As of this writing, the outcome of the 2000 presidential election is still in the dark, but on Tuesday, Nov. 14, some light was shed on the situation by a panel of experts from the Kennedy School of Government.
The format for the ARCO Forum panel discussion, titled “Election Impasse: How Do We Go Forward?” gave each expert three minutes to expound on his or her particular area of expertise, after which questions were posed from the floor.
Thomas Patterson, the Bradlee Professor of Government and the Press and director of The Vanishing Voter Project, a study of participation in the 2000 election campaign, said it was ironic that people are becoming interested in the campaign only after election day has come and gone. Before the election, only 50 percent of Americans polled said they had had a recent conversation about the campaign. That number has jumped to 80 percent following the election. As a news event, Patterson said that the 2000 election has garnered slightly more public attention than the death of England’s Princess Dianna.
Assistant professor of public policy Anna Greenberg, an expert on Web-based survey research and head of the iVillage.com “women’s electorate” polling project, said that in spite of a proliferation of tracking and exit polls in the 2000 election, significant mistakes were made. The polls failed to detect a shift in support from Bush to Gore during the last days of the campaign, and thus did not predict Gore’s winning of the popular vote. She also said that the election night confusion about the results of the Florida vote was due in part to a clerical error. Apparently, a column of figures was simply mis-added.
Associate Professor of Public Policy David King, an expert on legislatures, interest groups, and political parties, speculated that the slim Republican majority in the House and the possibly 50/50 split in the Senate might not produce gridlock as predicted. “Power sharing is not common in Congress, but it is common in state legislatures, and it tends to make them operate very efficiently,” he said.
J. Bonnie Newman, Executive Dean of the Kennedy School and former senior aide to President George Bush, said she was concerned about the transition period, which, even under normal circumstances, is short, intense, and highly pressured. Given the delayed outcome, “we’re in uncharted territory.”
David Gergen, the Public Service Professor of Public Leadership, who has served as a White House adviser to Presidents Nixon, Ford, Reagan, and Clinton, said that both candidates have failed to show leadership in this crisis and that both have been diminished thereby. “It’s going to be hard for one of them to pop out of a box and say, ‘Here I am, your national leader!'”
Institute of Politics director David Pryor’s outlook was more optimistic. Pryor, who served for six years in the U.S. House of Representatives, four years as the Governor of Arkansas, and 18 years in the U.S. Senate, said: “I don’t look at this as being all bad. When else have you heard people talk this much about the American political system? I think it shows not the weakness but the strength of the system.”
Moderator Joseph Nye, the Don K. Price Professor of Public Policy and Dean of the Kennedy School, summed up the panel discussion by quoting Winston Churchill on the subject of democracy: “Democracy is the worst political system – except for all the others.”