ECU Political Scientists Speak on Presidential Race
By Christine Neff
As the country awaits results of the 2008 presidential election, political scientists at East Carolina University discuss factors they believe will determine the outcome in the race between Sen. John McCain and Sen. Barack Obama.
Brad Lockerbie of ECU’s Department of Political Science, said the economy will be a “vitally important factor” for voters this election year.
His research examines the relationship between the economy and elections. He has found that, contrary to some beliefs, voters do not primarily “punish” or “reward” the party in power for the current state of the economy. Instead, he said, voters look to the future, not the past, to pick a candidate.
“What I argue in most of my research is that voters can make a comparison between the two parties and vote for the one they think will do the better job,” he said.
Voters use information gathered from the campaigns, media coverage and their personal financial situations to decide which candidate will foster future economic prosperity, he said.
With a month to go, Lockerbie’s model showed an Obama victory. “Looking at my economic model, Obama should win with an excess of 55 percent of the popular vote,” Lockerbie said.
In his research, Peter Francia of ECU’s Department of Political Science examines how a particular group of voters – the white, working class – chooses a candidate.
He defines the working class as those without a four-year college degree with an annual income of less than $50,000. Francia has found that working class, union members tend to focus on the economy or “bread-and-butter issues” when choosing a candidate, and are more likely to support Democrats.
Non-union members in this same category often cast their ballots on the basis of “cultural wedge” issues, such as abortion and gay rights. These voters favor Republican candidates.
Francia believes the working class will have a significant impact on this year’s election. “They are the voters that are being pulled in two different directions, one way culturally, another way economically,” he said.
“Whoever wins that tug of war is going to be the next president.”
In the last lap of the presidential race, as the country focused more attention on the economy than social issues, the Democrats had an advantage, Francia said.
“The working class is going to be essential to where this thing ends up going. If those voters focus on the economy when they go into the voting booth, then Barack Obama is in really good shape,” he said.
A version of Francia’s study entitled, “Voting on Values or Bread-and-Butter? The Effects of Union Membership on the Politics of the White Working Class,” will appear in a forthcoming issue of the journal, Perspectives on Work, and is being considered for the journal, Presidential Studies Quarterly.