Political Scientists Talk Midterms at Campus Forum


UT Dallas political scientists discussed winners and losers, political polarization and ugly rhetoric at a postelection panel discussion on Nov. 7.
More than 100 students attended the forum, which featured panelists Dr. Harold Clarke, Dr. Tom Brunell and Dr. Robert Lowry, all political science professors in the School of Economic, Political and Policy Sciences.
Despite enthusiastic support from younger voters, U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke could not overcome the challenge of being a Democrat running against a conservative Republican incumbent, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, in a conservative Republican state, Lowry said.
“As far back as the primary, I was saying O’Rourke was probably going to do better than any Democrat in a long time, but in order to actually win, as opposed to getting 48 or 49 percent, Cruz was going to have to make some unforced errors, and that basically didn’t happen,” he said.
Clarke said O’Rourke successfully mobilized his base, but that was not enough.
“He would’ve been an absolutely wonderful knockout candidate in California, New York, Illinois, Connecticut and so on but was not a good policy match here,” Clarke said.

Despite some losses, Democrats made gains nationwide that position them to potentially reshape some congressional districts.
“It was a good year for Democrats, but it wasn’t a great one,” Brunell said. “I think the surprise was that the blue wave wasn’t as big as some people expected or hoped it would be.”
No doubt it was a contentious midterm election season. But Lowry noted a positive outcome to the political polarization — it likely fueled the high turnout.
“Everyone thinks that polarization is bad and voter turnout is good,” Lowry said. “I think polarization leads to high voter turnout.”
When a student asked how to get more young people to vote, Lowry offered a time-tested technique.
“Get ’em mad,” Lowry said. “People react more strongly when they’re mad or feel threatened than when they’re hoping to gain something.”
–Kim Horner