Preliminary research: Race inequality, candidate choice top issues for RNC protesters


Activist Kathy Wray Coleman, of Cleveland, who was handcuffed by police during a protest at the Republican National Convention on Monday, is transported to an ambulance after she complained of chest pains. Coleman is a leader of the Imperial Women's Coalition. (Photo by Antonella Crescimbeni/Penn State College of Communications)

Activist Kathy Wray Coleman, of Cleveland, who was handcuffed by police during a protest at the Republican National Convention on Monday, is transported to an ambulance after she complained of chest pains. Coleman is a leader of the Imperial Women’s Coalition. (Photo by Antonella Crescimbeni/Penn State College of Communications)

Preliminary findings from political science Professor Lee Ann Banaszak and Penn State students who are polling protesters at the Republican National Convention show that racism and racial equality and Trump as the Republican Party nominee are the top reasons people are taking to the streets in Cleveland.

On Monday — the group’s first day at the convention — the researchers surveyed three events: “End Poverty Now March,” “Stop Trump March” and “America First Movement Rally.”

RNC Preliminary Protester Issues

Very preliminary results showed that “people outside the convention were slightly less diverse than the American population, with fewer Latinos/Latinas and African-Americans than we find in the general population,” Banaszak said. “Nonetheless, racism and racial inequality was the most often mentioned issue among the people sampled outside the convention.”

Lee Ann Banaszak

Lee Ann Banaszak

Additionally, Banaszak said that fewer people turned out for the events on the first day of the convention than originally expected. The event sizes ranged from about 200 to 500 or 600 people and original estimates of predicted turnout had been between 5,000 and 15,000 people, she said.

Members of the research group spoke with 111 individuals on Monday, and 70 percent agreed to be interviewed for the research project. Their work will continue through the end of the RNC convention and into the Democratic National Convention on July 25-28 in Philadelphia.

Banaszak said that the researchers’ survey method is different from past polling methods in that it helps take the personal bias out of the polling. Additionally, some preliminary data will continue to be available quickly because the researchers are submitting their findings through iPhones to a cloud-based database.

The genes of left and right: Our political attitudes may be written in our DNA

a road sign

Left or right?

Peter K. Hatemi, a political scientist at Penn State, is mentioned in an article at Scientific American. Here is an excerpt of the piece:

“Scientists and laypeople alike have historically attributed political beliefs to upbringing and surroundings, yet recent research shows that our political inclinations have a large genetic component.

“The largest recent study of political beliefs, published in 2014 in Behavior Genetics, looked at a sample of more than 12,000 twin pairs from five countries, including the U.S. Some were identical and some fraternal; all were raised together. The study reveals that the development of political attitudes depends, on average, about 60 percent on the environment in which we grow up and live and 40 percent on our genes.

“ ‘We inherit some part of how we process information, how we see the world and how we perceive threats—and these are expressed in a modern society as political attitudes,’ explains Peter Hatemi …”

Read more at Scientific American.

Political scientists say our political system is broken

Donald Trump speaks at a December 2015 campaign stop at Mid-America Center in Council Bluffs, Iowa. Photo Credit: Matt A.J./Flickr

Donald Trump speaks at a December 2015 campaign stop at Mid-America Center in Council Bluffs, Iowa. Photo Credit: Matt A.J./Flickr

Robb Frederick | Penn State Behrend public information coordinator


“I had hoped that this would be a campaign only about ideas … but unfortunately, this has been a very different election year.” — Marco Rubio, Feb. 28, 2016

The description of politics as blood sport has seldom been so apt: The 2016 presidential campaign has, from the start, been a bare-knuckle, back-alley melee, with candidates mocking their rivals’ spray tans, small hands and even their fathers, who may or may not have been photographed with Lee Harvey Oswald. History suggests our politicians showed more decorum even in 1804, when Vice President Aaron Burr dispatched Alexander Hamilton in a duel.

Robert Speel

Robert Speel

The government’s other two branches have their own challenges. The U.S. Supreme Court, short a justice since the February death of Antonin Scalia, is now positioned to answer the nation’s most pressing legal questions with a 4-4 ideological tie. Congress is particularly reviled: A 2013 Gallup poll found that just 10 percent of respondents felt “quite a lot” of confidence in the legislative branch. That was down from 42 percent in 1973, when the nation was divided by Vietnam and an international oil crisis.

“Part of the problem is the structure of our political system,” said Robert Speel, associate professor of political science at Penn State Behrend. “Those checks and balances, which Americans hold so dear, may have worked in 1787, but in modern times, they just lead to deadlock. All three branches of government block the others from doing anything. It’s setting us up for political disaster.”

Speel has studied the parliamentary systems in Canada and Great Britain. He sees one advantage there.

“When they find themselves in a budget crisis, they hold a vote of no-confidence,” he said. “They throw out the parliament and hold new elections immediately. With that option, you no longer have two parties in a budget standoff that can freeze progress on everything.”


“Knock the crap out of them, would you? Seriously. I will pay for the legal fees.” — Donald Trump, Feb. 1, 2016

Parliamentary systems have their own flaws — particularly in Taiwan, where debate-floor brawls are common. Speel would argue first for a different fix: an open primary system, which would reward candidates who move to the center.

“When local partisan voters choose their candidates, you amplify the voices of hard-core party activists,” he said. “Candidates have to court the extreme positions in each party, and that leads to even more polarization.”

To counter that, California and Washington state have adopted a “top-two” primary model, in which the top vote-getters, regardless of party, square off in the fall. “That gives all candidates an incentive to appeal to moderate voters,” Speel said.

John Gamble

John Gamble

Many of the legislative districts those voters live in also should be redrawn, said John Gamble, distinguished professor of political science and international law and director of the college’s honors programs. Districts often are redrawn following the decennial census — generally to the benefit of the party then in power.

“Partisan politics should not be involved when we draw the boundaries for congressional districts,” Gamble said. “We ought to have uniform laws in all fifty states for that.”

Seven states, including California, have established bipartisan or nonpartisan legislative commissions that are tasked with drawing more representative congressional districts. “They draw districts that make sense on a map, rather than benefiting one party or the other,” Speel said.


“Mr. President, the world’s dying to know: Is it boxers or briefs?” – Laetitia Thompson, questioning former President Bill Clinton, April 19, 1994

Donald Trump is not the first political candidate to throw mud from a gutter. He just does it with more gusto.

The shift to tavern-talk politics dates back at least to Bill Clinton, Gamble said. Before Clinton, no sitting president had discussed on television his preferred style of underwear.

“He never should have answered that,” Gamble said. “You have to set some limits. He should have said, ‘That’s none of your business.’ ”

Subsequent campaigns have only lowered the bar. Gamble expects more of the same through the fall election.

“Over time, the system will correct itself,” he said. “But the American people have a long history of getting right up to the edge of the cliff before we realize we’re about to fall off. I don’t think we’re quite there yet.

“This is a very serious business, however, and I don’t think we say that enough. The decisions that are made by a president can directly affect the lives of millions of people. Let’s not forget that.”

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