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IU experts worry partisan divide strikes at health of American democracy

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. (WISH) — A trio of experts from Indiana University said they believe President Donald Trump’s lawsuits will have little to no impact on the outcome.

But, the IU experts have some worries about other long-term consequences.

They believe the anger on both sides is not likely to go away, but there’s a reason. Steven Webster, an IU political science professor, shared in a videoconference call that research shows that anger mobilizes people and binds them to political parties so party leaders don’t have a good incentive to turn that down.

Webster was one of three experts who took questions Friday afternoon. Webster studies anger, politics and voting behavior.

He was joined by Gerard Magliocca, an IUPUI law professor who is an expert in constitutional law, and Jakobi Williams, an IU professor of African American and African Diaspora studies and history. Williams is an expert in racial coalition politics.

Magliocca was among those surprised by the high level of turnout.

Williams was surprised that the Senate did not flip to Democratic Party control, though he was not surprised by the groundswell of voting.

The thing that alarmed Webster the most is the partisan division about what is true and false. He said Americans aren’t looking for facts but things that fit the beliefs they already have and it’s been exacerbated by the president claiming there’s widespread fraud without having any evidence.

He said a hallmark of democracy, especially in America, has been loser’s consent and this development strikes at the health of our democratic system.

“The losing side of the election accepts the outcome as legitimate,” Webster said. “They remain loyal to the country and its political institutions. To have anything that remotely strikes against that tradition is terribly concerning.”

But the academics do agree one important development that could help is that even some conservative leaders including those on Fox News have pushed back against some of the president’s unfounded claims, which could help everyone accept the outcome of the election even if they don’t like it.

Magliocca said some rules may change for future elections — for example, to allow mailed-in ballots to be counted early, but there are no guarantees.

“The spot that we’re in is partly because of the pandemic,” Magliocca said. “Once the pandemic is over, perhaps people will think we don’t need to make any changes. I suppose one thing you could look at is that Florida, this time, has done a really good job of counting their votes and doing it very quickly.”

As for the polls, many of which this year missed the mark in the same direction as in 2016, much time will be spent examining whether it’s a phenomenon unique to Trump or something else.