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Elections, Olympics, and an Extra Day to Speculate

Periodically, an extra day is added to the calendar year as a corrective measure because the earth does not orbit the sun in precisely 365 days (you are probably thinking, “Did I access the Department of Physics and Astronomy newsletter?” No, just be patient). We refer to these as leap years; and every leap year, political scientists get particularly excited about a key event that only occurs every four years. The media and concerned citizens want our expertise and predictions of who is going to win. I am speaking, of course, of the Summer Olympics. As fans of rhythmic gymnastics, badminton, race-walking, and synchronized swimming, the Olympics provide a feast for political scientists. But once the Summer Olympics are over, what do we do until the next leap year? Many of us are starting to pay attention to the presidential election. Since 1896, it turns out there is actually a presidential election every time the Summer Olympics take place (now for our methods students, is that correlation or causation?). It is particularly exciting when the Olympics and presidential election overlap as they did when Mitt Romney’s wife’s horse was in the 2012 Olympics equestrian dressage competition. Sadly, for the Romneys, the horse fared as badly as the candidate (although if the election was like the Olympics, Romney would have received the silver medal). For most Americans (and maybe more so this year), the framers of the Constitution played a cruel joke on their descendants. They made us put up with an election, the name calling, the deceit, and the political advertisements for an extra day (February 29). Not only that, but by a fluke in the calendar, the election is on the latest possible date this year that it can be: November 8, 2016.

Not everyone is tired of the mudslinging, the name calling, the polling, and the pivots, real and perceived. For political scientists, having the election is like having a year of holidays and birthdays. We can’t get enough of the election (even this one). It gives us a chance to test our skills as pundits and experts. Most of us accurately predicted from the start that Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton would win their party’s nominations and if the former slipped, Marco Rubio was all set to be the GOP standard bearer.

Despite that, people still want our opinions on the election (maybe so they can make a bet against what we are saying). I was on local television news programs 25 times during this academic year. I also did a national interview that aired on NPR about choosing delegates. Somehow I have also become one of the top American political analysts in Brazil, conducting interviews with the Brazilian magazine that has the second highest circulation in the world and the main newspaper in Sao Paulo.

My colleagues were also called to share their expertise. Professor Anthony Nownes was quoted in articles in the Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, and Christian Science Monitor regarding celebrity endorsements and interest group activity on behalf of the candidates. Professor Nathan Kelly provided an op-ed on the election and inequality in The Hill and his research on inequality was cited by factcheck.org, Salon, Vox, and the Huffington Post. Professor Michael Fitzgerald was also frequently invited to comment on the campaigns by local media. When we were not teaching, doing research, and offering our nuggets of wisdom, the faculty still found time to defeat the graduate students in the annual softball game (more about that in Sports).

As always in the Political Spectrum, we want to focus on the accomplishments and contributions of the faculty, graduate students, undergraduates, and alumni. The theme of this year’s newsletter is the Global Village. Faculty members starred in the classroom, published books and articles, and continued to do service for the department, the college, the university, the discipline, and the community. Most of the stories in this edition will also involve the international aspect of our work. You will read (and enjoy, I hope) stories about faculty leading students on study abroad programs or invited to give talks in other countries. Our graduate students and undergraduates have also traveled for reasons related to political science and public policy. These are a few of their stories (with apologies to Law & Order). We even have a story of an alumnus who returned to his country, devastated by war and corruption, and put his political skills and savvy to good use.

-Richard Pacelle, professor and head


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