Foreign journalists tour Indiana for primary, get elections primer at IU

Post by IU Newsroom intern Annie Brackemyre

Foreign journalists struggle just as much as domestic pundits trying to make sense of the lead-up to and results from this week’s unusually decisive Indiana primary. Twenty-four foreign journalists observing and reporting on the primary process concluded their 10-day trip studying electoral politics with a visit to the IU campus on Wednesday.

As part of the Foreign Press Center-sponsored trip, embassies nominated top journalists who also speak English fluently. The Foreign Press Center at the U.S. State Department then chose journalists who were able to obtain a visa and represented the full spectrum of print, online, radio, TV and wire service reporters. A few of the represented countries included Belarus, Bhutan, Egypt, Georgia, Ghana, New Zealand, Nigeria, Thailand, Tunisia and Venezuela.

IU political scientist Marjorie Hershey speaks to visiting journalists from around the world.

IU political scientist Marjorie Hershey speaks to visiting journalists from around the world.

The group convened in Washington, D.C., on April 25. They attended briefings on the nuts and bolts of the U.S. electoral process and met with leaders of the Republican and Democratic national committees and elected party leaders. The journalists traveled to Indianapolis on April 27 to immerse themselves in the primary process, attending rallies for Hillary Clinton, Ted Cruz, Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump.

On the last leg of their trip, the group bused to Bloomington for a conversation with Marjorie Hershey, professor and associate chair of political science, as well as College Republicans and College Democrats.

Hershey offered her observations on the nomination process.

“No sane person would have created a nominations process like that of the U.S.,” Hershey said.

Rather, it evolved over time and reflects the decentralized history of the country.

“This is nothing new, despite what the media coverage tells us,” Hershey said. “From the beginning we had a very decentralized system. It’s easy to forget this because of the focus on the presidency.”

After running through the roughly 200 years of electoral history, Hershey answered questions about a likely Trump-Clinton race.

Like many domestic reporters, the foreign journalists were flummoxed by Trump’s rise to prominence and the dilemma it seems to have created for the GOP. Hershey suggested that voters may still feel disenfranchised in November, but history suggests Republicans will fall in line behind Trump eventually.

“Voters who are saying ‘Never Trump’ will come back into the fold by November,” Hershey said. “It happened with Obama and Clinton in 2008. After exposure to Clinton, they’ll see their alternative.”

Because of the two-party system, deep divisions have always and will always exist within parties, Hershey said.

“We are in an extremely large and diverse country. It’s hard to encompass everyone’s needs in two parties,” Hershey said, pointing to the strained relationship between Christian evangelicals and business moguls in the Republican Party. “It’s like a bad marriage. They’re stuck with each other.”

The journalists pressed Hershey for her November predictions. They reached for the same unknowns and hypotheticals posited by the national press. Who would win, Trump or Clinton? Will “Never Trump” voters turn to Clinton or refuse to vote? Will the GOP establishment run a third-party candidate?

With over five months before the election, Hershey pointed to the possibility that major events such as an economic downturn or terrorist attacks might drastically change the election. Otherwise, she predicted Trump will likely lose and lose substantially.

After Hershey provided the historical framework and a brief analysis on the current electoral landscape, the journalists turned to three College Democrats and three College Republicans from IU Bloomington for their take on Trump and Clinton as the presumptive nominees.

Both groups expressed concern about their bases turning out to vote. While none of the College Republicans supported Trump from the onset, they were split between rallying behind Trump or turning to Clinton or a third-party candidate.

The College Democrats expressed concern that without Sanders in the race, the current large number of young mobilized voters may dwindle in November.

The College Republicans’ uncertainty about their own votes reinforced the journalists’ confusion about what will unfold in the coming months of the campaigns.

But Hershey reminded everyone that, as chaotic as the campaign seems with the two presumptive nominees polling at high unfavorable rates, the divisive nature reflects the history of electoral politics and is not unprecedented.

“We’ve disconnected campaigns from governance,” Hershey said. “This isn’t anything new, and we will see it again.”

Hershey is also available for comment on the 2016 election season. You can learn about her expertise and more at Decision 2016, a comprehensive online media guide for elections resources at IU.

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