Election Q&A with New England College Political Science Professor Wayne Lesperance

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Recently, Manchester Ink Link had a discussion on the election with UNH Political Science Professor Dante Scala. Today, we’re continuing that series with another Q&A, this time with New England College Political Science Professor Wayne Lesperance.

For more with Professor Lesperance, check out New England College’s event on Monday, which is completely free.

Professor Wayne Lesperance. Promotional photo

Q: What are your thoughts on the Presidential race at the national level?

A: Nationally I think Joe Biden will win. I think polling data is a piece of it, I think fundraising has been a piece of it. I think the early voting is a piece of it, which typically favors Democrats, I think there’s a tremendous enthusiasm that the Vice President has.

I think this is a referendum on COVID. As much as everybody would like this to be about outrage or not outrage about the President’s behavior, I think what moves the needle is his handling on COVID, and that’s reflected in polling data as well.

If that’s the case, it cuts both ways. Nationally, I think it helps the challenger to the President, but in New Hampshire it helps the Governor, who has been seen as dealing with it very well. I don’t think it’s a partisan thing as much as a performance thing.

Q: How about your thoughts on the Presidential race here in New Hampshire?

A: I do think Biden will take New Hampshire. It’s hard to predict how the whole state will go, but I do think the Vice President will take New Hampshire and we’ll just have to see what happens down ballot. I don’t think the President will be successful here in the Granite State.

Former Vice President Joe Biden at McIntyre Ski Area in Manchester on Oct. 9, 2019. Photo/Andrew Sylvia

Q: Is New Hampshire still a swing state?

A: I think there’s a pragmatism in New Hampshire that doesn’t lean itself to the narrative or red, purple or blue. I think COVID makes it even more difficult to lock people in. My thought is people are going to vote on how the President is managing the pandemic.

Like I said before, I don’t think that’s a partisan question, that’s a performance question. I think it helps the Governor.

It’s hard to tell if this election will confirm a bluer hue to the purple, or can we really confirm anything, or is this in fact part of a continued move to a bluer Granite State.

The demographics of the state are changing, particularly in the Southern tier, I think that will contribute to more of a blue state, but I’m not convinced how much you can confer into an election that’s being held during a global pandemic.

Q: If Trump loses, will he be back in 2024? And will Biden be back in 2024 win or lose?  

A: The answer to both is I’m not sure. I think the Republican Party has a very big task ahead. If the President loses, that invites a very big analysis as to why.

If they decide that it’s just because of COVID and has nothing to do with his policy or behavior, that opens the door to a potential future Trump, whether it’s the President or one of his sons.

I think though that there is to be likely a lot more evaluation of what the party has become. There are still those who fondly of the party of Reagan and I’d argue this is no longer that party, they’ll have to contend with that.

At the end of the day, our country is still very much divided. We have a primary process that emboldens the extremes on both the left and the right and we’ll have to ask if that’s the best way forward. And if it is, then we’re going to continue seeing candidates that push to the right and to the left.

We’re already seeing 2024 candidates coming to New Hampshire, that’s the beauty of living in the First in the Nation state. Whether Joe Biden would want a second term or not, we’ll have to wait and see. One thing though is the presidency takes a physical and emotional toll. That’s something Biden will have to take into account if he wins.

Donald Trump on Oct. 25, 2020. Photo/Andrew Sylvia

Q: In 2016, polls showed Hillary Clinton ahead by small margins in the Presidential race and since then many people have worried whether polls in 2020 will be accurate. What is your take on this year’s polls and do you think people are potentially lying to pollsters?

A: I think that’s part of everything we have to factor in. You’ll recall in 2004 that the “security moms” played a role and they didn’t factor nearly as heavily in polling data as they did in the final results for President Bush.

I think you probably do have some folks who aren’t going to answer honestly, because maybe they feel it’s an unpopular position to be supportive of the President or something along those lines. But for me, the point of polls isn’t to fixate on any one poll or national number, but to focus on trend lines.

Trend lines can show the mood and if you watch those trend lines, I think they give the advantage to Vice President Biden.

Q: Will new early voting measures precipitated by COVID become permanent?

A: I hope so. Creating access to the ballot box has to be one of the most important priorities our state has. I voted at town hall, I got an absentee ballot and deposited it there directly. I know people mailing in and everything else. I think having options like that is a great step forward in improving ballot access.

The fact that we don’t have a national holiday for voting and that we do it at a time of the year when weather can play a role, all of those things make it harder to take part in the electoral franchise. For me, this is not a partisanship question, it’s a citizenship question. We ought to make it as easy as possible to vote and the responses to COVID in terms of voting have been really positive ones.

Q: In recent years, some have talked about abolishing the Electoral College or urging states to enter a compact to award electoral votes with the winner of the national popular vote. What are your thoughts on the Electoral College?

A: We need to work on understanding it, a vast amount of Americans don’t know what it is or where it comes from. There are strong arguments for getting rid of it and strong arguments for keeping it.

If we didn’t have it, New Hampshire would have a much-reduced role in national elections. To say that small states would suffer without the Electoral College is a fair argument.

It certainly is an interesting challenge when you have the Electoral College result different from the popular vote result and I think what we need to have this conversation as a country and we need to have it as what exactly the purpose of the Electoral College is to be. And if we do that as a national discussion, we ought to come to some conclusions. I’ll leave it there, if can have a real conversation, it would be great for civics and it would really help people participate in the franchise.

Amy Coney Barrett. Promotional photo

Q: With the appointment of Amy Coney Barrett to the U.S. Supreme Court, there has been talk in Washington about expanding the size of the U.S. Supreme Court and potentially ending the filibuster in the Senate to accomplish this. What are your thoughts on this?

A: I think it’s a mistake, but I certainly understand the motivation. At that point, you create a scenario when you have a new president or new party in control of Congress, there will be an attempt to change the court. It undermines the Supreme Court and apolitical role the court is supposed to be playing and that’s hugely problematic.

My Democratic friends won’t want to hear this, but the President is the President until his term is over. Certainly, I’d say that taking the Senate Republicans the arrangement (regarding not holding hearings on Supreme Court nominations during Election Years) they held during the Obama Administration and then decided to discard was terrible, and it was a moment of hypocrisy and betrayal by Lindsay Graham, but the Constitution is on their side and it goes back to elections having consequences.

I think expanding or “packing the court” would be a mistake and damage the court.

Q: Outside of the Presidential race, what is your take on the other races here in New Hampshire?

A: Sununu will be re-elected, I think at the end of the day whenever an incumbent is involved, case has to be made for why he should be fired. In this case, people approve the work he’s done and think he’s done well with COVID.

Congress is tougher. I’ve seen some data saying that the Second Congressional District is going to be pretty close, but I’m not so sure of that I think Kuster will win handily.

In the First Congressional District, until the debates it was clear to be a win for Chris Pappas, but I’m not sure whether the answers he gave about lobbyists really stick. Matt Mowers has raised a ton of money and CD1 is a district that can flip one way or another. So I’m less inclined to make a call on that one, but when in doubt you go with the incumbent.

I think the U.S. Senate race will be a big win for Shaheen. I don’t think Corky Messner has done a good job on debate performances, and he hasn’t had a very effective campaign in my view. Senator Shaheen is tough to beat under the best of circumstances, she should carry the day.

It’s harder with the down ballot races. A lot of it depends on the Presidential race. If Trump wins, that will help regarding Republicans down the ballot.

I think though you’re more likely to see an expansion of Democratic power, but not a supermajority.

The crowd gathers for the start of the State House Bicentennial celebration in Concord on June 2, 2019. File Photo/Paula Tracy

Q: Should the New Hampshire have 400 State Representatives?

A: I love the fact that we have a large citizen legislature. That’s one of the kind of cool things about New Hampshire. It certainly makes it harder to change significant policy approaches, but it’s kind of what we have and it’s one of the great features about living in the Granite State. The presidential candidates joke all the time that you can’t swing a dead cat without hitting a state rep. It’s great that we have so many residents that want to run for election.

Q: What are you hearing in the community about the election?

A: I’ve lived here for 21 years now and I’ve ever heard people talk so much about voting and it’s both parties. I think it’s remarkable on getting ballots in advance, talking about issues. Part of that may be part of my job as a poli-sci professor and they will want to talk to me about it, but I’ve never seen the enthusiasm, even those who are angry are telling me they can’t wait to vote and get in there and weigh their options. I don’t know what that leads me to conclude about future, but it’s very encouraging and it’s the way we ought to be. We should be pining to weigh in about how our government is doing. I think it’s encouraging that even with pandemic that the group I’m most concerned about young people but they are registering at high rates and I hope they turn out in a historic way, which unfortunately is a low bar.

Q: What are your thoughts on student voting?

A: We’ve done a lot of work with students in our town to make sure they have access to the ballot box. There’s a lot of frustration they are excluded because of their age, there’s sort of a dismissal. Another thing I hear, especially from College Republicans is why do people think that all college students are ideologically the same? They’re not. It’s fun to talk to them about the election of Ronald Reagan, Reagan really resonated with young people and they want that type of opportunity with another candidate.

There’s a mixture of emotions, but they’re determined to get their vote and I like it, it’s plucky. It’s a good attitude to have.

Q: Due to COVID-19, Democrats and Republicans have engaged in drastically different campaign styles. Do you believe this could impact the election’s results?

A: It could. One of the things we know about New Hampshire is that we like our grassroots, we like our shoe leather version of campaigning. That could help Republicans, but it might not be enough. To their credit, they’ve stuck with it and on the balance, I think that’s positive for them.





About this Author

Andrew Sylvia

Assistant EditorManchester Ink Link

Born and raised in the Granite State, Andrew Sylvia has written approximately 10,000 pieces over his career for outlets across Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont. On top of that, he's a licensed notary and licensed to sell property, casualty and life insurance, he's been a USSF trained youth soccer and futsal referee for the past six years and he can name over 60 national flags in under 60 seconds according to that flag game app he has on his phone, which makes sense because he also has a bachelor's degree in geography (like Michael Jordan). He can also type over 100 words a minute on a good day.