With Election Day fast approaching — Tuesday, to be exact — Americans in all 50 states are heading to the polls, scouting candidates and watching the prediction polls nervously. The energy is felt, especially on college campuses. At the University of Cincinnati (UC), students can routinely spot voter registration groups, political organizations or clubs canvassing and, especially after the United States Supreme Court struck down the constitutional right to abortion, various demonstrations and sit-ins. However, it is not only students who are thinking about November 8; the university and its professors prepare for the election in the classroom.
The election provides a unique opportunity for students in UC’s School of Public and International Affairs (SPIA), formerly the Department of Political Science, to examine elections in the United States and analyze the workings of institutions. democracy in the country. Led by Dr. Stephen Mockabee, associate professor at SPIA, the course titled “Elections in America” is only offered during election years. In it, Mockabee teaches his students the ins and outs of elections while relating to current events.
Mockabee teaches his class about the psychological aspects of voting, campaign finance, and fraud. The class also always discusses the state of American democracy, how changes could be made, and whether those changes are feasible.
However, while many topics remained consistent over Mockabee’s two-decade teaching career, he also said he saw changes in the curriculum due to the changing political landscape of the country. “Our political environment is now so much more polarized than it was 20 years ago when I started teaching,” Mockabee said.
This change is perhaps best reflected by the new addition of US election security discussions. Mockabee said before the 2016 election that his discussions of the viability of an election were minimal, only appearing in relation to the 2000 election, in which issues such as the hanging of chads and the counting of ballots paper ballots have left some worried about election security. Never, according to Mockabee, has he had to discuss candidates while flatly denying that they had lost an election.
Due to such visible and unfounded accusations of voter fraud, the professor said he is doing everything possible to ensure that students are aware of the misinformation that is circulating. “That presents another challenge to teaching in a class like this. You want to make sure the students are aware of the facts about elections and that really wasn’t something we had to think about a lot in the late 1990s. or early 2000s. ,” he said.
According to Elijah Hyman, a fourth-year political science student currently enrolled in his final semester at UC, the class and its discussions of election denial is something he has never encountered before. “It’s something new after the 2020 election. My classes before the last presidential election never really brought [election denialism] “, Hyman said. “I’m glad to have Professor Mockabee for this class, and maybe another teacher would have skipped that.
The hyperpolarization that has made the United States fertile ground for such intense political arguments has not only meant that Mockabee has had to add topical discussions to his class, but has also changed some that he has always had. . He said voters used to think of their candidates in terms of party identification, candidate quality and political issues. Mockabee said strict partisanship has become a deal breaker for many voters these days. “We don’t see a lot of conservative Democrats or liberal Republicans anymore,” Mockabee said. “So even when I use those terms, the students look at me funny. They can’t imagine a liberal Republican.”
Mockabee gave the example of the Georgia Senate race, where incumbent Senator Rafael Warnock (D) takes on Herschel Walker (R). Although the race has been close for weeks, recent allegations that Walker paid for two women to have abortions – despite his stance against reproductive rights – were widely seen as an October surprise that is sure to hit. shake the race. However, polls show that doesn’t seem to be the case.
“Decades ago, if the candidate had revealed all of these revelations in October, they would be over,” Mockabee said. “Republicans are willing to vote for a clearly flawed candidate because he is a Republican. There are other examples across the country.”
Aware that students don’t exist in a vacuum and have their own political views, Mockabee said he’s aware of what he calls potential “partisan food fights” that materialize in the classroom. For this reason, Mockabee said he made it clear to students that the class was not a forum for political debate.
Nevertheless, according to Hyman, students of the course could take the opportunity to clarify their views on opposing parties and ideologies. Despite the volatility of many class topics, Hyman said Mockabee effectively nipped those conversations in the bud. “He [Mockabee] does a great job of being able to tell when it looks like it’s [an argument] about to happen,” Hyman said.
Similarly, discussions of the psychological and social impact on voters have also seen a shift in recent years – but not on Mockabee’s side. With America’s long history of voter suppression targeting black people, dating back to 1870 and continuing to the present day, Mockabee said his electoral courts have always examined systemic racism and its effect on the voting process. Yet in the past, students weren’t always convinced that there was a systemic disadvantage affecting black voters. Now, however, Mockabee students generally come to class with some knowledge of past and present racist election laws. “[The importance of race in my class] increased over time. It’s something political scientists have known for a long time,” he said. “But I think, especially as our society becomes more aware of systemic racism and racial inequality, I think more and more students are entering college aware of these issues.”
With election day fast approaching, Mockabee’s class switched to predicting midterms. However, just because the election ends on November 8, Mockabee’s class isn’t slowing down. Instead, he and his students will begin to examine trends spotted in that specific election before discussing how to improve democratic systems in the United States. Perhaps that’s what sets up his students for success, according to Mockabee.
At the end of the semester, when final grades are handed in and everyone is heading home for vacation, Mockabee hopes his students are more informed voters and have a vision of what they want our democracy to look like, that whether or not they become Politicians.
“The course is about trying to make sure students are aware of the disconnect between the reality of our elections and the rhetoric about fraud and corruption. Because ultimately many students won’t choose to pursue a career in politics or law, but they will be citizens and voters,” Mockabee said. “So my hope is that they leave the classroom better equipped to be good citizens. separate fact from fiction when it comes to elections.”