[Some faculty members at Spring Arbor were invited to write something about the election for the fall alumni newsletter. Here’s my submission.]
Like much of America, I can’t seem to stop reading about what’s happening in the presidential race. The major candidates have the highest unfavorable ratings of any two candidates in history. Hardly a day goes by without a new revelation about something one of them did or said which has to be fact checked and analyzed.
The polls provide a snapshot of how potential voters are responding to the candidates. It’s possible to sort support for candidates based upon what characteristics are most important to which subgroups. How do white women with college degrees differ from white men without? Which are leaning toward Clinton? Which are encouraged by Trump’s remarks on national security? The stability of polling has allowed many professional analysts like FiveThirtyEight or Real Clear Politics to make probability estimates on how the Electoral College is likely to turn out.
A quick note about political polling from someone who teaches statistics and research methods: Those polls done by professional organizations are actually quite stable and trustworthy. Yes, there is a margin or error to each individual poll but when they are aggregated over time that margin goes down. The key to polling is to have a sample that reflects the voting population in general. These summary analyses have proven very effective at predicting the eventual outcome of the election in November. This is because they are looking at how states are likely to turn out, which is what the Electoral College is based on, and not on each individual voter. (If you want to know more, drop me an email.)
My real problem with polling is that it focuses all of our attention on November 8th. We can make our own predictions on how the election will turn out and be happy or sad about the outcome depending upon which candidate we were backing.
In my opinion, we shouldn’t be so focused on November. The real questions around the presidential election begin to arise on January 20th. How will the new president lead the country to address the many critical issues that require our attention? Can the rhetoric of a political campaign be translated into appropriate policy? Can the president work with members of the opposition party to advance issues on behalf of the common good?
I am what Andrew Hamilton (of musical fame) called a Federalist. That means that I believe that there is a role for the federal government to play in fostering “a more perfect Union”. We haven’t been very good at that in recent administrations, regardless of party. This is why polls show Americans overwhelming believing that the country is “on the wrong track” and why Congress’ approval rating remains in the single digits.
Our never-ending election seasons have encouraged us to look at political life as a repeated pattern of winners and losers. In reality, we have to work together across party lines to deal with the pressing issues facing us as a society.
This is particularly important for Christian voters to remember. Because we live in a representative democracy, our viewpoints are important voices in the public square but are not the only voices. We also need to remember than some of the people with whom we disagree politically are also Christians striving to follow Jesus. Finally, we need to recognize that many outside the church are evaluating Christianity on the basis for how we engage political discussion.
That preamble to the Constitution is really a remarkable paragraph. Its what should be guiding all of us in our thinking about “We The People”. Regardless of the outcome on November 8th, that’s the important challenge before us.