Vanderbilt experts discuss election dynamics, fallout at Federal Forum

John Geer (Daniel Dubois/Vanderbilt)

Negative ads, excessive campaign spending, and the agenda of the “lame duck” Congress were topics of discussion at the Oct. 15 Federal Forum panel held at The Martha Rivers Ingram Commons at Vanderbilt multipurpose room.

The event, hosted by Vanderbilt’s Office of Federal Relations and the Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions, featured four panelists:

John Geer, Gertrude Conaway Vanderbilt Professor of Political Science, professor of public policy and education, co-director of Vanderbilt Poll and the Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions;

Larry Bartels, the May Werthan Shayne Professor of Public Policy and Social Science and co-director, Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions;

Josh Clinton, associate professor of political science and co-director, Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions; and

Christina West, assistant vice chancellor for federal relations.

Beth Fortune, vice chancellor for public affairs, moderated the panel.

Geer shared with the audience results of his study on negative political ads. “A billion dollars is being spent on the presidential race, and most of the ads being run are negative,” he said. “But polls show that 94 percent of the voters have already made up their minds, and when they see these negative ads, it really doesn’t have much of an impact.”

Bartels predicted that the small margin of uninformed, undecided voters will look to the economy before choosing a presidential candidate.

“The state of the economy during the months leading up to the election will be a big predictor for those voters, and this particularly affects the incumbent,” Bartels said. “[rquote]It doesn’t take a lot of growth during a president’s first term to bring about a favorable opinion by voters.”[/rquote]

With just over a dozen work days left in the session, West explained there is concern as to what the “lame duck” Congress will be able to accomplish in light of the failed “super committee,” the impending expiration of the Bush tax cuts and mandatory cuts to defense spending and discretionary domestic spending.

“What’s going to happen on January 2? We don’t know,” West said. “Somebody has to come up with a plan that everyone, including the president, can agree on, and that doesn’t look likely.”

Meanwhile, the negative campaigning will continue, with candidates increasingly counting on the media to help get their message out.

“Negative ads are more interesting than positive ones, and the media love to cover them,” Geer said. “Negative ads get you free press, so we can expect to see a lot more of them in the days to come.”

The event was streamed live on the Internet. Watch the archived video.