Few phenomena attract as much attention and yet baffle so many prognosticators as the will of the body politic. What do voters care about and why?
These questions swirl deep in the American political psyche and in recent decades have given rise to an entire class of “professional” political “operatives” who profess unique knowledge of electoral whim.
UT’s Texas Politics Project, led by government professor and Texas politics expert Jim Henson, has a far-better system: poll voters on what they think, record what they say, then try to figure out why.
This Friday, Sept. 17, Henson will be taking anyone who’s interested on a guided tour of the process and place those numbers within Texas’ complicated political context.
“What we do is drill down into the data and look at what’s below the horse race numbers — which candidate is beating the other — and ask what we think is driving this,” Henson said.
The event, called The Mood of the Electorate and the 2010 Election in Texas, is the first the project has held in Austin. For the past two and a half years, Henson has been hosting brainy, intimate discussions around the state but never in the capital city.
“The overall idea behind the event,” said Kathleen Aronson, assistant dean of development for the College of Liberal Arts, “is it’s a way to open up the treasures of the college to interested alumni.”
The presentations are the brainchild of the college’s advisory council, members of which take it upon themselves to pick certain university treasures and organize a time, place, and topic to spotlight them. They’ve shown off history professor George Forgie in Dallas, and Pultizer Prize-winner David Oshinsky in New York.
The college is looking at hosting a similar discussion in Houston on immigration, and a New York alumnus wants to host one at the Harvard Club in Manhattan.
“What we’ve heard from alumni, particularly in New York, is that they don’t want us to come up there and ask for money,” Aronson said. “What they want is intellectual stimulation and to be reminded what it is they love about the University.”
The proceeds of a $25 entry fee will support the college. You can sign up here.
Now, as for the mood of the electorate, Henson said attendees may be surprised by some of the numbers. Certain issues, like support for the death penalty, find predictably conservative results in Texas. Others, like liberatarian positions on expanded gambling or outright liberal ideas of civil unions and gay marriage have more supporters in the Texas electorate than might be expected.
Henson’s talk will last 30 minutes and be followed by a question-and-answer session. He’ll be discussing fresh polling data, as well.
“People are really interested to go a little further than just the numbers,” Henson said. “They’re interested in what Texans think and they like to discuss why.”