Duke professors talk to media about the election, its implications and its aftermath

<p>Only 10.18% of registered voters in Durham County cast a ballot in the municipal primary elections.</p>

Only 10.18% of registered voters in Durham County cast a ballot in the municipal primary elections.

Numerous Duke professors have publicly shared their thoughts on the election, both before and after Election Day.

Leading up to the election, Philip Napoli, James R. Shepley distinguished professor of public policy, highlighted the importance of checking Fox News. Although their analytics team is independent, he argued the network would face pressure to endorse a premature Trump victory.

“It might not be an exaggeration to say that the decisions made at Fox in the days ahead are likely to be the most impactful decisions that any news organization will make this election,” Napoli said, due to Trump supporters’ reliance on Fox. “And perhaps the most impactful of any news organization in recent history.” 

After the election results were called, Napoli wrote in an email to The Chronicle that it has been “very interesting” to see what some of Fox News’ journalistic decisions—for example calling Arizona for Biden earlier than many other media outlets).

This decision made the network a target of attacks from Trump, he noted—even though many Fox programs and hosts are continuing to operate as “prime spreaders of election-related disinformation and conspiracy theories.” He noted that Trump is now encouraging his supporters to switch to outlets such as NewsMax and OANN, and wrote that how Fox News responds to this “unusual moment” in its relationship with Trump and his supporters may be an important factor in whether Trump supporters accept the legitimacy of the election’s result.

“I like to think there is some serious soul-searching happening among at least some of the executives there,” Napoli wrote. “But the bottom line is that catering to, and exacerbating, political polarization and extremism has been good business, so it is perhaps too much to expect the network to maintain any journalistic practices that put them at odds with the President and his most passionate supporters.”

Several other Duke professors shared their political insight about the messiness of this year’s election in a Nov. 4 virtual press event. Mac McCorkle, professor of the practice in the Sanford School of Public Policy, expressed that many of the election upsets were due to “the continued failure of polling to accurately capture the mood of the electorate or predict election-day results.”

“The idea that high turnout is always good for Democrats in North Carolina—particularly in federal elections—continues not to have much strong evidence,” McCorkle said. “In this year’s historically high-turnout election, Democrats did much more poorly than they had hoped—losing ground in some areas and pulling out slim victories in others.”

At the same event, Guy-Uriel Charles, Edward and Ellen Schwarzman professor of law and co-director of the Duke Law Center on Law, Race and Politics, said that the election debunked the assumed “monolithic” nature of racial and ethnic groups. 

“To talk about ‘Latino voters’ I think begins to betray a type of now cultural, political and identity ignorance,” Charles said.

He added that many people feel that Trump comes across as racist, which might translate to a lack of appeal for people of color. The election, however, showed that there were populations of Latinx and Black Trump voters. Charles said this “complicates our racial narrative” and goes against the narrative “that voters of color will join with liberal whites to create a demographic wave that will predict America’s political future.”

Charles critiqued Trump’s desire to contest the election results in the Supreme Court, explaining Trump could get to the Supreme Court only if he started in the lower courts and worked his way up. 

“You don’t just go to the Supreme Court if you have an issue,” he said. “You have to have a legal basis for it.” 

In another Nov. 4 virtual media briefing, two Duke professors with experience as White House officials expressed their concern for the post-election transition. 

Bruce Jentleson, William Preston Few distinguished professor of public policy and former senior advisor to the U.S. State Department policy planning director, said that transitions have two main purposes: affirmation and preparation.

“Affirmation is that handshake that in every other instance has occurred right after the election between the outgoing president and the president-elect—the notion that the constitutional system is working,” Jentleson said. “We fight hard but we play by the rules. A very high-level version of why Duke and UNC basketball players shake hands at the end of the game. We’re not seeing any of that.”

Professor of Political Science Peter Feaver, a former advisor in the George W. Bush and Bill Clinton administrations, said that the current delay in transition is “not helpful.”

“The good news is the Biden team is the A Team. They have a lot of governing experience among them. If there was going to be an incoming team that could overcome this problem well, I would say that’s the Biden team,” Feaver said. “I have confidence the Biden team is not sitting around waiting.”

John Aldrich, Pfizer, Inc./Edmund T. Pratt, Jr. University distinguished professor of political science, wrote an opinion article for The Hill analyzing how much President-elect Joe Biden owes his close victory to Libertarian candidate Jo Jorgenson. 

In the article, titled, “Does Joe Biden owe his win to Jo Jorgensen?” Aldrich argues that conservative Republicans are more likely to vote for Libertarian candidates than liberal Democrats, and these votes might have swung the election. 

“Her vote total substantially exceeded Biden and President Trump's margin in Arizona, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Georgia,” Aldrich wrote.

Some professors went to social media to share their thoughts on Trump’s post-election actions. Professor of Law Marin Levy wrote in a Twitter thread that the U.S. Court of Federal Claims is “not the court for the President's lawyers,” even though it is where the Trump administration is pursuing a lawsuit challenging the counting of votes in Wayne County, Detroit.

Levy wrote that the Federal Judicial Center notes, “Typical cases [in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims] might involve disputes concerning tax refunds, federal contracts, federal takings of private property, or government employees' pay”—which is “not their current lawsuit.”

Asked why she decided to speak out publicly, Levy wrote in an email to The Chronicle that she believes scholars can do a service when they speak on matters with which they have expertise, and with which the public is generally less familiar. She wrote that her background is in judicial administration and civil procedure, so she was happy to comment on the erroneous filing in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims.

“More generally, I—and many other law professors—are quite concerned with the baseless lawsuits that the President has filed to challenge the results of the election,” she wrote. “While the legal system is working as it should—with judges dismissing cases that are without merit—I do worry that not everyone will appreciate just how frivolous these lawsuits are, and how the existence of these challenges can serve to undermine the results of the election. And again, my hope is that having academics speak out on these matters, not as partisans but as individuals with particular expertise, more in the public will appreciate how weak these challenges are.”

Madeleine Berger profile
Madeleine Berger | Editor at Large

Madeleine Berger is a Trinity senior and an editor at large of The Chronicle's 119th volume.


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