Making sense of the 2016 election

Hoover bannerA few Stanford political experts are gathering in cyberspace to help people make sense of the 2016 election.

MORRIS FIORINA, DAVID BRADY, DOUG RIVERS and BILL WHALEN launched a new podcast, Poll Position, that will continue up to the Nov. 8 election. The presidential race has passed Labor Day and the polls have tightened, but many undecided voters remain, as the three scholars observed in the most recent episode. A prior broadcast examined the accuracy of polls.

“Our goal is to look beyond the horse race and head-to-head numbers and explain what the polling math tells us about the state of the 2016 election and the American electorate,” said Whalen, a Hoover Institution research fellow who serves as the podcast’s moderator. “That’s a task made much simpler thanks to some of Stanford’s most insightful minds when it comes to public opinion and political science.”

Brady, Fiorina and Rivers are political science professors and senior fellows at Hoover, which has also posted a Decision 2016 page that features the podcast content and other perspectives on this election season.

Fiorina recently introduced an essay series that analyzes the nature of contemporary American politics. In the first article in the series, “An Era of Tenuous Majorities: A Historical Context,” Fiorina examined the “electoral instability” of American politics in the last few decades.

“Party sorting,” not political polarization in the electorate, is the best approach to understanding American politics today, Fiorina said. As the parties established clearer partisan identities, voters reacted by sorting into the party that most closely matched their preferences.

“At the higher levels the parties have sorted; each party has become more homogeneous internally and more distinct from the other,” he wrote, adding that most voters are not as well-sorted as party elites, and many voters are not partisan at all. But they are “increasingly dissatisfied with the choices the political system offers.”

Fiorina’s first group of essays describes the contemporary American electorate. A second set will discuss the role of independents as the marginal members of an electoral majority and explain how party sorting produces less split-ticket voting.

His third batch of essays will look at how today’s American politics compare with European democracies and U.S. politics in the late 19th century, which was a similar period of social and economic upheaval.

Fiorina’s final essay on the results of the election will conclude the series.