Off-the-Top-of-our-Heads Reactions to the Clinton-Trump Debate #1


Jack:  The Poly Sci wisdom is that debates tend to reinforce the support among strong supporters; so it is the “undecided” voter, usually a moderate, that is the target of the candidates. Undecideds are still a large segment of the population, so this debate was important.

Jack:  Clinton needed to reach out to where her favorability ratings were shaky or falling: young people who are interested in economic inequality and suburban white women who are concerned about whether Trump is “presidential.” Trump needed to present a presidential demeanor to reassure voters who would like to vote for him mainly because he is not Clinton. He didn’t accomplish that tonight.

Sasha:  Given that, she succeeded. She presented as presidential while Trump interrupted her repeatedly, had several (albeit minor) implosions, and ended by saying she didn’t “look” presidential. He quickly changed the phrasing to a lack of “stamina;” or how he put it the second time he said it with emphasis: “stam-men-a” (code for testosterone?) Undecided women won’t like how he treated her; her base will solidify. She missed an opportunity, however, to remind voters that there are many female leaders of foreign countries and Trump will need a respectful demeanor to work with them.

Sasha: Trump avoided questions; he repeated himself; he sounded unschooled. However, his base likes that off-the-cuff, ready to rumble demeanor.  But will this win him undecided voters? I don’t think so.

Final throw-in thoughts:

Clinton managed to act natural although she was obviously well-rehearsed, had control over her body language, and was very aware of how the camera was on her (and him) at all times.

Could Trump have been a bit ill? We thought he sniffled throughout the first half of the debate and his eyes looked almost closed, then he started to come around. But given that he has criticized Clinton’s health, he couldn’t very well claim illness, could he.

Finally, calling these performances “debates” is of course a misnomer. They are at best side-by-side press conferences. A serious debate consists of having a proposition (e.g., decreasing taxes on large businesses in order to create jobs),  allowing each side time to argue for or against the proposition,  questioning and challenging each other’s facts and analysis, and then giving closing statements. That presidential debates are in fact “debates” is debatable.


From the Salt Mines: Unionizing in Sarasota (by Sasha)

Just when I thought that unions were a dying breed (along with any recognition of workers’ rights), two groups of employees in Sarasota have recently voted to unionize: the faculty at State College of Florida, Manatee-Sarasota, and the newsroom of Sarasota’s local newspaper, the Herald-Tribune.

Kudos to both. Teaching and news reporting are worth fighting for.

SCF faculty had to do something after the disastrous decision by its Trustees to eliminate tenure for all new hires, making SCF unique among Florida state colleges.


Tenure is mainly defended for the philosophical reason of “academic freedom.” This isn’t just a highbrow concept; it has practical implications for those of us who have taught and researched topics that are controversial (and in the world of academia where just about anything is questioned, that means just about everything.) Imagine researching global warming, reproductive rights, religious tolerance, genetic engineering, or a theory of limited growth in Florida’s current political environment. Your career would be at risk.

But tenure is more than just academic freedom. It is what the business world would normally concede to be a “best practice” because why on earth would any professor of merit, i.e., a scholar who worked for 10+ years to earn a Ph.D. and establish a strong c.v., choose to join an outlier college that did not offer job security when there are other choices available? In addition, the academic world is scheduled to at least one year out for jobs, conference papers, grants, journal submissions, and invited lectures. The offer of a one-year contract means that new hires will need to apply right away for their next job. One foot out the door is not a way to build a dedicated faculty.

It’s no surprise, then, that the faculty at SCF Manatee-Sarasota, voted last week 75-25 to unionize.

Decisions were also made at the Herald-Tribune that threatened the workforce and the integrity of their work. From 2006-2008, the HT cut its workforce by one-third. Within the last five years, the paper was owned by the NY Times Co.,  sold to the Halifax Media Group in 2011, then acquired in 2015 by GateHouse Media. As expected, layoffs followed the acquisition; 16 newsroom employees lost their jobs.

For the newsroom employees at the Herald-Tribune, the September 15 decision to unionize appears to have been a difficult one. The vote to unionize was 22-16; a number that is sad not just because it shows divisiveness, but because of the sum: there are only 38 newsroom employees left.

The Herald Tribune building by

The downsizing of staff made it possible for the  HT to announce in August that it will move from its iconic Main Street building to three floors of the SunTrust building next store. Meanwhile Senior Editor, Bill Church, will leave the HT effective September 26 to take a promotion to Senior Vice President of News at GateHouse in Austen. Apparently he achieved in Sarasota what he was hired to do.

So pay attention workers of Sarasota–workers’ rights are at a nadir and unions may be on the rise. Hmmmmmm. Cause and effect?



The Salt Life: The STOP! Town Hall Meeting on “Sarasota, The Vue, and You” (by Sasha and Jack)

img_2040The biggest question at the standing-room-only STOP! Town Hall Meeting Thursday, September 22 at the Selby Library was this:

How on earth did a monstrous building like the Vue gain public approval?

Vue with man
The Vue

The simple answer is that it didn’t.

And it didn’t because, unbelievably, it did not need public approval at all.

As Kate Lowman put it, “Administrative review gave us the Vue.”


This exclusion of a public voice regarding development is behind the formation of STOP! (a community-based organization of Sarasota citizens).  In order to “preserve our quality of life,”  four City Master Plan & Zoning Code changes are sought:


  • Wider sidewalks with room for greenspace;
  • Realistic traffic studies;
  • Reintroduction of opportunities for public input during the review process; and
  • Prevention of expanding the administrative review process beyond the downtown into neighborhoods.

(More information at

Over the course of an hour, four speakers offered details that explained how The Vue and other downtown development projects came to be.

Kate Lowman, who serves as a steering committee member, described how in 2003 new city zoning codes, inspired by the principles of New Urbanism, aimed to create a walkable, pedestrian-friendly downtown. But this effort was undermined when a lawsuit by Argus was settled by replacing a public review process with a purely administrative review process. Without any opportunity for public input, approval for development was guaranteed as long as a proposal met the zoning codes.

Mike Lasche, a bicycle and pedestrian advocate argued that “walkability” must mean more than a mere possibility that a person could walk a path. He suggested that walking is a form of transport that should be safe, viable, shaded, conspicuous, and even convivial.

Eileen Normile, former city commissioner, explained that the use of arcane traffic impact formulas result in developers (e.g., those of the new Quay project) escaping any amount of “concurrency fees.” What is needed, she argued, are realistic traffic studies.

Jennifer Ahearn-Koch, former planning board member, contrasted the public process of development approval (that includes 3 closed and 3 open steps) with the abbreviated administrative process that makes no room for public input at all.

Even from the water, the Vue is imposing

STOP! is clearly onto something here. Anyone who attempts to walk by The Vue or new construction sites near Fruitville or First Street can experience first hand how truly pedestrian and bicycle un-friendly these sites are. It’s like walking through a concrete tunnel with traffic racing nearby.

So, the points made at the September 22nd meeting clearly resonated with the 200 plus people who attended, and the four speakers were informed and informative.

But as political scientists, we would like to suggest several questions for STOP! to consider as it moves forward. Continue reading “The Salt Life: The STOP! Town Hall Meeting on “Sarasota, The Vue, and You” (by Sasha and Jack)”

Presidential Election 2001 Redux? (by Jack)


With the recent tightening of the presidential contest I began to think about our last close presidential election (the Gore-Bush 2000 election) and I was struck by the emerging similarities. Here are just a few:

  • Going into the month of September both Gore (in 2000) as well as Clinton (in 2016) had substantial leads in the polls. Clinton’s lead was around 8% while Gore’s lead was around 10%. By the end of September Gore was in a statistical tie with Bush; Clinton is now virtually tied with Trump.




  • In 2000, after a long drawn-out impeachment disaster people were experiencing “Clinton fatigue” (Bill that is). Today voters are experiencing their own version of “Clinton fatigue”—this time it’s Hillary.
  • In 2000 voters rated Gore higher than Bush in terms of competence and being prepared to be president. It didn’t matter all that much. Likewise, voters rate Hillary higher in terms of competence and being prepared to be president. It doesn’t seem to matter.
  • In 2000 the economy was doing quite well—growing and producing jobs. Gore was unable to take advantage of that. Today the economy is also doing quite well—growing and producing jobs—but people are convinced otherwise and Hillary doesn’t seem to be able to take advantage of a relatively healthy economy.
  • images
    analyzing the “hanging chads” of Florida ballots; from

    In 2000 Florida proved to be the critical swing state (I won’t dredge up those hanging chads and that horrendous Supreme Court decision). According to poll analyst Nate Silver Florida is the state with the highest probability of being the key swing state in the 2016 election (an 18.1% chance).

  • In 2000 the voter registration rolls in Florida were artificially (and illegally) depressed by state officials as they purged thousands of voters who should have been allowed to vote. Today Florida leads the nation in disenfranchising voters by denying ex-felons the right to vote. Slightly less the 7% of the voting age population is denied the vote in Florida, the highest disenfranchisement of ex-felons in the nation. (Note: Vermont and Maine allow people in prison to vote in presidential elections).
  • In 2000 Al Gore was framed by the media as “dull” and “wooden.” In 2016 Hillary Clinton is framed by the media as “uninspiring” and “unable to generate enthusiasm.”
  • In 2000 the Democrats surprised many by creating an effective get-out-the-vote campaign (unusual for Democrats). In 2016 it is commonly believed that one of Hillary’s advantages is her “ground game” where she has thousands of offices focused on turning out the vote.
  • Media analysts were in agreement that the coverage of the 2000 campaign, with its emphasis on scandals and negative politics, undermined journalistic credibility. Coverage of scandals and negative politics in 2016 pales by comparison and the media is attacked by both Trump and Clinton as being unfair.
  • In 2000 there were two minor party candidates in the race, Ralph Nader and Pat Buchanan, who probably cost Gore the election. In 2016 we have Gary Johnson and Jill Stein, both of whom will probably draw more votes away from Clinton than Trump.


So in 2000 George W. Bush won the election although he received more than half a million fewer votes nation-wide than Al Gore. Nate Silver gives the odds of a similar result happening in 2016 only at a 6.4% chance.

But, hey, we live in Florida where weird things happen all the time.

Looking into my crystal ball I see  a winner vaguely coming into view. It seems to be an image of a blond woman. My hunch is that Hillary will improve her support among young people and Hispanics and her ground game will be able to turn out the necessary votes to win a close one (yet again) in Florida. Floridians will breathe a sigh of relief and feel free to name their sons “Chad” without fear that they will be laughed at when they get to junior high.

What’s your prediction?

U.S. Constitution Day 9/17/16 (by Sasha)


As the Founders of the Republic would have done….grab a friend and a tankard of your favorite brew and take the following Quiz and discuss it in celebration of the day that commemorates the signing of the U.S. Constitution:



True or False (a.k.a. “I’ve got a 50/50 chance”):

1) The Constitution opens with this line from the Preamble: “When in the course of human events…”

2) The revolutionaries Thomas Paine (author of Common Sense) and Patrick Henry (he of “give me liberty or give me death” fame) put in place the limits on the Executive power.

3) The rights of the people are found only in the Amendments to the Constitution.

4) The Constitution does not contain the word “slave.”

5) Thomas Jefferson and George Washington were among the 39 men who signed the Constitution.


6) The President’s State of the Union Address is required by the Constitution.

7) At the Constitutional Convention, James Madison argued against adding a Bill of Rights to the proposed Constitution.

8) Alexander Hamilton of NY supported offering an American kingship to a foreign prince.




9) The First Amendment is the 1st listed in the Bill of Rights because it declares the most important fundamental rights.



10) Members of Congress cannot be arrested except for treason, felony and breach of the peace, during their attendance at Congress and in going to and returning from Congress.

EXTRA CREDIT:   Where does an explicitly intended reference to a person’s sex appear in the Constitution and/or its Amendments? (Ignore all the references, if you can, to the usage of the hes, hims, his, etc.)

Continue reading “U.S. Constitution Day 9/17/16 (by Sasha)”

The Trump Phenomenon: Part II Donald J. Trump: The Pokémon Candidate (by Jack)


The latest craze to hit Florida (as well as the rest of the world) is Pokémon Go. After installing the appropriate app on your Android or IPhone you then set off on your search, in “augmented reality,” for Pokémon characters. There are, of course, special strategies and special ways of capturing Pokémon by strategically using gyms, incubating lucky eggs, maximizing the use of Pokéstops, using Pokéballs, and the like. Mainly, in order to capture all 142 of these ‘lil critters you have to spend considerable time “poking around” with your phone.

ThR8TNWZ_400x400        Floridians have a special advantage when it comes to playing games with “augmented realities” since we live in the state that is the home of Disney World.  With special ticket prices for Floridians we can more frequently experience the joys of Disney hyperreality—imitations of imitations of things that never existed (e.g. someone dressed in a Mickey Mouse costume who impersonates the character who appears in Disney films which, of course, is merely a cartoon figure). Augmented reality is a piece of cake for us!

The Pokémon Go craze is an interesting cultural phenomenon that raises some fundamental questions about reality. Do the various Pokémons and associated characters actually exist? If so, where are they located? If they exist why is it that only some people can see them? Can you touch them? Can you feel them? Are the IPhones used creating new, alternative realities? If they are not real, what are they? If they don’t really exist then how can people see them? Is reality merely perception?

The entire Pokémon phenomenon makes the case that reality is a social construction. For those with a cell phone with a Pokémon Go app they may see a park bench as a Pokéstop while others without a phone may simply see a bench. One’s view of reality is interpreted and can vary from person to person.

Games such as Pokémon are popular because they tap into important cultural values. The malleability of reality makes the game successful. In a like manner, Donald Trump has built his campaign for the presidency on a similar assumption. In his 1987 book The Art of the Deal he described his relationship to reality: “I call it truthful hyperbole. It’s an innocent form of exaggeration—and a very effective form of promotion.”


Like the Pokémon Go game, Trump’s exaggerations are fast-paced. He throws out absurdly false claims which draws the attention of the media and then he rides the wave of publicity until the media begin focusing on the truthfulness of them; then he distracts them by throwing out yet another false statement and the media scramble to catch up. All the while he amasses followers who love, strangely enough, his “truthfulness.”

Still hung up on traditional notions of reality the media watchdog Politifact found so many false statements made by Trump in 2015 that it couldn’t identify only one to designate as “lie of the year” and instead gave the “award” to Trump himself. Examining 77 statements he made they found that 76 percent of them were either mostly false, false or “pants on fire” false.

Still, in our present cultural environment does it matter? One of the keenest observers of contemporary America, Stephen Colbert, perceptively highlighted the problem. Truth was no longer relevant. It was boring. Instead, our new approach should be “truthiness.” Things don’t have to actually be true, they merely need to sound as if they could be true.

Don’t be surprised after you download that Pokémon Go app and it directs you to the White House that you see a Donald Trump anime staring at you!


Explaining Donald Trump-Part I (by Jack)

There are many advantages to living in Sarasota—great weather, world famous quartz-sand beaches, a vibrant cultural community, and no state taxes. But one significant advantage that few realize is that living in Florida forces you to think about weird things and accept them as normal: wacky weather, swamp land giveaways, invasive species, tropical creatures that appear in your garage, odd laws, criminals who are dumber than a stump, a wild west gun culture, and a flow of news items that make the jaw drop (remember the hanging “chads” of election 2000?)


So what better way to apply our skills in making sense of the inexplicable than to use them to try to explain the presidential nomination of Donald Trump.

Members of the media and political pundits have struggled to explain how Trump has been so successful doing things that would have disqualified any other candidate from serious contention. These breaches of decorum include insulting people (and refusing to apologize), fabrication of facts (i.e., lies), changes in positions almost at will, demonstration of a disturbing ignorance of important political issues, taking positions directly contrary to traditional Republican positions, contradicting himself, and ignoring his own political advisors. Even more recently, he has suggested that his opponent Hillary Clinton might only be stopped by Second Amendment enthusiasts (an invitation to assassination?!?)

How can voters make sense of this? How do we evaluate Trump?

In a series of five essays to follow I will attempt to explain why Trump has been as successful as he has been. (Hint: it has to do with a paradigm shift). But, for now let me provide some reasons why the criteria normally used to evaluate candidates fail when applied to Trump and what you can do about it.

Issues. Trump makes things up all the time, so much so that the media is exhausted trying to continually point out that what he says is not true. In many ways it’s a clever strategy because the media report the statements and if you are only half-listening it is easy to only hear Trump’s statement and pay little or no attention to the fact that it is not true. Furthermore, Trump has developed a strategy for dealing with media critics—he is the victim of the “liberal media” who are out to get him by making him appear to be ignorant about the issues. Clever. So in essence, Trump tells his supporters: don’t evaluate me on the basis of the issues. Take his advice, don’t.

Party Identification. Around 2/3rds of the voters identify fairly strongly with a political party. They use this identification to help them make decisions. It’s no wonder that Republicans tend to vote for Republicans and Democrats tend to vote for Democrats. This process isn’t as irrational as you might think. People usually have pretty good reasons for identifying with a particular party and the candidates of that party usually adhere to the traditional policies embraced by their parties.

In securing the nomination of his party Trump made a special point of running against the party establishment. While doing so he articulated a number of positions that actually ran counter to traditional Republican positions. While it is difficult to trust any positions he has taken given that he changes them so frequently, it would make it very problematic to use party ID as a reliable indicator to predict his behavior if elected. In the Age of Trump using party ID as a criterion for voting is not a good idea.

Trusted Friends. Usually trusted friends are a reliable short-cut to help make a voting decision. Rather than following what at times is a disgusting campaign you can find some friends who enjoys being a political junkies and let them do that for you. Then pump them for information just before election time.

But something strange is happening in 2016. While politics always engenders emotions, this year there seems to be a substantially greater amount of emotional intensity. A little bit of emotion in politics can actually be beneficial as it engages people in the political process, but the intensity of the emotion in the 2016 presidential contest threatens to overwhelm logical thought. Thus, I recommend not talking to friends who begin to foam at the mouth when Trump’s name pops up. In talking about Trump friends can’t be trusted.

What does that leave us with when trying to evaluate Trump?


AP Photo/Carlos Osorio

OK, just kidding…

Character. One of the few political scientists who wrote a best-selling book (Presidential Character by James David Barber) claims that the most important factor to determine what a president will do once in office is his/her “character.” All other considerations should take a back seat to this critically important factor. What’s more, according to Barber the media provides us with enough information about the candidates to make relatively informed decisions about this.

While I am a bit uncomfortable relying so heavily on character when looking at presidential candidates, I’m afraid that in this election we are left with little else that can be considered reliable information about Trump. So, to assess candidate Trump I recommend you look at how he has managed things in the past, how he goes about collecting information to make decisions, and what is his world view of causation. In addition, what has been his pattern in life as far as being active or passive, whether he enjoys the give-and-take of politics or instead views serving as a duty or political differences as personal assaults. Finally, what is his relationship with people: does he like people; does he surround himself with different types of people to get different viewpoints, does he empathize with people, etc?

In short, we know Trump is a character, but does he have the character of a President.

Why FL and Every Vote Matters in Presidential Election 2016 (by Sasha)

Like it or not, here they come…

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As a swing state, Florida will be inundated with both political advertisements and visits from the Hillary Clinton (D) and Donald Trump (R) campaigns. We will live for the next three months with ubiquitous efforts to convince us Floridians to vote in a decisive manner so that the hanging chads and hanging presidential election outcome of 2000 will not be repeated.

Florida is an important electoral state for several reasons:

First, because it takes only 270 votes to win the Electoral College (i.e., half of the 535 total votes plus one) and Florida holds 29 of those votes (only California at 55 and Texas at 38 and have more; NYS has the same at 29), Florida is a powerhouse state. Continue reading “Why FL and Every Vote Matters in Presidential Election 2016 (by Sasha)”

Salt and Snark: My Nomination for Florida’s State Tree-an invasive species (by Jack)

The Florida state tree is the Sabal Palm, also called the Cabbage Palm. The palm has a single trunk and can grow as tall as 70 feet.


But state symbols should capture the essence of the state and for this reason the Sabal Palm is a poor choice—its characteristics do not symbolize much about what makes Florida so unique.

However, there is one tree that towers above all the others because it more accurately represents Florida—the Australian Pine.


Although the Australian Pine (Casuarina equisetifolia) is on Florida’s invasive specifies list, I believe it should be removed from that list and proudly declared the “Florida State Tree.” There are at least five reasons the Sabal Palm should be replaced by the Australian Pine.


First, the Australian Pine is an invasive species; introduced into Florida in the 1890s it has proliferated. This, by itself, makes it a strong candidate for state tree.




Like the magnificent tree, people from other states, who originate primarily from New York, New Jersey, and the Midwest, have become Florida’s invasive  species to the tune of over 200,000 per year. Like the tree, they have proliferated, spending their Social Security checks on a variety of goods and services.

Second, the tree thrives around beaches. While it cannot grow directly in salt water it grows quite well near the water. This, of course, is also true of the human population of the state where over 76% of the residents of Florida live on or near the beach. Like the Australian Pine, Floridians cannot live in the water, but most thrive close to either the Atlantic or the Gulf of Mexico. Continue reading “Salt and Snark: My Nomination for Florida’s State Tree-an invasive species (by Jack)”