Four Questions: And Now, the Political Conventions
Samara Klar, assistant professor in the UA School of Government and Public Policy and the co-author of a new book about the American voter, shares her thoughts on the Republican and Democratic nominating conventions.

By Doug Carroll, University Relations – Communications
July 18, 2016

An unpredictable presidential campaign enters a new phase this week with the Republican and Democratic national conventions. The GOP convened on Monday in Cleveland and the Democratic Party will do so next Monday in Philadelphia, with the nominees for president set to be Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, respectively.

To say that there have been some twists and turns is an understatement.

"This election has been one surprise after another," says Samara Klar, an assistant professor in the University of Arizona's School of Government and Public Policy.

"I think our standards for what constitutes a 'major' campaign surprise have skyrocketed, given how inured we're becoming to constant surprises. So I can't help but think that this election has many, many more surprises in store. Of course, I can't say what they'll be. That's what a surprise is all about."

Klar is the co-author of "Independent Politics," which was published earlier this year by Cambridge University Press and attempts to explain what motivates so many Americans to identify as independent — and why it matters so much for American politics. She responded to four questions about the campaign in general and the conventions in specific.

Q: What stands out the most about this presidential election year?

A: The degree of dislike for both parties' candidates is really striking. Both Clinton and Trump have historically high "unfavorable" ratings from within their own party. What this represents is a deep disdain for both political parties. Polling is showing that Americans are more likely than ever to dislike both parties, and in my book, my co-author (Yanna Krupnikov) and I show that Americans exhibit profound preferences for independents over both Democrats and Republicans. This election really demonstrates the degree to which both parties are suffering when it comes to public opinion.

Q: Will the conventions unify the two parties or underscore deep divisions within?

A: The Democrats appear to be unifying more effectively than are the Republicans. By the time the convention arrives, it appears that Bernie Sanders will have made a sufficient mark on the Democratic platform to satisfy many of his supporters. The Republicans have yet to exhibit the unity that one might expect to see this long after identifying a presumptive nominee. It is hard to know whether the convention will smooth over those divides, but if the recent weeks are any indication, then Cleveland might signal further divisions for the GOP.

Q: What has been the role of social media in the 2016 campaign?

A: Social media has played a tremendous role in this election, particularly with respect to its ability to spread messages from under-resourced candidates. In research I've conducted with Yotam Shmargad at the UA's School of Information, we've found that targeting diverse social networks can help to promote candidates with fewer resources to draw on. Both Bernie Sanders' and Donald Trump's extensive use of social media is a great example of this phenomenon.

Q: Is there really an "undecided" voter at this stage? And if so, what will that voter's decision depend on?

A: I think there are a lot of unhappy voters and maybe a lot of disgruntled voters, but the fact is that Americans are very loyal to their party identification and when Election Day comes, nearly all Democrats who vote will vote for Clinton and nearly all Republicans who vote will vote for Trump. Party identification is a lifelong, enduring and stable trait, and it is rare to veer off of one's partisan course. Voters' decisions for whom to vote will most likely depend on which party they've associated with in years past. The more interesting question will be whether the average voter decides to vote at all. It takes a certain amount of effort to get oneself to the polling station or to fill out a ballot and mail it in, and if voters don't feel particularly excited about their party's candidate, then that effort seems fruitless to people. Clinton and Trump need to spend the remainder of the election on encouraging their supporters to vote.

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"Four Questions" is an occasional feature in which UANews asks experts from the UA for their perspective on current events or pop culture.


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Samara Klar

UA School of Government and Public Policy