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Last modified: Friday, August 31, 2012

IU experts discuss next week's Democratic National Convention

Editors: The 2012 Democratic National Convention begins Tuesday, Sept. 4, in Charlotte, N.C. Indiana University experts are available to speak with news media about various aspects of the convention. For more election news and experts, visit Decision 2012.

Aug. 31, 2012

IU experts discuss the following topics:

Democrats shouldn't ignore the disaffected
Convention coverage isn't what it used to be
The influence of political protest differs by party
More than 700 superdelegates
Divisive politics are risky for Obama
Election "in the hands of women"
Anti-Romney tactics cut both ways

Democrats shouldn't ignore the disaffected

Arthur Farnsley

Arthur Farnsley

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"Major party conventions thread the needle, fire up the base and reach out to a shrinking pool of undecided voters," says Arthur E. "Art" Farnsley II, associate director of the Center for the Study of Religion and American Culture at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis.

But there is a larger pool of potential voters who might vote if they felt more included in the system, he added. A recent New York Times feature uses the label "disaffected" and says such Republicans are "least loyal to the party, and the least likely to vote."

Farnsley's book "Flea Market Jesus" examines the political and religious attitudes of this group. He is convinced the disaffected are neither conservative nor Republican, and Democrats would be wise to keep them in their sights.

"Sometimes hot-button topics can lead us astray," he said. "The flea market dealers I interviewed are biblical literalists, so it is tempting to write them off as evangelicals, and therefore Republicans. But they don't read the Bible, don't attend church and don't refer to themselves as 'born again.' Evangelicalism is a movement with magazines and TV programs; it is Republican. But the disaffected are not part of that movement."

Farnsley said the disaffected love personal freedom, such as the right to bear arms, which also sounds Republican.

"But really, for them guns are about being left alone, the ultimate ability to say 'no.' Cultural clues can mislead. The disaffected may 'cling to their guns and religion,' but they are not on anyone's side because no one is on their side. They remember when both John Kerry and George Bush were members of Skull and Bones at Yale. They are outside."

The disaffected are not conservative, Farnsley said, and a true populist could recruit them simply by making them feel included. "Neither The New York Times nor the Democratic Party should write them off as fringe Republicans," he said. "They are 'undecided,' waiting for a reason to decide."

Farnsley is a research professor of religious studies in the IUPUI School of Liberal Arts. He can be reached at 317-278-6492 or For assistance contact Diane Brown at 317-274-2195 or Top

Convention coverage isn't what it used to be

Marjorie Hershey

Photo by Aaron Bernstein

Marjorie Hershey

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As network television developed in the 1950s and '60s, network executives viewed gavel-to-gavel coverage of political conventions as a way to demonstrate their ability to perform an important public service, says Marjorie Hershey, professor of political science in the College of Arts and Sciences at IU Bloomington. But once TV gave the conventions a national audience, political leaders started shaping the conventions to portray the party in its best light, eliminating conflict and showcasing party harmony.

"That made the conventions less interesting to TV audiences, so the networks began reducing their convention coverage," Hershey said. "In this ongoing interplay between the media and the parties, convention coverage has now been reduced to only three or four hours during the convention week, and the conventions themselves, because of the widespread use of presidential primaries, have little or no unscripted time. The drama of the convention, then, becomes only that created by the parties."

There's still in-depth convention coverage on PBS and some cable channels. But ABC, CBS and NBC are compressing their coverage into an hour of highlights and commentary each night.

Hershey is available to talk with reporters about changes that have taken place over the past half century in political conventions and their coverage. She can also talk about the changing nature of Democratic and Republican activists who serve as convention delegates and the increased polarization between them. She can be reached at or through Steve Hinnefeld, IU Communications, 812-856-3488 or Top

The influence of political protest differs by party

The Democrats and Republicans have responded quite differently to the protest that America has experienced in the past two years, said Fabio Rojas, associate professor of sociology at Indiana University Bloomington and an expert in protests and political organizations.

"The Tea Party has become a major force within the Republican Party," he said. "Political leaders who are popular with the Tea Party have risen to prominence within the Republican Party. The vice presidential nominee, Paul Ryan, is much respected by Tea Party voters.

"In contrast, the Democrats have avoided the protest movement that would appear to be a natural ally, the Occupy Wall Street movement. Few prominent Democratic leaders openly court Occupy Wall Street protesters. Occupy Wall Street protesters have often kept their distance from the Democratic Party because of a mistrust of conventional electoral politics."

Rojas can be reached at 812-369-5242 or The Department of Sociology is in the College of Arts and Sciences at IU Bloomington. Top

More than 700 superdelegates

The 2012 Democratic National Convention will not be a suspenseful convention, says Caitlin Dwyer, assistant professor of political science in the School of Liberal Arts at IUPUI. Gone are the days when it took multiple ballots, floor fights and back-room deals to select the presidential nominee. And there is no doubt that President Barack Obama will be re-nominated as the Democratic candidate.

But if party leaders want to do something meaningful in the long run at the convention -- beyond the usual party-building and image-shaping -- they could address the issue of the role of unpledged delegates, commonly referred to as superdelegates, Dwyer said.

"Since their creation," she said, "superdelegates have been potentially influential twice: in 1984, when the race was undecided between Gary Hart and Walter Mondale in early June; and in 2008, when neither Hillary Clinton nor Obama had enough pledged delegates to secure the nomination. In 2008, superdelegates had the opportunity to decide who would become the nominee, which surprised and angered many Americans who thought their voices should be the ones to matter."

Democrats created a commission at the 2008 convention to consider reducing the number of super-delegates. However, instead of reducing the number for 2012, they simply increased the number of pledged delegates, thereby reducing the proportion of superdelegates. Though it has received little attention, there will be more than 700 superdelegates at 2012 Democratic convention.

Dwyer says the following questions should be kept in mind:

  • Will there be any discussion or commissions formed this year to re-evaluate the use of superdelegates?
  • Has the public forgotten that the superdelegates can have the final say in who will become the presidential nominee?
  • Will the Democrats change the rules for 2016 when superdelegates could once again matter?

"The Republican Party modified several rules at its 2012 National Convention, including rules about when states can hold their primaries and caucuses and how delegates are tied to the results of the primaries and caucuses," Dwyer said. "Will the Democrats follow suit and alter their process as well? Will there be a renewed call for the reduction of superdelegates to ensure that average citizens have more of a say?"

She thinks it is unlikely: There was no controversy over superdelegates in 2012, and the party leaders who serve as superdelegates are unlikely to propose reducing their own influence. "When another nomination comes down to the votes of superdelegates, there is a chance for a contested convention and it is once again on the minds of Americans, the Democrats may finally re-evaluate their rules."

To speak with Dwyer, contact Diane Brown at 317-274-2195 or Top

Divisive politics are risky for Obama

Marie Eisenstein

Marie Eisenstein

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As with all national conventions, the Democratic National Convention must create energy to rally its base as well as to extend its ability to attract swing and/or undecided voters, says Marie Eisenstein, associate professor of political science at IU Northwest.

"The DNC will have no problem rallying its base, which is typical of national party conventions," she said. "What the DNC needs to do is cement a winning message that will attract the swing and/or undecided voters for President Obama to win a second term. This is not an easy task.

"It is very difficult for presidents to win second terms," she added. "And no sitting president has won re-election presiding over a faltering economy. When President Obama ran for office in 2008, he ran on a message of 'hope and change' and as someone who would rise above divisive politics and be a transformative figure in Washington."

Because it is difficult to run on a record of a faltering economy, Eisenstein said, the Democratic National Convention needs to keep its message off the economy, leaving only the casting of Republican candidates Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan in a negative light.

"Essentially, the DNC and the Obama campaign need to convince Americans to vote against Romney," she said. "The challenge will be to deliver this message in a way that does not seem like divisive politics, since being divisive goes against the entire zeitgeist of the 2008 Obama campaign and his entire administration. That is a monumental task."

To speak with Eisenstein, contact Emily Banas, IU Northwest Office of Marketing and Communications, at 219-980-6536 or Top

Election "in the hands of women"

The outcome of the 2012 election is "very much in the hands of women," according to Betsi Grabe, professor of telecommunications in the IU Bloomington College of Arts and Sciences.

If this wasn't evident because of the role of Ann Romney, the wife of presidential nominee Mitt Romney at the Republican National Convention, it will be even clearer when Democrats gather in Charlotte, N.C., Sept. 4 to 6, she says.

Women are following closely what the candidates are saying about their issues and the way the politicians and their parties perceive them.

"You can bet on it that the Democrats are going to absolutely play to women at this convention," Grabe said, citing as an example the anticipated appearance of Sandra Fluke, a Georgetown University law student who was crudely criticized by conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh for her views about contraception mandates.

Democrats also have been using comments by Missouri congressman Todd Akin about women's health and so-called "legitimate rape."

"They're hoping that they can play off how mad women might be at Republicans," she said. "Women will be crucial as voters, and women's issues will be played hard."

She acknowledged that Ann Romney is an "effective card" for the Republicans to play.

Grabe can be reached at or 812-856-2460. Top

Anti-Romney tactics cut both ways

David Orentlicher

David Orentlicher

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President Barack Obama faces a difficult challenge at next week's Democratic Convention, says David Orentlicher, the Samuel R. Rosen Professor of Law at the IU McKinney School of Law in Indianapolis.

"With the economy continuing to struggle, voters will be receptive to a change in leadership," he said. "Hence, efforts by the Obama campaign to tarnish Mitt Romney's image and persuade voters that they should stick with the 'devil they know rather than the devil they don't know.'

"However, the anti-Romney strategy cuts both ways," Orentlicher said. "Obama's victory four years ago was propelled in large part by an energized electorate with many new voters. He needs those new voters to come back out in November. But negative campaigns turn voters off and diminish turnout on Election Day.

"Very likely, the president will try to split the difference by letting other speakers lead the charge against the Republican ticket, while he delivers the more positive message that inspired voters in 2008."

Orentlicher can be reached at 317-274-4993 or Top

For additional assistance, contact Steve Hinnefeld at 812-856-3488 or For more election news and experts from IU, visit Decision 2012.