BUCKHANNON – In a head-turning move breaking with convention, the New York Times Editorial Board in January chose to endorse not one but two Democratic Primary candidates – one for each “wing” of the party: progressive and moderate/establishment.
But longtime West Virginia Wesleyan College professor and well-known political analyst, Dr. Rob Rupp, last week said it’s misleading to only look at where the Democratic candidates challenging President Donald Trump for the presidency fall on the political spectrum.
Theory surrounding turnout – even more than how progressive, centrist or conservative a certain candidate is – could be the most impactful factor to influence Monday’s Democratic caucus in Iowa, the Democratic primary in May and ultimately, the general election in November.
Each election season, Rupp, a political science and history professor, requires his Parties/Elections class to come up with, as he puts it, “an education prediction, not an educated opinion” about which candidate is likely to clean up in a primary, general or special election.
Last Monday, Jan. 27, two groups in Rupp’s class presented their predictions regarding the Feb. 3 Democratic Iowa caucuses. One group chose former vice president Joe Biden, and the other selected Sen. Elizabeth Warren.
“This is an academic exercise in which they are supposed to look at all the factors so they can make an educated prediction,” Rupp explained when My Buckhannon sat down with him after class.
Rupp said within the field of Democratic candidates there’s not only two different approaches – reform or revolution – but two distinct theories about turnout.
“The key thing to look at is turnout,” Rupp said. “They have two different theories, and one theory is, ‘I’m going to recruit new people who have never voted and bring them into the [Democratic] party,’ and the other is, ‘I’m going to keep the people who are currently in the party happy,’ and that distinction is striking.”
Rupp said Democratic socialist Bernie Sanders, who best embodies the first, is essentially saying he can win the presidency by converting nonvoters into voters and bringing new people into the Democratic party. Meanwhile, former vice president Joe Biden is delivering a more reassuring message to the Democratic base.
“Biden is saying, ‘Trust me, I’m Uncle Joe, and I’ll make sure the Democrats come home,’” he said.
What Rupp said is particularly interesting is that although their politics may appear to be far apart, President Trump’s and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders’s methods are strikingly similar.
“Who else [like Sanders] said, ‘I’m going to throw out the rulebook and recruit new people?’ Donald Trump!” he said. “So, I would think that West Virginians could [potentially] support Bernie as much as they could support Trump.”
Both Trump and Sanders harness people’s dissatisfaction with the status quo to garner votes, he observed.
Regarding voting, who goes to vote – not how many people support which candidate – is the most crucial factor to watch, he said.
“The key isn’t, ‘Will I vote for that person?’ but the key is, ‘Will I go to vote period?’” Rupp said. “See, party is like a religion: You don’t leave the religion and go to another denomination. You just simply walk out. If you’ve been a Democrat for a long time, you don’t leave the Democratic party, but you walk out. You stay at home on Election Day.”
Back in the classroom, project partners Gillian Adams, a junior double major in criminal justice and political science, and senior environmental studies major Abia Wilson, studied a number of factors that aided them in making a prediction that Biden would win the Iowa caucuses.
“We had a claim that Biden would be the nominee eventually after [the Iowa caucuses] based off the evidence of endorsement points,” Wilson explained. “He might not be the first in fundraising, but he has the big-name recognition, the media outlets, he has a lot of backing from other sources, and then that ‘in-house feel,’ that familiarity and that persona.”
Adams said although she’d initially believed Warren would win Iowa based on her strong performance in the January 2020 debate, after analyzing the evidence, she changed her mind to Biden. She and Wilson reasoned that Iowa voters were most concerned about electability – and about choosing a candidate who would ultimately be able to defeat Trump in November.
The students said although they both lean right, they enjoy learning about viewpoints that differ from their own.
“I definitely like learning about both sides of things,” Adams said. “I’m more conservative so I like hearing opinions from people who aren’t of the same political affiliation that I am.”
Wilson said hearing the opinions of students whose political leanings contrast with his gives him a “context of where they’re coming from.”
“I really enjoy that,” he said.
Another big takeaway for Wilson and Adams?
“Keep your eye on Klobuchar,” Wilson said. “I think she is not as progressive as Sanders and Warren, but not as much of a reformist as Biden. With the power of the female vote and her dynamics and characteristics, I would keep my eye on her.”
Ryan Hess, a sophomore business administration major who picked Warren as the Feb. 3 winner, said honestly, it’s a tossup. Although Warren secured the endorsement of the Des Moines Register, the largest newspaper in the state, Monday evening could turn out to be anyone’s night.
“I do think Biden does have a great chance in Iowa as well,” he said. “It’s crazy because right now, it is still so close with the three main candidates – or four main candidates – it’s hard to tell. Sanders could pull away with this, Klobuchar’s just moved up in the polling. It’s all over the place.”