Behind the headlines: a political scientist weighs in

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Augusta, Ga. (WJBF) – The Means Report dives into what is happening politically across the country. From the Mueller testimony to the crowded field of Democratic candidates running for president, we break down what is happening with political science professor, Dr. Gregg Murray.

Brad Means: Dr. Gregg Murray is my special guest. He’s a political scientist at Augusta University. Dr. Murray, thank you so much for being here. Y’all have a great political science department. I’m glad you’re here to represent it.

Dr. Gregg Murray: I absolutely agree. We do have a great group of political scientists, and I appreciate the invitation to spend a little time with you today.

Brad Means: Well, it’s our pleasure. And as I mentioned a moment ago, we have this humongous field of Democrats running for president, all trying to take down President Trump. Right before we taped this broadcast, you had a couple of debates for the Democratic candidates, both the ones who were lower in the polling and the ones who were at the top of the polling, taking the stage on separate nights. My question is, is it possible from those two debates, two nights, for a few of them to emerge as the front-runners? Is that enough time for us to see them and choose which ones we like?

Dr. Gregg Murray: I think a lot of people are gonna get a sense of whether they like people or not, these candidates because personality does have a lot to do with whether someone likes a candidate or not. So I think a lot of people will get a sense from that. These debates that we just had, the past couple of days, I think are gonna be real important because they’re gonna start winnowing down the field of candidates. We’re 20 or so right now, and my suspicion is we’re gonna be dramatically reduced from that just because going into the next round of debates, which I guess is in mid-September in Houston, they’re only gonna take candidates who meet certain thresholds for being at the debate. And if you’re not on those debates, you don’t count as a serious contender. And you’re gonna be pretty much done. So I think these debates, people were watching for one, whether the front-runners were able to withstand the attacks, which I think Biden more or less did last night. And two, whether there’s going to be any breakout amongst the people who are way down in the polls. And some people did well in that regard, like Harris did in the first debate. But last night, I’m not sure there were any big breakouts, in terms of the contenders.

Brad Means: You know, their time is so limited. The stage is packed, and their time on TV is minuscule by the time the debates are over. Are you just going for that home run sound bite to get that voter to say, “Okay, that’s my person”?

Dr. Gregg Murray: They seem to pitch their stuff that way. You can tell they have their little sound bites–

Brad Means: You can, yeah.

Dr. Gregg Murray: that they’re ready to throw out there and hope that something goes viral for them. I think that’s what they’re doing. And it’s always surprising, in terms of what catches on with people and what doesn’t and what piques people’s interest. Some people want more subdued, stated statesman-like candidates, and some people want bomb throwers. You know, you get a combination of those.

Brad Means: Does that make us shallow that that’s all we need?

Dr. Gregg Murray: Oh–

Brad Means: You know?

Dr. Gregg Murray: I think there is a shallowness to it. Let me talk a little bit about how I approach that in my political science classes. The problem with politics and I think why we get shallow sometime is because politics is extraordinarily complicated. Government policy is extraordinarily complicated. And for people to actually know what’s going on on a broad scale across a number of issues, it takes an incredible amount of time. Most people are just tryin’ to get to work, tryin’ to get their kids to school, tryin’ to hang out with their families a little bit. And they just don’t have the time or the energy or really quite frankly, the interest a lot of times to dedicate all the time that it takes to follow politics. And so, we end up falling back on some of these seemingly more shallow characteristics that lead us to support who we support.

Brad Means: You mentioned Biden. You mentioned Harris. Do you see any of the big names losing relevance or losing steam because of their performance in these past couple and maybe couple more future debates?

Dr. Gregg Murray: Well, I think in the future, you certainly will. You’re gonna have to have a shakeout on the Sanders, Warren side, that lane. Those are the two big names. They’re the ones attracting all of the attention, in terms of what I think of as clearly liberal or clearly progressive candidates. One of them is going to have to fall by the wayside. I think Biden is trying to withstand the attacks to be sort of the more center moderate candidate. And we’ll kinda see what happens on the other candidates. A lot of them express policy preferences that are very similar to that three group of, those three candidates when you really boil it down. So it’s hard to. How do you decide who you’re gonna vote for, and how do you differentiate between them?

Brad Means: Is there a dark horse that you see right now, somebody that’s not gettin’ a lot of play that might start rising?

Dr. Gregg Murray: You know, I don’t know. I’m wonderin’ if Cory Booker’s gonna come in. He’s very well-spoken. He has some very interesting policy perspectives. He can talk from the diversity angle. I think that Biden, in comparison, is struggling, in terms of being well-spoken or not. He seems to be struggling a little bit, from time to time, in what he’s saying. A lot of the other candidates though are also well-spoken and sharp when they’re talking. Elizabeth Warren can speak, going on forever and very smoothly. Bernie does pretty well in that regard too. But those are all front-runners we’re talking about. So if I had to pick somebody who’s maybe in danger of not being around after this next round, I don’t know if he’s gonna hit the 2% that he needs for Houston. But if I had to pick somebody, he might be one of those people.

Brad Means: Let me ask you about the voter psyche and what motivates us to go to the polls. You know, it’s one thing to be charmed by a candidate or to like his or her sound bite or charisma. But how do you get on your feet and go to the polls, other than somebody draggin’ you there? Is it a topic that spurs us to go cast our ballot? Is it something beyond just the way a candidate looks or sounds? Because that’s what it boils down to, the turnout.

Dr. Gregg Murray: Of course, yeah, it very much does. And you’ve heard for several campaign cycles now that it’s all about turnout. And that seems to be what a lot of the campaigns have done is devote their resources to tryin’ to turn out their base. So I think there are a lot of things that get people out to vote. There’s the civic duty angle on it, in terms of you go vote because you just feel like you’re supposed to do it. And you’d feel guilty if you didn’t do it.

Brad Means: And ’cause you can. ‘Cause you’re free to do it.

Dr. Gregg Murray: That’s exactly right. And a lotta people vote for that very reason. They’re not very excited about the candidates. But they feel like they’re supposed to do it. So they go do it. Then you’ve got some people who vote more or less episodically. And those people are motivated by either an issue that’s come up or maybe a candidate that they’re particularly excited about. And that really depends on who catches on. One thing that we’ve found, in terms of at least the last couple elections, it’s probably gone back further than that, is voting against another candidate. There’s a lot of evidence that people voted for Trump because they were actually voting against Hillary Clinton. My suspicion is, there’s gonna be a pretty big turnout in this election of people voting for whoever the Democratic candidate is because they just wanna vote against Trump. And they otherwise may not be even interested in voting. So those are some of the sort of basic things that turn people out.

Brad Means: Conversely, can a candidate discourage people from voting on the other side by making them think he or she is unbeatable? And so they just say, “Why even bother? “It’s gonna be a runaway.”

Dr. Gregg Murray: Well yeah, and you see that in campaigns all the times, particularly when they get towards the end, right? And they start looking at who’s ahead in the polls and all that. And actually, Hillary Clinton was facing a little bit of this back in 2016.

Brad Means: That’s right.

Dr. Gregg Murray: It looked like she was gonna walk away from it. And if you noticed, watching the election towards the end, she said, “Hey, we do not have this wrapped up. “You all, we need people to go out and vote.” That is a very big concern because it is costly for people to go vote.

Brad Means: Let me ask you about the front-runners, once again. When, timetable wise, will we have a feel for who’s gonna face Donald Trump? Or even who of two or three might be the Democrat to face him?

Dr. Gregg Murray: I’m thinking probably towards the end of this year, in early maybe January, February of next year. What you’ll end up with, Iowa starts in January. The early states start towards the end of the year and the very beginning of the following year. You’ll have some people who’ll go into those who had high expectations and fell out. And they just didn’t perform the way they thought they had wanted to perform. So they will start falling out then. And then, you’ll get a better idea of who is gonna end up being in the fight.

Brad Means: I mentioned the Mueller Report before we started our interview. Do you think it’s gonna have any lasting impact with voters? It seems as if it’s losing steam. His performance before Congress wasn’t great. Do you arguably? Do you think that people are losing interest in that? Or that whole Russia thing, Mueller thing, is gonna still be a factor?

Dr. Gregg Murray: I think it’s a partisan thing. And what you’re gonna find is that Democrats are gonna continue to pick at that report and take bits and pieces from it that are helpful to them or their case that they feel. And you’re gonna find Republicans doin’ the same thing. Democrats are very fired up about the Mueller Report and all that investigation. Republicans are sayin’, “There’s no criminal charges “against the president. “So what are you guys doin’?” And I think it’s just gonna probably play out, in terms of partisanship, which is the way a lot of these issues play out.

Brad Means: Are your students gonna vote? Are they into it?

Dr. Gregg Murray: Some of them will. Sure, some of them will. I’m actually gonna be teaching a campaigns and elections class in the spring, so I’m hopin’ that’ll motivate a few of ’em. But yeah, the students get into it and then, are interested in what’s happening. And a lot of it’s about the future that they face. So I’m hopin’ they’re gonna get out and vote and take part.

Brad Means: Well, I can’t thank you enough for helping to shape those young minds and teach ’em how our nation’s political system works. And appreciate the insight today, Dr. Murray.

Dr. Gregg Murray: Thank you for havin’ me. I enjoyed being here.

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Brad Means

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.