Political Science faculty dominate local media coverage during election

Political Science faculty dominate local media coverage during election

F rom Oslo, Norway, to Chattanooga, Tennessee; from Atlanta to Columbus; from Macon to Milledgeville—Georgia College’s government faculty seemed to be everywhere this electoral season.

They helped the media and public navigate a quagmire of political jargon, rumored illegality, swinging states and possible voter fraud.  

We greatly appreciate the expertise of our faculty members and their willingness to participate in this highly-visible media initiative. They provided insightful analysis and commentary in an area where public interest is clearly very high, and their contributions in the media further elevated the profile of Georgia College.
– Omar Odeh, associate vice president for Strategic Communications

Dr. Benjamin Clark
Dr. Benjamin Clark
On election night, faculty gave live commentary at multiple locations. As results trickled in, they guided viewers through messy partisan confusion and helped a perplexed nation come to grips with polarizing political divide.

Along the way, faculty also provided a historical fact or two and a bit of calming wisdom. 

“It always feels like the nation is on the verge of coming apart at the seams, but times of cultural and political upheaval are often followed by seasons of relative cultural and political stability,” said Lecturer Dr. Benjamin Clark, who provided morning-after coverage at WGXA News, an affiliate of Fox24/ABC16 in Macon.

“Even if it’s not always clear what’s driving these cycles or how long they’ll last,” he said, “the fact that this is a recurring pattern can itself be reassuring.”

Presidential elections always stimulate great interest, attracting more attention and higher voter turnout. This year, however, it was “record breaking,” according to Senior Political Lecturer Claire Sanders. In Georgia alone, half of registered voters cast early ballots and large numbers voted on election day, as well. 

Claire Sanders in the McClatchy video.
Claire Sanders in the McClatchy video.

Prior to the election, Sanders appeared in a national video in The Telegraph by McClatchy news group about Georgia moving from red to blue and becoming a purple state. Professor Dr. Hank Edmonson, spoke with WGXA News about families on the campaign trail. And Professor Dr. Scott E. Buchanan, new chair of the Department of Government and Sociology, spoke to WGXA News about the Electoral College. 

On election night, three faculty helped the media sort through incoming results. 

Sanders provided legal context for viewers at WGXA News. Buchanan was on Zoom, giving political commentary for WRBL News Channel 3, a CBS affiliate in Columbus. And Assistant Professor W. Clif Wilkinson Jr. answered questions via Zoom for 13WMAZ, a CBS affiliate in Macon. Wilkinson has been a guest expert at that station for years. An average of 37,000 households watch the 6 p.m. newscast on a nightly basis, according to 13WMAZ News Director Lorra Lynch Jones. 

W. Cliff Wilkinson in past election coverage at 13WMAZ in Macon.
W. Cliff Wilkinson in past election coverage at 13WMAZ in Macon.

In the election aftermath—Sanders gave numerous interviews to media outlets. This included two articles in Norway’s largest newspaper, VG (Verdens Gang). Norwegian reporter Nora Thorp Bjørnstad came to campus to interview Sanders about the Georgia recount and how partisanship in Congress could affect President-Elect Joe Biden’s ability to enact his legislative agenda. 

Sanders also spoke to 13WMAZ about legal challenges and what a recount would look like in Georgia. She was interviewed at WGXA News on poll workers, the state’s political leanings and what’s next in the election. WGXA News Director Mallory Huff wrote to Sanders after election-night coverage: “Claire—you did fantastic! Your passion and knowledge for politics certainly came out in your interview, and you were a natural!” Executive Producer Alexa Denagall also wrote, saying “Your political analysis of the election provided a great explainer for our viewers.”

“This was my first time conducting a live interview on television, which was an exciting yet nerve-wracking experience,” Sanders said. “The frequency of the interviews definitely contributed to my professional growth. These interviews allowed me to take my experience in election law and administration and share it outside the comfort zone of my classroom.”

Students got involved, as well. Senior Michael Haug, co-founder and president of the newly-formed GC Political Society, was interviewed by two news organizations: 13WMAZ and WABE 90.1 radio in Atlanta about modeling polite political discourse. 

Dr. Scott Buchanan on election night for WRBL3 in Columbus.
Dr. Scott Buchanan on election night for WRBL3 in Columbus.
Most recently, Buchanan was interviewed by WGXA24 about election fatigue. That story re-aired on Channel 9 ABC News in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Other media requests continued to roll in weeks after the election from WGXA News, asking for clarification on the title ‘president-elect,' and 13WMAZ on Republican party feuds. Voice of America's Los Angeles bureau did a piece about demographic changes in Georgia. 

The media blitz wasn’t without challenges. This year’s election muddle made it difficult to predict results in many states as votes were counted. Buchanan also noticed “how almost all national media outlets gave up any pretense of objectivity” this year. Locally, he said, media outlets showed more impartiality, but their reporters are usually new “and lack broad historical knowledge in terms of the questions they ask.”

Faculty were able to provide these invaluable lessons from history. “Without historical context,” Buchanan said, “one is like a rudderless ship at sea. Lack of historical knowledge leads to false assumptions.” 

History proves the rancor and ruckus of this year’s election is not unusual. Buchanan pointed to 1824 as one of the most controversial elections in history. At first, Andrew Jackson won more electoral votes and the popular majority. But the House of Representatives ultimately made John Quincy Adams president by awarding him more electoral votes. Like President Donald Trump, he said, Jackson was an outsider “who frightened the Washington power brokers.”

Claire Sanders at WGXA News on election night.
Claire Sanders at WGXA News on election night.
Clark raised parallels between 2020 and 1968, a “tumultuous election year with unusually high levels of cultural conflict.” That year witnessed riots and a shift in support among voter groups too, he said. Sanders noted similar themes between this election and the year 2000, when Democratic candidate Al Gore challenged voting results. 

This year, “the American electorate seemed to dig deeper into their partisan trenches,” Sanders said. Georgia witnessed increasing party competition, as well, causing it to become a new battleground state. To alleviate political tension, Sanders called for continued belief in the “democratic consensus” and a “willingness to proceed democratically, even if one’s party or candidate did not win.” 

Buchanan agreed, saying “people are prone to exaggerate the historical significance of our own moment.” The U.S. Constitution has withstood tests and survived, since its ratification in 1789. So, he hopes everyone will “have faith in the process.”

Being available for media appearances is one way faculty can help secure that faith and a peaceful future—while also emphasizing the importance Georgia College places on public service and critical thinking. 

I hope the analysis we provided helped others understand the election process, and I hope students will become interested in politics by seeing the passion our department has for political discourse.
– Claire Sanders