically three, but it comes down to a choice of two – and both candidates have run negative ads.

DI: How has the Internet influenced political advertising?

Tremendously. Both candidates have used the Internet. To have that kind of immediate access to advertisements is unique even to the most recent elections. In 2008 with the spread of things like broadband access, we can do many more things with video than we can in the past and have it be accessible to everyone.

DI: What about the large amount of money spent on ads?

JC: Advertising time costs money. Just as we shouldn’t … concern ourselves with the cost of ads on prime time, we should not concern ourselves with what a political candidate can do. If a candidate can raise that money, then fine. If you want to be on prime time television, you will have to pay the cost for that.

DI: How can students digest all of this information?

JC: You have to really get behind the messages. We have to realize advertising is paid communication. Advertising is not objective; it is not meant to be balanced. An advertisement from a campaign will not tell you to take a look at both sides, but I think people understand that. It is the citizen’s responsibility to get behind that advertising. Go on their Web sites and read both economic and health plans, read the coverage of different media sources, hear the argument for both sides. At no cost to themselves students can aggregate a large amount of information about candidates that they had not had before.

DI: Is this the biggest election of our time?

JC: Yes. From the standpoint of the fact that we are facing an (economic) crisis we haven’t seen since the 1920s and 1930s. Given the things that this nation faces, we are asking for a president to be of the legendary stature of Abraham Lincoln or Franklin Roosevelt. It sounds grandiose to say it like that, but we are asking for a historical level of leadership this time around. It is sometimes difficult for people to understand the historical magnitude of a moment when they are living in it. We will see in terms of voter-turn-out how much people see that when it is actually time to stand in line on Nov. 4.

DI: How integral is advertising in this campaign?

JC: We attach ourselves to the cost of these ads, but they are supposed to only be a part of the message. We often look at them as though they are the only way people can get information about the candidate but they are not. There has been a lot of coverage for these candidates. I think that these political ads should be looked at with the same amount of skepticism and attention to detail as other product ads.

Voter Registration: How many will line up?

DI: From looking at voter registration records, is this the biggest election of our time?

Brian Gaines, associate professor in political science: Well, registration is up in Illinois and is up in most states. I n some states democratic registration went up in the primary, and bipartisan registration fell. Illinois doesn’t have party registration for the primary, but some of our neighbors, such as Iowa followed this trend. During the Iowa Caucus there was a big rise in Democrats and a decrease in nonpartisan voters.

Is this the biggest election of our time? There of signs of this being the case, but if you look at history in Illinois, you see that in many years when numbers were high in the primaries voter turnout was low for the general election, and vice versa. In the past years Illinois has been a pretty solid Democratic state. People know Obama will win Illinois and might not turn out to vote because of it.

DI: Since it is almost certain Obama will win Illinois, do you think out-of-state students are choosing to vote via absentee ballot in their home states?

BG: The University of Illinois predominantly has in-state students, but I think students have been coached to think that way. The Obama campaign has so much money they’re pulling out all the stops. I think we’re having a big registration increase in local voters, that’s probably an indication of a big voter turnout.

DI: Has there been any increase registration rates for 17 year-olds who will turn 18 before November 4? Does this give any indication of the popularity of the election?

BG: People under 21 vote at the lowest rate. Part of it is inexperience where they forget about deadlines, forget to register, forget about Election Day, or go to the wrong place. This might be one of the things that is changing, especially with tools like Facebook to reach younger voters. Obama has something like two million users (on his Facebook), and he has put out a lot of work to having a Facebook site. Facebook is a great way to reach young people. It was used in 2006, but it really came into place in 2007.

DI: Do you think the belief that Obama will win Illinois will stop people from voting at all?

BG: Its’ going to be an exciting environment in Illinois. People in Illinois will vote knowing their vote will not count. But people will be excited and want to be a part of this, so I think they will still turn out to vote.

Race and the election:Is race an issue?

DI: How big of an issue is race in the upcoming presidential election?

Christopher Benson, University professor of African American studies and journalism: The question is … whether it’s a central issue overall in the election or whether it’s something that’s become just a marginal concern … You have to recognize that race was at least a consideration the moment you had a black candidate enter as a serious contender.

DI: What aspects of race have been discussed during the campaigning?

CB: There was this issue of whether Barack Obama was authentically black. There was an attempt to neutralize whatever advantage people might have considered he would have with respect to winning the black vote. … As he joked more recently, it was a question of whether he was authentic black early on, and now it’s a question of whether he’s too black.

DI: How do national racial dynamics affect the election dialogues?

CB: We tend to marginalize people who are different and we do it in so many different ways. It’s referred to as the politics of difference, so race is a factor even while we never mention race. We have coded language to deal with it. We have people asking questions like, “Who is Barack Obama?” which kind of plays to people’s concerns about race. We have people questioning his patriotism. That suggests that he is not like us and again there’s a racial component to that.

When they refer to him as an elitist, that’s saying he’s different and what that does is it allows people to pour any kind of racial tension into this more acceptable terminology. … We tend to look at racial politics strictly in black and white. And there are a lot of shades in between that we aren’t considering and if we understood that more clearly I think we’d have a different kind of discussion. I think Barack Obama has really tried to avoid the issue of race but it keeps coming up.

DI: Is this one of the biggest elections of our time in terms of race?

CB: Certainly. I think we’ve already seen that just in the fact that Barack Obama has been nominated by one of the two major parties in this country; that’s an historical moment. How we proceed from this moment will determine how significant it is at least for one term.

I think though in looking forward we have to consider what we gain from this experience. I think there are a number of issues that make this an important election: economic issues, issues of national security, on any level there are significant differences between these two candidates that play out.

When it comes to race though, I think we do have to consider what kind of place we want this country to be and I think we have to step back from this campaign and take a serious look at some of the issues that have arisen in the area of race, or difference I should say, and hopefully use this opportunity to engage in a national dialogue that will move us forward.

Religion: Is religion still important?

DI: What kind of effect has religion had on this election?

Tom Rudolph, University political science professor: I think it will have an effect on an individual level, for individual voters. For some, religion will have a great deal of impact. For others, it will matter little, if at all. Religion can be a source of identity and worldview. In some cases, it could encourage people to vote, increasing voter turnout and influencing the vote in that way.

DI: How is religion utilized by each party’s respective candidate?

TR: Well, both have talked at length about their faith. Each candidate’s religious convictions motivate them in different ways. John McCain’s stance on abortion is clearly an outgrowth of his religious convictions. Barack Obama’s views on social justice are born out of his religious convictions.

DI: Is it significant that both candidates declare themselves as Protestant Christians?

TR: I would say that it’s certainly not atypical. All but one president described themselves as Protestant. No, I don’t think the candidate’s religions will greatly influence the election. There are a lot of other issues that the public is concerned with. There are polls that suggest the public is heavily focused on the economy, and there’s not a Protestant or any way specific to religion to fix the economy.

DI: Have there been any past elections where religion has played a key factor in determining the outcome?

TR: It’s difficult to point to an election and say that religion was a decisive factor. You can look at different religious groups as voting blocks. For instance, in 1960, Kennedy won 80 percent of the Catholic vote. Religion is a factor in any election, but in terms of overall outcome, it only has some influence.

DI: Even so, how is religion utilized by each party’s respective candidate?

TR: Well, both have talked at length about their faith. Each candidate’s religious convictions motivate them in different ways. John McCain’s stance on abortion is clearly an outgrowth of his religious convictions. Barack Obama’s views on social justice are born out of his religious convictions.

DI: Is religion a useful tool in this election?

TR: Well, it can be a useful tool in a sense, because candidates can use churches – pre-existing social networks – to spread messages and get volunteers and mobilize the people. An example would be 20 years ago when Pat Robinson and Jesse Jackson ran for president. Both had a solid religious constituency to mobilize, and it helped them get more votes than they would have otherwise.

DI: Will religion have any more impact on this election than on others in the past?

TR: It’s difficult … but I wouldn’t necessarily say that. Just as in past elections it will be important to some individuals, but at an aggregate level, I think it is likely to be an important factory, but not a determining one.

War: Military reality or ideology

DI: In terms of the future of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, what exactly makes this election so important?

Paul Diehl, University political science professor: You’re likely to see kind of a shift in both Iraq and Afghanistan, but I think that’s only partly related to who’s elected. Iraq seems to be at a turning point with things more stable there and the U.S. again still negotiating with the Iraq government about a withdrawal plan while agreeing to leave some troops there. You’re going to see some changes in Iraq policy, and while there are some differences between Obama and McCain, the range of decisions available to the president is narrower. There’s also likely to be some kind of shift in Afghanistan policy, but both candidates have indicated they’re going to send more troops.You will see some changes in policy, but much is going to be a function of changes no matter who takes over.

D.I.: How does the impact of these wars compare to the impact war has had on presidential elections of the past?

P.D.: Generally, foreign policy issues don’t necessarily play a big role in who wins an election. It’s really more domestic issues that govern that. I don’t think the great portion of the electorate is swayed by foreign policy differences. What there is, though, during the election of a new president during wartime is the expectation that there will be some type of policy change. In 1968 it was Nixon’s so-called secret plan to end the Vietnam War. In the Korean War there was the expectation that President Eisenhower would change the policies of President Truman in some positive fashion. But I think there will be a dramatic change of expectations globally if Sen. Obama wins versus Sen. McCain.

D.I.: Do you believe a large portion of the electorate will be voting based on the candidates’ war policies?

P.D.: All you have to do is look at the polls, and I don’t think Iraq, Afghanistan, and foreign policy issues are up there at the top. I suspect that when they do exit polling and they ask people what some of the most important issues are there, you won’t necessarily see (the wars) at the top. My seat of the pants prediction is that (voters) will be swayed more by economic conditions than they will by foreign policy.

D.I.: What implications exist in terms of the candidates’ respective war policies?

P.D.: Much of the difference will depend on how conditions change in each of those conflicts because leaders tend to be much more reactive in terms of those conditions than they are in terms of setting their own objectives. One might expect that withdrawal from Iraq might occur sooner under Sen. Obama than under Sen. McCain. There’s probably a tendency for Sen. McCain to see a greater efficacy on the use of force to solve problems than Sen. Obama. But the differences in (war policy) are probably greater in degree than kind.