ANALYSIS: Michigan Primary and Presidential Race Holds Political Science Instructor’s Interest

Dan UnderwoodThe 2016 presidential race has prompted Ferris State University’s assistant professor of Political Science Dan Underwood to start classes during this Spring term with a simple question.

“What’s in the news?”

Almost without fail, his students offer some comment that Donald Trump has generated on the campaign trail. Underwood believes that pattern will continue up to, and beyond the Michigan primary election on Tuesday, March 8.

“He’s even better than Hillary Clinton in this regard,” Underwood said. “For example, Trump has generated attention by referring to Ted Cruz as an ‘anchor baby,’ since he was not born in the U.S. It is interesting, but it is also troubling to political scientists. I think it’s fascinating, because Donald Trump is attacking people at their weakest point, fully intending to be the last of the GOP candidates standing. America likes his insults, or so it appears.”

There will be a field of contenders for Michigan voters to consider from both major political parties, with the candidates hoping to build on, or move past the results from Tuesday, March 1, dubbed “Super Tuesday.” More delegates will be assigned to candidates that day than at any other point in the election cycle. The race will be significantly impacted by primary elections in nine states. Delegates will also be distributed based on Republican and Democratic caucus results in Colorado and Minnesota, as well as GOP caucuses in Alaska, North Dakota and Wyoming on Tuesday, March 1.

Underwood said Jeb Bush’s decision to suspend his campaign prior to March gives the race an interesting subtext, and is a demonstration of how this process impacts the presidential election.

“This shapes our perception of who is ahead, and it appears the Republicans will have a four-horse race,” Underwood said. “Marco Rubio grew up, politically, under Jeb Bush’s wing, in Florida, and he will get Bush’s money and supporters, as will Ted Cruz, to some extent.”

Ohio Gov. John Kasich is the fourth Republican candidate Underwood considers viable in the near term. The professor expects that regardless of results from Super Tuesday and March 8’s voting, Kasich will remain in the race to participate in his home state’s primary.

“He will certainly stay in the race beyond that vote on the 15th,” Underwood said. “Kasich has a very important regional influence.”

Underwood said that Bernie Sanders’ efforts to contend with Hillary Clinton’s campaign and become the Democratic nominee are focused on securing the youth vote, which was a successful strategy for Barack Obama during the 2008 election cycle.

“It’s a good thing for Sanders, it’s difficult for Clinton to compete with that,” Underwood said. “Sanders is calling for socialized medicine, along with the dispensation of Obamacare. Those concepts, and free college tuition are appealing to students, and other young voters. He proposes very different ideas, systems that have worked in other counties that don’t have the diverse population that we present.”

Underwood said the Clinton campaign has that the choice of attacking Sanders’ platform by presenting testimonials on the pitfalls of socialized medicine in foreign countries, or trusting that her message will resonate with a larger portion of the electorate, which could allow her to secure the Democratic nomination.

“That’s a closer race than the Republicans,” Underwood said. “Hillary Clinton has the support of PACs (political action committees) and Super-PACs, while Bernie Sanders has made a point of distancing himself from these groups. Donald Trump appears to have his own money to spread his message.”

Underwood said that he views this year’s election as “the most exciting contest in my political experience,” with plenty of highlights to come, including the composition of the Republican and Democratic tickets.

“If Donald Trump continues his success, and becomes the GOP nominee, where does he turn for a vice presidential candidate?” Underwood asked. “Calling Ted Cruz a liar, and threatening to sue him could make that choice difficult. Picking Marco Rubio could be a way to secure Hispanic votes for the Republicans. On the Democratic side, Michael Bloomberg might be a dark horse, since his resources and media influence could be an asset if Hillary Clinton asks him to be her vice presidential candidate.”

Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus said, recently, the party leadership will back whomever becomes their nominee, and Underwood said the successful candidate would benefit from PAC funding and political influence. Still, Donald Trump’s maverick status means the election could come down to the two major parties, and an independent challenger.

“If Trump were to break from the GOP, and continue as an independent, that would be the worst possible scenario for the Republicans,” Underwood said. “Hillary Clinton would then have a clear walk into the White House.”

PHOTO CAPTION: Daniel Underwood is an associate professor of Political Science at Ferris State University.