Grand Valley Magazine Summer 2016 - 14

Q&A The personality of politics by Nate Hoekstra | Illustration by Laura Wilusz In an interview with Grand Valley Magazine, political science professor Erika King shared her thoughts about how the changing face of America has changed the way candidates campaign for the presidency. Grand Valley Magazine: Why is the 2016 campaign so divisive? Erika King: We're engaged in an interesting political season where every day seems to bring a surprise. But that's not really a surprise. Every political season has its ebbs and flows. I'm also looking at the context of political campaigns. What goes on in the wider society impacts people's beliefs - especially this year - their concerns, angers and anxieties. I see a lot of that being manifested this year. Frustration, anger and anxiety are on both sides of the aisle. GVM: For the first time in history, both candidates, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, have higher than 50 percent unfavorable ratings. Why? EK: This is something political scientists will be disentangling for years after this election is over. I think you need to look at the context. Part of the context in this election is a changing America. America is changing demographically, we're seeing some very distinct changes in this country that have been going on for a while, and they're becoming more apparent. 14 Summer '16 We're also seeing a new generation coming of political age. When millennials are concerned about jobs and downward mobility, that's becoming a fault line in American politics. We're also changing in terms of the workforce and education, and what's available to individuals who haven't completed a college degree. It used to be that in Michigan, you could get a good job in a factory and still achieve a middle-class lifestyle, but that has changed. Few of those jobs exist now. There's all that anxiety for older people, too; it's just another fault line. Ethnic and racial changes are another contextual factor that's changing dramatically. Then there is the issue of immigration, and changing demographics in general. The white population is becoming less and less of a really strong majority in the U.S. All kinds of changes are promoting anxieties and angers. And this isn't unique to 2016, this has been building slowly. GVM: How did you become interested in teaching and researching politics for a living? EK: It's interesting because I was not a political science major in college. I was a sociology/anthropology major, and very interested in society in general, specifically what makes different societies tick, and what makes them different from one another. In my senior year I took a course in political sociology, and I suddenly realized I was interested in the political part of society, so I decided to apply to graduate school in political science. I got particularly interested in the sociology of public opinion and how that translates to political campaigns. GVM: Given that people are angrier and anxious about politics, when you are teaching, do you keep your personal opinions to yourself? EK: I'm very careful not to inject myself or my personal beliefs into my teaching. My sense is that what I teach is not about me, and that if I were a student, I would not care what the political affiliation of my faculty member was. By the time you're an adult, you can think that out for yourself, and political beliefs are such a combination of so many different things (family background, religious beliefs, instances that have happened to you) so I try not to inject my beliefs. What I always say to my students is that we should be able to have a reasonable conversation about different kinds of ideas. We need to attempt to understand the perceptions of others, because if you're going to understand people's voting behavior, you have to attempt to understand what motivates them. "In my lifetime we have morphed into a world that has different kinds of media access, different kinds of media discourse, and it forms an essential part of the context of political campaigns." ERIKA KING, POLITICAL SCIENCE PROFESSOR GVM: It seems like reasonable discourse is happening less and less in modern politics. Is the process marred by today's world of 24/7 media coverage and social media? EK: I like to focus my own research on how the content of media and different types of media organizations present information to the public, and how that is changing in the contemporary world. To me, that's fascinating because in my lifetime we have morphed into a world that has different kinds of media access, different kinds of media discourse, and it forms an essential part of the context of political campaigns. That is very different from decades ago when

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Grand Valley Magazine Summer 2016

Campus News
Donor Impact
Q&A Erika King
Not your average spring break
Life stories
Off the Path
Fall Arts Celebration
Alumni News

Grand Valley Magazine Summer 2016