Along the Great Divide: A Q&A with Political Expert Shauna Shames

Presidential Election 2016

As convention season reaches a fever pitch, the 2016 U.S. presidential election is shaping up to be one of the most divided – and perhaps divisive – contests in American history.

Key issues, clear-cut policy differences, gender, and age are all playing major roles in deepening this divide, explains Shauna Shames, an assistant professor of political science at Rutgers University–Camden.

Shames, an expert on American political behavior, with a focus on race, gender, and politics, offers her perspectives on the historical significance of Hillary Clinton’s candidacy, gender and generational voting tendencies, and the key issues that could ultimately decide who becomes the 45th president of the United States.

Shauna Shames, Rutgers University–Camden

Shauna Shames

This election is historic with Hillary Clinton being the presumptive first female candidate for president. How important is this accomplishment for women?
It is especially important to older women – the 30-35 and older crowd. Young women, on the other hand, especially those who supported Bernie, aren’t supporting Hillary.

Why do you think that there is such a generational difference among women?
I think that we have done such a good job as feminists that we have eliminated a lot of discrimination that young women and girls experience in early life. Generally, if you ask young women and girls, they don’t feel like a lot of sexism exists. However, if you ask working women, who have experienced this discrimination firsthand, they know and understand the importance of these issues.

Are there differences in the way that women and men vote?
There is actually a major gender gap. Not all women are Democrats, but women have a 10-point margin when it comes to voting Democrat, while men have an eight-point gap when it comes to voting Republican.

This means that if only men voted, we would be more likely to have a Republican president, while if only women voted, the next president would be a Democrat.

What key issues do you think will become focal points of this presidential race?
Interestingly, there is actually a fight over what the key issues are and how that fight is decided will determine the outcome of the race. If Trump can make the conversation all about national security, then he does better than Hillary. If Hillary can keep people focused more on civil rights, then she will do better.

What do you think accounts for this divide between key issues?
Trump has many supporters who believe that fighting terrorism is the key issue of the race. If people are afraid of being attacked, then they want a leader who looks and talks tough. Ironically, if he uses the fear of Islamic terrorism in order to be seen as the best candidate, he is going to anger the Islamic State with these false assertions, which in many ways could make us less safe.

On the other hand, if you are afraid of our government turning against the Constitution and developing fascist trends, then you will be afraid of having someone like Donald Trump in charge. He is already saying that his primary goal is to make America safe, but he plans to do that by using governmental policies, such as the NSA surveillance program, that will infringe on our rights. In his own words, he said, “The nation’s problems are too staggering to be fixed within the confines of traditional politics.” If civil liberties is what you are worried about right now, watching Trump is very scary.

What are some key issues that you think haven’t gotten enough attention yet?
Everyone is so focused on the presidential race right now, but the truth is that the president is severely limited to what Congress does. It’s even more important that we have a Congress that can make laws, unlike the current Congress that has been extremely partisan and one of the least productive in history.

I am hoping that we elect members of Congress who will work together and who will be strong enough not to hand over power to the president. The framers of the Constitution never intended the president to be as powerful as the branch has become.

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