Grand Valley Magazine Summer 2016 - 14
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
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.
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
GVM: How did you become interested
in teaching and researching politics for
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 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
Q&A Erika King
Not your average spring break
Off the Path
Fall Arts Celebration
Grand Valley Magazine Summer 2016