October 31, 2018
DALLAS (SMU) – SMU faculty are available to journalists reporting on all 2018 mid-term political races, including the pivotal U.S. Senate race between Ted Cruz and Beto O’Rourke. A full list of available faculty and their areas of expertise is available here.
Fear Sells, Regardless of Political Party
“Candidates of all ideological stripes use fear to motivate voters. Like it or not, people are more driven to act by anger and fear than they are by hope. Both parties have a fear-based message this time around: Democrats say that if you elect Republicans, they will take away your health insurance and social security, while Republicans say that if you elect Democrats they will open the borders and raise your taxes. The suspicious packages incident just serves to highlight how high the partisanship and rhetoric have been dialed up in this polarized climate.”
The Migrant Caravan is a Liability for Democrats
“The migrant caravan has served to highlight the issue of illegal immigration, which tends to advantage Republicans. Among voters who say immigration is their top issue, Republicans substantially outperform Democrats; conversely, those who say healthcare is their top concern prefer Democrats by a wide margin. The optics of the migrant caravan are very bad for Democrats—it makes immigration look much more like an unstoppable, un-vetted invasion than a smart, orderly process. As a border state, Texas is especially likely to be affected by the caravan, and thus the issue of particular salience here.”
If Democrats Become the Majority in the House
“It is hard to imagine a Democratic House passing anything that could survive a Republican Senate and a potential presidential veto, and it’s hard to imagine a Democratic House approving any legislative proposal coming from Donald Trump. So I would expect Democrats to use their House control largely to launch investigations of all sorts into Donald Trump and his administration, from his taxes to his business dealings to his relations with Russia. Meanwhile, the Senate will focus primarily on confirming Trump nominees to the federal courts, in an effort to shape the ideological tenor of the judiciary for a generation.
Wilson is an SMU associate professor of Political Science.
- Politics and Religion in the United States. With Michael Corbett and Julia Corbett-Hemeyer. Routledge Press, 2013.
- Understanding American Politics. With Stephen Brooks and Douglas L. Koopman. University of Toronto Press, 2013.
- From Pews to Polling Places: Faith and Politics in the American Religious Mosaic. Georgetown University Press, 2007. Edited volume including authored chapter.
JEFFREY A. ENGEL
It’s All About Fear
“Fear is the dominant issue - bar none. Democrats fear fascism; Republicans fear change and the 21st century; those in the middle fear the nation’s very civility is being torn asunder.”
From Political Estrangement to Political Engagement
“Negativity is paramount, led of course by the maligner-in-chief in the White House. All of which leaves Americans with a Faustian bargain at the polls. Choose blue, and they are voting for at least another two years, probably more, of stymied government and partisan fights taking the place of policy decisions. Choose red, and Trump will be emboldened – perhaps all the way to another victory in 2020. Staying home might seem the most reasonable option in this circumstance, but here is the astounding part: what we see on the horizon is record turnout for a midterm, demonstrating that no matter what, the current era of political estrangement is actually becoming a period of political engagement.”
- Impeachment: An American History; with Jon Meacham, Timothy Naftali and Peter Baker (Modern Library/Random House, 2018)
- When the World Seemed New: George H.W. Bush and the End of the Cold War; author (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017)
- When Life Strikes the White House: Death, Scandal, Sickness and Personal Tragedies in the Oval Office; co-edited with Thomas J. Knock (Oxford University Press, 2017)
- Into the Desert: Reflections on the Gulf War; editor (Oxford University Press, 2012)
- Rethinking Leadership and Whole of Government National Security Reform; with Joseph R. Cerami (Strategic Studies Institute, U.S. Army War College, 2010)
What Messages are Working for the Candidates
“For Democrats, the most effective message has been perceived threats to Medicare and Medicaid. With rising costs, more people are fearful about being able to access and pay for medical care as they age. Clearly, this is a message directed to older Americans (and perhaps their adult children) who regularly turn out in high numbers. For Republicans, the most effective message has been border protection. The daily drumbeat of news regarding “the caravan” of migrants walking toward the U.S. border calls into question how the U.S. can protect its borders and raises fears of what happens if criminals and terrorists enter.”
Impact: News Coverage of The Migrant Caravan
“The caravan has sparked a debate that has yet to be fully debated. On one hand, protecting the borders is a fundamental duty of the federal government. On the other hand, the United States has long been seen as the land of immigrants. Voters on both sides are concerned about troops assembling on our borders. Are we prepared to enter into armed combat to protect ourselves from migrants? Have we changed our national character such that migrants are no longer welcome? Is a wall the best solution? This debate goes to the heart of our national identity. Voters still need time to process this very difficult question.”
Kirk is SMU professor of communication studies and director of the Maguire Center for Ethics & Public Responsibility. Kirk has served as a debate analyst for many presidential debates.
- sound bite substance
- undecided voters
- presidential debates
- political communications
“Most Americans say the economy is strong, but they don’t approve of where the country is headed. This is unusual. Anyone who says they know what this means for the election should remember 2016.”
The Migrant Caravan as a Created Moment
“Politicians talk about immigration, but the caravan provides pictures and, for radio and TV – there are sounds. For those who want to say illegal immigration is a problem, the caravan provides evidence. For those who want to talk about compassionate solutions, the caravan provides that, too. However, there is also the possibility of distraction, and making something out of a potential nothing. The question is whether this is a created moment that gets a lot of coverage. There is good reason to think this caravan won’t hold together and most of these people will never make it to the border anyway, particularly not in the giant mass they are walking together in now.”
Martin is an SMU assistant professor of Communication Studies in the Meadows School of the Arts
- economic messages in political campaigns
- presidential campaign strategy
- religious voters and evangelical social movements
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