Aspen Ideas: Presidential election reveals a changing America |

Aspen Ideas: Presidential election reveals a changing America

Moderator Eric Liu chats with panelists Matt Barreto, Kristen Soltis Anderson, Stanley Greenberg and DeRay Mckesson at the Aspen Ideas Festival on Wednesday. The topic: "What the 2016 Election Is Teaching Us About a Changing America.
Aspen Ideas Festival/Courtesy Photo |

The road to the White House has led some voters to feel the Bern, with others vowing to make American great again.

Come November, however, polls are showing that if the election were held today, Hillary Clinton would be elected to the American presidency.

Yet the impacts of the fiery rhetoric of presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump and Sen. Bernie Sanders — both of whose campaigns have amplified Americans’ growing disdain for the current political system — are bound to reverberate after the election.

So said a group of political pundits and pollsters — three of four were left-leaning — during a panel discussion Wednesday at the Aspen Ideas Festival.

Moderated by Eric Liu, the director of the Aspen Institute Citizenship and American Identity Program asked the panel if the “people power” exercised this election cycle will persist after the November contests.

“Will that subside or is that just beginning in a way that will really overturn things in both the mid-terms and the next presidential” election, he asked.

“I think there’s no putting that genie back in the bottle,” said Kristen Soltis Anderson, a journalist and GOP pollster. “People power is going to expand.”

Whether it’s gridlock in Washington, the government shutdown, Wall Street corruption, terrorism, the economy, the Black Lives Matter movement, Obamacare, bigotry, the allegedly rigged two-party system or the immigration debate, all have combined to produce the anger fueling the campaign rhetoric on both sides, the panelists noted.

“Part of the frustration right now and part of the desire of those sort of campaign speeches about really shaking things up does have a lot do to with the last seven years in which there was so much polarized politics, and we get forget where that started,” said panelist Matt Barreto, a professor of political science and Chicana/o studies at UCLA. “And that started with Republicans on Inauguration Day in 2009 vowing to not work with Obama.”

The profile of the American electorate also has changed immensely since then, while the GOP has failed to court them with the same zeal as the Dems, Democratic pollster Stanley Greenberg said.

“You’re talking about racial minorities, you’re talking about the majority of unmarried households, unmarried women, … millenials, … they will be way over 60 percent over the electorate, and that’s 12 points more than they were four years ago,” he said.

A recent poll he conducted showed Americans, by a 2-to-1 margin, believe immigration is good for the country.

“These voters believe in equality, tolerance, empathy, individual autonomy, education, science and technology as a way of learning, and they are dismissive of religious absolutes,” Greenberg said.

But will their protests in the streets lead them to the polls? Despite the Dems’ efforts, that might not be enough, said civil rights activist DeRay Mckesson, a prominent figure in the protests in both Ferguson, Missouri, and Baltimore.

“I’m worried that in the movement there are going to be young people who say, ‘I’m going to withhold my vote from a system that’s never served me,’ and if the Democrats don’t figure out how to talk to those people, I think that that will be a real loss,” he said. “And I think that is not just about race, but I think race has become this axis by which people are starting to think about a whole set of issues. So we think about the Democrats talking about race and justice and equity in ways they were not before. I think about the protests with Bernie and all of a sudden it’s this long social justice platform, and it really took Hillary a long time to get to this social justice platform, but she got there.”

Likewise, Barreto said he expects the people-power movement to continue. But whether that translates to votes is another question.

“You’ve seen the immigrant rights movement growing since 2006 with the big marches and continuing with the Dreamers, you have the (Black Lives Matter), which has been growing, and you have now many Muslim Americans who are active and protesting,” he said. “I think that will continue and it’s good for the system, and it keeps the parties and candidates accountable. And I hope we can find a way to continue that, to encourage that, … so that people are participating in the streets but also participating electorally.”


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