The race for the White House: What it takes to win the vote

The Means Report

AUGUSTA, Ga. (WJBF) – Augusta University’s Dr. Craig Albert returns to The Means Report to take a look at the Presidential election. He weighs in on the impact of the conventions, campaigning during a pandemic, and what each campaign needs to consider to win the vote come election day.

Brad Means: Dr. Albert, so, I know you’re very busy. Thanks for taking a break to be with us.

Dr. Craig Albert: Of course, thanks for having me.

Brad Means: So, are you teaching in-person, or virtual, or both?

Dr. Craig Albert: I’m doing synchronous teaching. So, this way. So, we meet at the same time, same days, but we do it via…, doing live like this. So, everybody can see everybody on the screen, and we can interact, and engage just like this. So, it’s kinda in between being online, and in-person.

Brad Means: All right. Well, good. I’m glad that you’re somewhat back to normal, or at least taking a step toward that. And hopefully we’ll keep on taking those forward steps. I wanna start by asking the same question I asked Lara Trump, before you. Which is, do conventions work? Can conventions, sway our vote one way or the other?

Dr. Craig Albert: It’s unlikely. Conventions usually appeal to the base of both parties. It’s really meant to fire up the base, to create the narrative and the message, to really stoke the base to get out the vote. Both sides of the aisle need to rely on their base to come out in not…, in vast numbers. And so, the conventions are pretty much designed to do that. Though we saw, specifically, in both of these conventions a couple nights where both sides were pointing towards those independent voters. So, they did try one or two nights to get the independent. Both of them did, especially the RNC. But generally, it’s made for the base of the party.

Brad Means: They happened so long before the election, several months before the election. Can you keep, or is it a challenge, I guess, is the question. Is it a challenge for each party to keep the momentum up that they get going during convention week?

Dr. Craig Albert: It’s not too hard to keep the momentum going, usually, because what the convention usually does is, of course, announces the candidate who they’re gonna be the official nomination. And so, most of the time in US history, we don’t always know who that’s going to be. So, the conventions generally create a great amount of energy and enthusiasm, because now you know the candidate on each side, you know the vice president pick, on each side, and more specifically, the policy message is supposed to be outlined during the conventions. And so, usually you create the message during convention, and run with that, and build on the momentum, releasing different ideas of your policy as you go closer to November. So, you’re supposed to create the general energy, that first week during the convention, and then build on that throughout.

Brad Means: All right. So, just kind of a general question about each convention. We’ll start with the Democrats since they went first. I know things looked different this time around to all of us. But do you think the Democrats did a good job when it was their week?

Dr. Craig Albert: Oh, I think it’s the best job that could have been done during these circumstances. So, the layout of it, of course, was difficult, but it’s the best to be expected. It’s the first time anything has been done like this in a massive way. So, they had to see how could they generally get public support and appeal, how could they create an audience-like atmosphere, and some type of engagement, while most of it was done virtually. So, I think, that they were the first to do it, the first to go for the conventions, that they did the best that they possibly could. Now, if you’re asking did they get their message out in a proper way? I think that’s a little trickier, and a more complicated question to answer. They did not really release that much policy guidance or what their actual platform would be. And they didn’t really lay out what president Biden would look like as opposed to president Trump. Their message seemed to be just anti-Trump. So, I think that, visually, they did a good job in appealing to everybody. But I don’t know if their message or their policy outcomes was exactly what they needed to do to appeal to different type of voters, and bring them over the aisle.

Brad Means: What about on the Republican side? Did they do a good job? Same question. I will say this, I noticed two differences. One, they did have live audiences on a couple of nights with the vice president and the president, and president Trump appeared each night. How do you think that party handled its week in the spotlight?

Dr. Craig Albert: I think they did a good job on, again, how it looked and the visual techniques that they used. They did have 1000 people in those sessions. So, there was a little bit more authenticity than it was going on in the DNC. And maybe they had the advantage of that, it came afterwards. So, they knew that they wanted to put a live audience to the best that they could and some numbers in there. So, it had a more genuine feel. So, I think, they did a good job there. As far as their policy and their messaging, they actually had the same problem, but in reverse, that the Democrats did. They didn’t lay out many policies. They did not speak about what president Trump has done in his past four years. And that’s usually how an incumbent president runs is by laying out to you during their convention speech, what they have accomplished during the last four years. Instead, they focused on anti progressive politics. So, much as I said the DNC focused on an anti-Trump message, president Trump, and the Republicans just focused on them not being the Democrats. It’s the first time I’ve really seen a campaign strategy on both sides where their main message is “Vote for us. We’re not the other way.”

Brad Means: What drives the decision to take that approach? Is it behind the scenes polling? Is it a gut feeling of the people who are backstage running things? Why not just lay out your platform, and let the voters say yes or no?

Dr. Craig Albert: Well, they’re playing politics, both sides. So, what they’re doing is based kind of on polling, kind of in the direction of the coordinator, and the director of the conventions themselves, and the overall party platform of the RNC, and the DNC. So, it’s a complicated picture of how they focus. And, usually, of course, the president has a say for the president’s party, how things go. And so, president Trump has, we’ve talked about this before, he has a direct connection with his base. He knows how to communicate with his base. And so, that’s why the Republican side went for, pro Trump, all Trump, all the time type of messaging during their campaign where they wanted him to be as part of it as much as possible, because they believe he has that direct connection, and he can get the base out to the polls. What the Democrats are trying to do is learn from their lessons they made in 2016, the mistakes that they made in 2016, and try a little bit of techniques swapping, and different types of messaging to see if they could really demonstrate to people their issues with president Trump. And so, the message was kinda “How could we learn and improve upon 2016?” And that kinda guided their side of the convention.

Brad Means: Don’t you think President Trump was just really wanting to turn the teleprompter off and just talk as he normally does at his rallies? Did did you pick up on that when he was giving his speech? And do you think that the ad libbing version of president Trump is what we’ll see going forward, less teleprompter?

Dr. Craig Albert: We’ll definitely see more ad libbing. And this is the problem. His ad libbing appeals to his base, or the forgotten voter who doesn’t usually vote. They like his authenticity. Even his politically incorrect attitude, and his rhetoric that he uses. Those people that don’t usually vote, enjoy that. His messaging, however, when it’s on-point, is meant for the establishment Republicans. The larger part of the Republican Party, and they wanna see more of that type of controlled presidential typical normal establishment-like president. And so, he has to balance whether he’s appealing to the base or to the traditional Republican Party in his campaigns, in his rallies, in his speeches. And so, he does a bit of both. When he goes off the cuff, he’s appealing to his base on purpose. Nothing he does off the cuff, is really, unintentional. He knows exactly what he’s doing to appeal to his base audience. But if he’s gonna win this election, I think he needs to reverse strategy. I think he really needs to appeal to the more traditional conservatives that are kinda on the fence right now, and on the fence in larger numbers than they were in 2016, about whether or not they’re gonna vote for president Trump.

Brad Means: How big of a deal, Dr. Albert, do you think violence in certain American cities, that we’re seeing right now, is going to be going forward? How big of a campaign issue might that be?

Dr. Craig Albert: This might decide the election. And both sides are trying to use the other as the reason for violence. So, on the left, you’ll see, Nancy Pelosi, for instance, speaker of the House, saying that cities are like this in protest against Trump’s policies, about his lack of compassion, or his lacking have empathy. His inflaming rhetoric is what the left will accuse president Trump on. And president Trump turns that around, I’m not giving you my opinions, I’m just giving you the opinions of each of the sides here. President Trump turns that around and says, “These are Democratic led cities, “and Democratic controlled states. “If Biden becomes president, “all of America will be in flames like this.” So, they’re both using the violence, and accusing the other side of causing that violence. And so, really, it’s gonna be, when it comes down to it, who Americans, that are independent voters, believe more in their messaging and marketing. Do they believe the Democrat side or do they believe the Republicans on what is the root cause of this violence? And, I think, ultimately, especially leading up to the election, whoever makes that message and narrative the best might pull out the election win.

Brad Means: When you watch the news, if you’re not careful, you might think that the entire country is burning. That every city is falling apart. Well, we’ve had protests in Augusta, they’ve been peaceful, same story in Aiken. Yet, you can kind of lose that perspective if you pay too close attention to the national news. Do you think voters sometimes need to step back, and say, “Look, this is a few cities. “Yes. But overall, the country is not like that.”

Dr. Craig Albert: Absolutely, you have to be an informed voter. So, you should be paying attention to your state, local, and national politics. And then, in this time of information warfare, where we have election meddling, news meddling by foreign state actors, everybody should be, as much as they can, in these hectic times, and everybody having full time schedules, try to really dig into the stories, and read more than one source, and really do their own fact checking, and fact check the fact checkers. Because lots of organizations, of course, say that they have fact checkers, but we don’t know who those individuals are. So, we should be doing our due diligence, and really trying to piece it together what we think of the situation as best we can using multiple outlets, multiple sources.

Brad Means: Do you think Joe Biden should get out more? I know that as times are we don’t wanna risk anybody’s health. But does he need to really, hit the campaign trail?

Dr. Craig Albert: It’s tough to say. His numbers aren’t improving that much, his polling is going down a little bit. There’s not too much telling yet as to why that’s happening. I think, he has a reason not to go out, which is, of course, the pandemic. So, he can explain himself and situate himself saying that he needs to stay put for people’s safety. President Trump, on the other hand, is gonna use that against vice president Biden, and say, he doesn’t have vigor, he doesn’t have stamina, and that’s why he’s not going out. That, I think, the campaign rhetoric is in the basement and won’t come out of it. And, that’s a conflicting message. And so, if Biden doesn’t come out, he needs to get on that messaging and really tell people what he’s doing, why he’s doing it or why he’s not going out in much detail. Of course, there seems to be some party differences, as well, about whether or not one should go out whether or not one should mask up. There’s a lot of politicalization of COVID-19 right now that’s coming into this election. And both sides are making it political, and turning it into a political issue. And that’s gonna hurt the both campaigns to an extent.

Brad Means: I asked you if the conventions have any impact on a voter’s decision. What about the upcoming debates? Do you think those might make a person decide how to vote?

Dr. Craig Albert: It’s interesting, Brad. I think you might be onto something here. There’s a lot of people questioning whether or not Biden is up for the job. Is he vigorous? It’s the word Trump keeps using, president Trump keeps using. So, if Biden is gonna appeal to the independent voter, he’s got to be on top of his game. He can’t let Trump bully him. He can’t be Mr. Nice guy, which is kinda like the persona he’s trying to build himself around right now, is that he’s an empathetic, compassionate, Mr. Nice guy. I think if he’s gonna go toe to toe with president Trump, he’s gonna have to show much more energy, much more enthusiasm, and that he’s capable of going toe to toe with than an adversary, because if you can’t handle president Trump during the debates, they’re gonna use that against Biden, and say, “You’re not gonna be able to go against Putin “if you can’t handle President Trump.” And so, that might actually decide for the independent voter, or the reluctant Trump voter. That, the Republican that voted for Trump kinda unwillingly, or unwaveringly, was kinda in between, but decided to, anyways. If Biden doesn’t show that he can go toe for toe, he might lose that vote to Trump for the debates, and these debates are gonna be a little different than usual. So, it’s gonna be interesting to see how it plays out without a large live studio audience during the debates.

Brad Means: Just time for maybe two, maybe three more questions, Dr. Albert. And I so appreciate your expertise today. What about mail in ballots? I know we’ve mailed absentee ballots in forever. What about a larger mail in presence or participation level, if you will, this time around? Is that safe? Is that secure? For our votes.

Dr. Craig Albert: Well, sure, I think it’s safe. I think it’s secure. The states set the laws on how they handle that. So, each state has been practicing and gearing up. We have to understand that there’s no 100% secure way of voting. I mean, we can go back as far as presidential elections go, and discover some form of unsecure voting habits or ballots getting lost. This happened in 2018, 2016, just different stacks of votes from in-person voting goes missing, or they go, they’re missing for a few days, and then just turn up somewhere. And those are the in-person voting, votes that people cast, and then, they’re just there, and they go missing. So, there’s no studies no statistical evidence that mail in voting will be any different, less secure, or should be any less valid than traditional ways of voting. There’s always gonna be some inconsistently, and some flaws with it. But not enough to challenge the results of an election.

Brad Means: Dr. Craig Albert, I misspoke, I said we had two or three more questions. We just had time for one, and you answered it beautifully, as you did all the questions today. Thank you for being here for a busy Means Report. We know we’ll see you soon.

Dr. Craig Albert: Thanks for having me.

Brad Means: Absolutely, Dr. Craig Albert.

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The Means Report first aired in January of 2009 offering coverage that you cannot get from a daily newscast. Forget about quick soundbytes -- we deliver an in-depth perspective on the biggest stories. If they are making news on the local or national level, you will find them on the set of The Means Report. Hosted by WJBF NewsChannel 6 anchor, Brad Means, The Means Report covers the topics impacting your life, your town, your state, and your future.