election 2020 Archives - Kendall College of Arts and Sciences

election 2020

Election Night 2020 with the TUTV Media Lab team

By: Ryan Bennett

Nov. 3, 2020, was a big day for people across the United States and many other parts of the world. For several University of Tulsa students who are members of the TUTV Media Lab, however, Election Day seemed more like a weeklong event.

The TUTV Media Lab is a student-run media collaborative that’s home to podcasts, production facilities for students to create their own multimedia projects and my personal favorite, a weekly newscast. Each Tuesday, TUTV members work together to produce a studio show covering news from the campus level to the global. “This program has been produced weekly since at least the early 1980s,” said Assistant Professor of Media Studies and Film Studies Justin Rawlins, TUTV’s faculty advisor and executive producer. “It’s a TU institution.”

I joined TUTV for the spring 2020 season, beginning as a sports anchor — despite the fact that I knew little about sports. This is not uncommon at TUTV, where mentorship from experienced peers enables everyone, regardless of their background, to learn skills they are interested in. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic cut my time in the studio short. Following safety protocols, we TUTV members returned to the studio for our fall 2020 season, where I have been working as an entertainment anchor and the news producer writing scripts for the weekly show’s news segment.

Livestream fall 2020: Election Day (and Night) in America

A woman sitting at an audio control board looking through a window at a TV studio
Senior Audio Producer Aubrey Allen monitors the Studio A floor during the livestream

The weekly show is fairly easy for us to produce, as we spend roughly three days writing scripts, holding meetings and then taping and editing the show before releasing it. In addition to these shows and all the other content TUTV produces, we also organize a multi-hour livestream each semester. These livestream events are another matter entirely. Running three hours long, these large-scale productions involve a diverse range of live and pre-taped material. While past livestreams have been documented events such as the 2018 midterm elections and 2019 Super Tuesday primaries, this season’s event covered the 2020 U.S. election.

This semester’s livestream was the culmination of six months of strenuous work. Ever since July, TUTV producers have been meeting regularly to discuss ideas for live and recorded segments, as well as the overall logistics of the production. TUTV Senior Field Producer Lily Hargett, a history and education double major, oversaw the livestream’s pre-taped material and acknowledged the complex organization needed to make the show happen. “This livestream is the first one that we have spent over six months planning for,” Hargett remarked. “We wanted to make sure to create diverse content that spoke to all audiences. Not only that, but we wanted to interview individuals from Tulsa’s local government to show that with voting in the general election we are [also] voting to improve our local government.”

View of Studio A and TUTV members from behind the anchors’ desk
View of Studio A and TUTV members from behind the anchors’ desk

During this year’s election livestream, I worked as a producer, anchor and member of the breaking news team. I originally planned only to stay for the first two hours of the show, but I ultimately stayed for much longer to assist the breaking news team.

Working as a producer and anchor was mostly business as usual, although my scripts were more politically-oriented than usual and I spent much more time than usual on screen. This was just fine by me; anchoring is my favorite thing to do at TUTV.

The evening’s most intense job involved breaking news. A team of two to three people worked together to compile bits of rapidly unfolding information into stories to be read on the air, sometimes less than a minute later. Something that is important with this job is the ability to “cold read” on air with little to no advance time to practice your script.

Ryan Bennett at a desk in front of Studio B’s green screen, reading breaking news from my laptop
Me in front of Studio B’s green screen, reading breaking news from my laptop

During one segment, for example, I read a script as it was actively being edited by the other breaking news team members. Sam Modde, a junior film studies and media studies double major and the director of the TUTV Media Lab, has been involved with TUTV for the past three years. He observed that our Election 2020 livestream presented unique challenges for him and the Media Lab: “Running a livestream in real time is a tricky juggling act. Each level of graphics, images, cameras, teleprompters and talent operates under the management of 18 different members and requires meticulous coordination between them in real time.”

Since everyone was so busy the entire night, the time flew by. Before I knew it, I had been in the studio for four hours. I was exhausted. When I finally got into bed later that night, I was awake for hours, switching between thinking about the everchanging election results and telling my friends about all that I had done earlier that evening.

TUTV: A tight-knit, hard-working team

TUTV is the most involved and tight-knit organization I’ve been involved with in my college career, and I’m extremely proud of the work that we put out week after week. We always try to keep our content fresh and relevant, and I think that’s reflected in the quality of our productions.

The sense of community that comes with working with a group like the Media Lab is great, and these relationships endure both personally and professionally. For media studies major and TUTV Assistant Director Wes Addington, the teamwork involved in putting the weekly show and livestream together has been amazing to see: “This livestream was the biggest project I’ve ever been a part of. Over 20 students giving their time to contribute to discussions, video segments and even breaking news, all with a whole team working behind the scenes to keep the stream up and running, was an incredible thing to be a part of.”

Interested in learning more about the TUTV Media Lab? Contact them at tutv74104@gmail.com or email Professor Rawlins at justin-rawlins@utulsa.edu.

About the author

Ryan Bennett wearing a blue shirtRyan Bennett is majoring in media studies with a minor in sociology. His interests are focused on news writing and producing, photography, and editing.

Election Day 2020: TU alumnus and international elections expert on the experience of democracy in action

The 2020 federal election was an extraordinarily riveting moment in United States history, and the dust from Election Day has not yet entirely settled. To help shed light on what just transpired and its implications for democracy in this country, we turned to University of Tulsa political science alumnus Richard W. Soudriette (B.A. ’75), an expert in domestic and global elections.

Among his impressive accomplishments and impacts, Soudriette was the founding president of the International Foundation for Electoral Systems, serving as that group’s president from 1988 to 2007. In 1991, Soudriette was a founder of the Association of European Election Officials and he has been instrumental in establishing regional election networks in Asia, Africa and Latin America. From 2013 to 2018, Soudriette served as chairman of the SGO Smartmatic International Elections Advisory Council, and he was president of the Center for Diplomacy and Democracy in Colorado Springs from 2009 to 2015. In 1998, he was a founder of the ACE Electoral Knowledge Network and, in 1999, of the Global Election Organization Conference.

Richard Soudriette wearing a white shirt and standing outdoors in front of a chainlink fence
Richard W. Soudriette as an election observer in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico (July 1, 2018)

Today, Soudriette resides in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. From that base, he regularly consults on democracy, elections, voting technology, testing and international development. He also serves as an adviser for the University of Gothenburg on the annual Varieties of Democracy survey. Soudriette’s most recent visit to Tulsa was in 2013, during which time he lectured at TU on international elections and addressed the Tulsa Committee on Foreign Relations.

Thinking about the presidential and congressional campaigns that led up to Nov. 3, 2020, what are your overall insights and impressions?

The United States has seen two success stories during the 2020 elections. The first is the greatest voter turnout in 50 years, with 62% of eligible voters participating, despite the threat of COVID-19. The second major success has been the incredible professionalism of election administrators across the country in nimbly adapting and organizing safe and credible elections during the pandemic.

What two or three moments from the 2020 campaign season captured your attention most forcefully, and why?

An amazing result of the 2020 election has been the massive early voting. In-person and mail-in voting have seen the largest number of early votes cast in any U.S. election. The other big takeaway from the 2020 elections was that, despite dire predictions of chaos on election day, the process worked very smoothly, and voters and election workers demonstrated their determination to make it a celebration of democracy.

How would you compare and contrast the Republican and Democrat approaches to campaigning and messaging?

Democrats focused on COVID-19, the economy, health and racial justice. Republicans talked about law and order, the economy and the threat of violence in the streets. In particular, President Trump claimed that he personally, and his administration, had done a great job in defeating the coronavirus.

Mail-in voting, absentee voting, long lines at polling stations for advance and on-the-day voting: What did you see in those moments that drew your attention?

A striking aspect of the 2020 election was that by Election Day the voter participation numbers equaled more than 60% of the total number of voters in the 2016 election. President Trump’s concerns about fraud and mail-in voting produced two results. Many Republicans waited to vote until election day fearing vote fraud and Democrats turned out in massive numbers to vote in person during the early voting period because they feared their votes would not be counted.

When you compare the 2016 federal election to 2020, what similarities and differences stand out for you?

In 2016, Donald Trump was considered the “Washington outsider” and Hillary Clinton embodied the “Washington establishment.” Trump was able to appeal to many of the traditional Democratic constituencies, such as labor. Also, in 2016 many African American voters stayed home and didn’t vote. While this year Trump appears to have some support among African Americans and other minorities, the Biden-Harris ticket racked up big majorities from African Americans and other minority communities. A big difference from four years ago is that COVID-19 was not the looming factor that it certainly was in 2020.

How does the U.S. electoral system compare to systems you have observed elsewhere in the world?

The biggest difference from other democracies is that the U.S. elects the president and vice president by a combination of popular vote and the Electoral College. Popular votes are tabulated according to each state. Electoral votes are apportioned according to the vote totals in each state and, of the current 538 electors, a majority of 270 electoral votes are required to elect a president and vice president. Most countries elect their leaders only through direct popular vote. The Electoral College gives small states a greater voice in determining the president and, since there are more small states than large ones, it is doubtful this system will change in the foreseeable future.

Should Americans be concerned about the integrity of their electoral system? Can we fully trust the results of the Nov. 3 vote?

The U.S. has a decentralized election system. All elections are conducted by more than 25,000 state and local election officials. Their work is governed by each state’s election laws. Documented cases of vote fraud are rare in this country. In the 2020 election, there has been no evidence of massive voter fraud.

The reason that vote counting is taking longer in many states is because of the heavy volume of mail-in ballots. Postal ballots take extra time to open, verify and count. The delays experienced in 2020 in states such as Pennsylvania and Nevada is not an indication of criminality; they are due to the massive level of voter participation. Thirty-nine states now offer voters the option of voting by mail, and most still also offer the possibility for in-person voting.

Are there modifications or improvements that you would recommend for future U.S. state and national elections?

Unsubstantiated charges of massive vote fraud are undermining the faith of the electorate in the credibility of our elections. This credibility is the bedrock of American democracy. The claims of vote fraud and vote rigging based on rumor and flimsy anecdotal information are doing massive damage to faith in American democracy.

Once heated passions have cooled, it might be time for a truly bipartisan effort to examine the U.S. election process to see where improvements might be made. All Americans should have confidence that every vote will count, and every voice will be heard.

If the 2020 U.S. election proved anything, it’s that political science is anything but dull. At TU, you’ll find a political science program that sharpens your mind and prepares you for an array of careers in law, government, teaching, lobbying, the intelligence services, international development and more fascinating fields.



Election 2020: The impact of social media

Since at least as far back as ancient Greece, politics has been a public spectacle. In the United States for about the last decade or so, this spectacle has been updated to include social media. A seemingly endless river of minor posts and superficial reactions – often outrage – has flooded our digital devices and minds, often pulling us harshly in multiple directions.

Professor Benjamin Peters smiling, wearing eyeglasses, a collarless black shirt and a grey blazer
Professor Benjamin Peters

The University of Tulsa’s Hazel Rogers Associate Professor and Chair of Media Studies Benjamin Peters is an expert on the role of global media and national politics. He has written broadly on media, including a recent piece on how to use social media before and after an election.

Now, in the final days before one of the most momentous federal elections in recent U.S. history, Peters shares his thoughts via a Q&A on the complex ways Facebook and other social media platforms are being used to shape and contest the 2020 election, including the unsettling attempts of foreign adversaries to undermine the public’s confidence in the process itself.

How have media — and social media, in particular — shaped elections in the past and are likely to shape the current contest?

All elections are unprecedented, but this election is perhaps a bit more unprecedented than most. All elections have unusual conditions, but this one — caught up in a global pandemic — stands out for being especially unusual.

The pandemic has thrown most of our interactions online rather than face to face. This fact has given social media an additional degree of reach and power in 2020 compared to earlier elections. At the same time, however, it is vital to stress that most of our favorite hypotheses about social media — social media will throw the election in one direction, social media is destroying or saving American public discourse — will ultimately miss the mark.

History rhymes, not repeats. The past patterns we see in election media do not determine, but they can influence and help predict what is happening in this one.

We should try to imagine subtle ways that social media will affect the election rather than imagine the election, or democracy, will be run roughshod by unanticipated social media influences.

For example, we know from marketing and advertising research dating back to even the mid-1950s that certain people — or influences — often have an outsized influence on those in their social circles. Whether recommending the new Tide soap over the neighbor’s fence or penning the next viral tweet, these “influencers” are not media moguls, but they do possess influence among their friends and supporters. Today, micro-celebrities and influencers, thanks to the scaling of social media, can potentially have global reach; although in fact, of course, the vast, vast majority of social media influencers do not.

Are all social media platforms equal in terms of their political influence? 

Social media as a single label should often be avoided, because there are a great many differences between each and every one of the platforms. For example, Instagram cultivates a well-honed, edited aesthetic while TikTok rewards a more casual, relaxed vibe. But, like everything else, these are both carefully crafted. The echo chamber of a Facebook group is not the same political beast as a group of friends on Snapchat or a bunch of pseudonymous randos on Reddit subthreads. Each platform deserves its own analytic approach.

Still, it is true that, generally, social media does have a democratizing effect: all people online will now have a bit more voice than before. But it would be a fundamental mistake to imagine that social media will extend equal voice, or equally worthwhile voices, to all people. Social media, we should remember, are plural as are their effects on politics.

How do you think the mainstreaming of social media has changed the tenor of political discourse in the current presidential election? 

There are articulate, sophisticated thinkers on all sides of elections; that said, many Trump supporters on social media, especially on Facebook, favor political discourse that highlights mostly snappy slogans, meme-length attention spans and the call and response of large rallies and crowd chants. Social media does not demand meme-length political discourse, but it certainly does reward it, and the result, unfortunately, has meant a striking impoverishment of political discourse.

This impoverishment proceeds in at least two different directions at the same time: meme-length reductions and conspiratorial fringes.

Thanks to social media, it is easier for those with extreme views to find small groups of people who will listen to those views — say, about Satanic pedophile rings, baby-part trafficking or 5G networks. Many of these groups eventually form into loose-knit conspiratorial movements that, perversely, take confidence in the fact that outsiders do not share such special “knowledge.” QAnon is only the most recent example of such knights of non-knowledge.

For this reason, dismissive claims of “fake news,” “political correctness” and even accusing others (no matter how justifiably) of harboring “conspiracy theories” may reinforce the motivated reasoning of those with extreme views on social media. Perhaps the greatest social media culprit is the Facebook Group, a self-moderating echo chamber. People enter only out of self-interest and remain only if a like-minded moderator approves their behavior. It is a worrying canary in the mineshaft if the only source of opposition one encounters online comes from a troll.

How likely are foreign disinformation campaigns conducted via social media to influence the current election? And how would we know if they are successful? 

It is tempting to blame the results of an election on some foreign power, but it is important to realize that in the case of the 2016 election, the influence of Russian disinformation campaigns was apparently very small. Thankfully, in 2020, there have been more steps taken to prepare for foreign influence, so we’re on the lookout for tactics used in 2016’s tampering.

For example, in 2016, Russian tampering took advantage of the partisan divide that is present in American politics, simply by indirectly contributing to and magnifying the already native internal dissension, division and fighting not among the political parties but about the political system itself. It is vital to draw a distinction here: political debate between the parties is supremely worthwhile; debate is the lifeblood of what makes our democracy work. However, those who spread doubt about the integrity and legitimacy of the system itself — our electoral process, the value of voting, the need for calm, informed disagreement — are serving our country’s opponents.

Don’t blame the dark heart of America on foreign powers. Unfortunately, election tampering is as old as the idea of elections, and America, in particular, has an embarrassing history of meddling in elections in foreign countries. No country has done more of it than America, in fact.

So, the fact that we are facing the threat of election tampering from both foreign and potentially internal sources in 2020 is not surprising. So far, it appears that most foreign powers’ attempts to meddle are largely unsophisticated: Russian hackers, thus far, have proven to be less surgeons of social media and, rather, blunt-force bards who spin tall tales and sow doubt for dimes that are fairly obvious to the educated and media-literate classes.

Avoid the temptation to scapegoat a foreign power. It is too easy. It excuses us from the hard work of political reform and self-reflection that America needs. Instead, hold our own politicians accountable. Check and then get out the vote for the sources of verifiable corruption, lying and political vice here at home.

In the U.S, voting is a constitutional right. Find your local polling place, stay informed and cast your vote on or before Election Day on Nov. 3.

Election 2020: Campaign politics

The United States political system is marked every four years by a momentous spectacle: a presidential election. On the first Tuesday after Nov. 1, Americans cast ballots for who they believe should hold one of the most powerful offices in the world. But an election is much more than just a single day of voting; rather, it is months and months of campaigning. An election is a battle of ideas and policy and, as 2020 has shown, can oftentimes be incredibly divisive.

Associate professor of political science Matt Hindman wearing an open-collar grey-striped sweater
Professor Matt Hindman

In addition to the typical tensions surrounding an election season, this year has also been marked by the COVID-19 pandemic, making the current presidential election unusually unlike any other. Associate Professor of Political Science Matt Hindman has been covering the election closely, not just in the courses he is teaching but also with various media outlets. In this Q&A, he helps explain just what is so unusual about this election season, how the candidates are adapting and how voters are responding.

What are the key issues voters are concerned about this year?

Number one is coronavirus. I think that is something that is just obvious; it’s inescapable. We’re conducting this interview remotely because of the coronavirus. So that’s something that is on voters’ minds.

Some other key issues: racial unrest in cities or law and order, depending on how you want to characterize that issue. Above all, a referendum on the Trump presidency. It’s a change of pace from how politics is usually conducted.

Putting COVID-19 aside, when you compare previous federal election campaigns to 2020, what elements stand out this year as being particularly intriguing or novel?

The first thing is Democrats really want to beat Trump badly and they chose a candidate with electability in mind. The Democratic candidate is not someone who is particularly inspiring or imaginative, like we’ve seen in the past. He seemed to be a safe choice and that is a reflection of who is currently president. I don’t want to say that is new, but in recent elections voters have gone with the shiny, new candidate: Bush, Obama, Clinton, etc. Someone with a fresh face in politics or whose candidacy breaks precedent. This time, they went with someone who has been around forever because they think it will help the cause of beating Trump.

The second thing is obviously COVID-19-related. We’ve had a campaign in which the candidates have not traveled much. The knock against Biden is that he’s conducting his campaign from his basement, but some would say that is the responsible thing to do. Look at the Tulsa rally where Hermann Cain contracted the coronavirus and died. Or the Amy Coney Barrett super-spreader event. Campaigns have really had to adapt to this new era and it has been interesting to see how they’ve done that. We have tried to combine some element of politics-as-usual, such as with the debates, with this new age of social distancing and doing things online. I think there are elements of it that will carry over to future campaigns.

How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected this election and the Trump and Biden campaigns?

One way that COVID-19 has really hurt Trump is it has taken away his claim to have a wonderful economy. That’s the one issue in which Americans tend to view him favorably. That may still be true since Americans may not altogether blame him for the virus, but it has chipped away at one of his main selling points. Before COVID, Biden was only a few points ahead of Trump; now, he’s further in the lead.

We’re talking about a small numbers of persuadable voters here, but it has taken the wind out of Trump’s main selling point. His slogan “Keep America Great” has gone away because more Americans don’t think we are doing so great.

Another factor is that people have not been happy with the president’s lack of care or attention to the science behind it. One of the things that probably hurt his polling most was when he himself got COVID-19. It followed a contentious debate that probably hurt him, too, but it also made him seem like he was behaving irresponsibly in a manner inconsistent with what the CDC was telling him to do. It exposed the gap between his reliance not on expertise and the experts, but instead on his own confidence.

I’ll lastly say Trump had an opportunity for this to help his election. What often happens in a national emergency is there is a “rally around the flag” effect. People back the president if he or she is handling it in a way that verges on responsible or seems to push us in the right direction. From the beginning, he tried to say that COIVD-19 was going to go away and bragged about what a great scientific mind he has. Nobody but his most fervent supporters bought that he was doing a good job and most of them are driven by their dislike of the other side.

What are you seeing as each candidate’s major strengths and weaknesses?

Biden’s strength is his projection of a return to normality. He was Obama’s vice president and Obama is still very popular among Democrats and Independents. Biden finished his two terms in office relatively popular and that is a strength for him. He has maybe two weakness. There are not a lot of people who are crazy enthusiastic about a Biden presidency. A lot of his support is driven by dislike of Trump. He’s also old; he’ll be the oldest president we have ever had.

With Trump, he has the benefit of incumbency. Presidents that run for reelection usually win and that is a benefit to him. His biggest weakness is his personal favorability is low. People don’t like him. Regardless of his policy, he is just not a popular guy.

There has been a big effort to turn out the vote. Are you noticing any effects of that? Are people turning out for one candidate in particular or both? Are certain groups turning out in greater numbers?

There’s more enthusiasm this year across the board. The one negative is the pandemic has enabled the parties to register fewer voters than was the case in years past. That said, among voters who are registered to vote, we will see a high turnout, which is always a good thing.

I do think, though, we are likely to see more challenged ballots this year just because Americans are voting in different ways and parties, being the self-interested actors they always are, are going to probably challenge the validity of some of those ballots.

Especially with voting by mail, there are a lot of hoops to jump through. And if any of it is done out of order, there is something for somebody to nitpick about.

If I do have one concern it is that despite the enthusiasm and people voting, many of those votes might not count, so that is the flip side. Since Democrats are more likely to vote by mail, there is some concern that Democratic votes might not be counted.

What are you seeing with regard to mail-in and absentee voting? Do those pose any special implications for either candidate?

There’s a big partisan split about how Americans are reporting they are going to vote. Among both early voters and mail-in voters, Democrats have a large lead. Among people who are reporting they are going to vote on election day, Republicans have a large lead. There are probably lots of reasons for it. Trump has spent months trying to delegitimize mail-in voting, saying it’s ripe for fraud, etc. It’s also just the case that in the Democratic Party constituency there are a lot of people in urban areas and we have seen a lot of long lines in urban areas on Election Day. A lot of people who are looking to avoid those lines, specifically Democratic Americans hoping to make sure their votes are counted, are showing up early to vote. Add some enthusiasm into the mix and that leads to some pretty high turnout. It also leads to some partisan divisions.

We’re not sure what to expect on Election Day. States that tally their early votes first are going to show huge Democratic leads. States where early ballots are not counted right away will have big Republican leads. Election Day is going to be pretty interesting because of these divides in how Americans are voting.

Do you think the election results will be contested?

I think if Biden wins a sufficient number of states, there is only so much contestation that can happen. If it’s a close enough election, by close I mean within one or two percent in tipping-point states, then, yes, it will be contested and candidates will spend a lot of money on lawyers. This is what happened in Florida in 2000 and I think that the opportunity for contesting ballots is going to be much more widespread than that.

If polls are close to accurate this year we probably won’t have the opportunity because Pennsylvania will go Biden by four or five points and Florida would probably go for Biden by a couple of points. If that’s the case, that’s probably too much to contest. But if it is a significantly closer race than the polls suggest, then who knows what happens next?

In the U.S, voting is a constitutional right. Find your local polling place, stay informed and cast your vote on or before Election Day on Nov. 3.