Director of Communications, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences
By Kate McAvey, '11
As the U.S. presidential primaries continue to make national headlines and capture the attention of the country (not to mention the rest of the world), the Department of Political Science and the Ryan Project sponsored a lecture by Dante Scala, Ph.D., an associate professor of political science from the University of New Hampshire, titled, “The Presidency: Who’s Next?,” on Thursday, Feb. 20, in the first floor lounge of Falvey Memorial Library.
Dr. Scala, a 1990 Villanova graduate who majored in political science and honors, and a well-known political expert, shared his opinions regarding the election, explaining what he envisions for the political future of the United States.
The lecture began by remembering the late Matthew J. Ryan, a distinguished graduate of Villanova University, who served in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives for more than 40 years. People in the audience explained how Ryan dedicated his life to politics and how he inspired others to seek positive change through politics. Memories were shared to remember the ways Ryan selflessly served his country as a member of the Pennsylvania House.
Scala then began his talk, first sharing an amusing story from the hit television sitcom, “Seinfeld,” right from the mouth of the iconic character George Costanza. Scala explained that when it comes to talking politics, it is always best to say the opposite. Scala recalled that when looking back at his previous remarks about the election, “Speaking against conventional wisdom would have been a brilliant maneuver.” The crowd chuckled at the professor’s advice. When it comes to politics, polls, and winners, the only constant seems to be change.
Scala continued his speech, comparing the battle between Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton to a tennis match between two very talented servers. He continued the tennis analogy, explaining how for the past months, both Obama and Clinton have been rallying back and forth, taking turns winning their serves. It was not until recently, in the Wisconsin Primary, that Obama had the upper hand and started to take the lead in the match; he broke serve and won in unfriendly territory.
The victory in Wisconsin for Obama is significant for Pennsylvania, a state that previously would have had a large say in the election when it came to its own primary. Now, Clinton has lost serious momentum and needs to win both Ohio and Texas in order to rebound and get back in the race, Scala said.
After opening up the lecture with recent election events, Scala turned to the past and took a look back at the candidates’ journeys over the past couple months. He told the audience, using gambler’s language, that if it put money on Obama in the fall 2007, it would have cashed in big bucks now, and money placed on John McCain would have brought home the jackpot. At that point in time, Clinton was the leader in the polls, and her rise and nomination seemed inevitable. He then explained how underdogs such as McCain and Obama were able to make such a comeback in the polls and gain the support that they have today.
Scala said that a primary campaign boils down to three things: money, momentum, and message. While in previous elections, success has been a matter of mostly money and momentum, the idea of message has played a much more important role this time. This gives McCain and Obama the opportunity to gain considerable political ground.
Scala then began to focus on how powerful each candidate can be considered by breaking it down into an equation: the percentage of votes in affluent areas over the percentage of votes in working-class areas, which equals the elite score of the candidate. With this math, both are considered elite candidates, but with Clinton ahead of Obama in this analysis. Obama’s coalition includes upscale progressives, the youth vote, and African Americans, while Clinton’s alliance includes working-class woman, senior citizens, and Hispanics. Scala said that both of these candidates create a perfect balance of forces in the democratic party, which political experts are now saying has formed “nomentum” instead of momentum.
The state of Pennsylvania is still considered a battle-ground state, with no clear Democratic party winner in sight, Scala said. Political pundits contend that if the primary were held today, the rural center of the state would go to Clinton, while the African-American counties would vote for Obama, Scala said. It is the upscale suburban areas that will be the deciding factor, he added.
Scala closed his presentation on a funny note, harkening back once again to “Seinfeld” and reminding everyone that the most important thing to remember when it comes to election time is this piece of advice from George Costanza: “Just say the opposite”.
Kate McAvey, ‘11, is a first-year student from Mahwah, N.J. She plans to major in Communication. Kate is working as an intern in the Office of Communications in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at Villanova University. Kate’s professional ambitions include broadcasting, public relations, and journalism.