Westmont Magazine American Politics 101
As he does every four years, Political Science Professor Dave Lawrence taught a mini-class during Homecoming on the presidential election.
Based on the polls in September, he suggested that Gov. Bush could win the popular vote but lose the Electoral College — and the election — to Vice President Gore. Such a scenario would doom the Electoral College, he predicted.
While Lawrence was prophetic, he was also wrong. “The vote turned out even closer than I expected,” he said. “Most of the undecided women went with Gore at the last minute, which is why he ended up with more popular votes. The gender gap persisted.
“Not only did Nader prove to be a spoiler, but Gore hurt himself with his performances in the debates and his failure to run on the administration’s positive economic record,” Lawrence explained. “He distanced himself from Clinton too much.”
Lawrence now thinks it unlikely that Congress will abolish the Electoral College. “It’s just too difficult to do,” he concludes. “I doubt that three-fourths of the state legislatures will vote to end the current system because it benefits small states.”
Reform is not impossible, Lawrence says. “In most states, the winner takes all. But in Maine and Nebraska, candidates get one electoral vote for each congressional district they win. Adopting this system might make the Electoral College more sensitive to the popular vote.”
The court challenges in Florida didn’t trouble the veteran professor. “The candidates simply extended the campaign,” he said.
“Both sides did what they needed to do to win — and both acted in a partisan manner. They advocated whatever gave them the most votes in spite of their principles.”
Lawrence likened the prolonged contest to a football game. “The Supreme Court took the backfield and helped Bush run out the clock,” he quipped.
The high court’s involvement surprised Lawrence as he expected it to defer to the state judges. “A lot of constitutional scholars criticized its action and narrow interpretation of the equal protection clause,” he noted.
“The disputed election may lead to some positive changes if states update their machinery,” he contended. “In the end, this will benefit Democrats who are stronger in the poorer precincts most likely to use old equipment.”
Lawrence is explaining the Florida debacle to students in Kiev this semester. Thanks to a Fulbright Fellowship, he is teaching American government and civic education at the University of Kyiv Mohyla Academy.
“After teaching and writing about American government for so many years, I thought it would be fascinating to teach this subject in a different culture and educational system. People in the former Soviet Union are really struggling with democratization, and I thought the class would be most helpful there. I would love to play a small role in preparing future Russian leaders for the challenges they face in establishing democracy in their country.”
As a scholar of the American presidency, Lawrence is well acquainted with several of the new Bush cabinet members who served in earlier administrations. He interviewed Vice President Cheney in conjunction with his work on the Ford White House and also studied Donald Rumsfeld, Ford’s secretary of defense.
Lawrence served on the Carpinteria City Council for 13 years and as mayor pro tem for six. He has written textbooks on both the federal government and the state of California with an emphasis on the politics of diversity.