Unruh Institute hosts panel on race in the presidential election

The Unruh Institute of Politics hosted a panel discussion which explored the importance of diversity, demography and race in the 2016 election on Tuesday evening at Ground Zero. Moderator Dan Schnur described this demography as the “new electorate,” capable of altering the voting trends of the election. The panel featured Mike Madrid of public affairs firm Grassroots Lab, USC Professor of Political Science Robert Shrum, Daily Trojan News Assignments Editor Raz Nakhlawi and Jasmin Tuffaha, producer for KPCC’s Airtalk with Larry Mantle.

Schnur sparked the discussion with a question about the generational component of this election, as many millennials from different communities are influencing the political process like never before. Particularly within the Democratic Party, Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton struggled to connect with young voters in the primaries and Schnur questioned how she could do this in the general election.

“Clinton is in a relatively strong position despite her personal unfavorability because [Republican presidential nominee Donald] Trump is in a demographic cul-de-sac,” Shrum said. “[African Americans will] overwhelmingly vote for Clinton and the President will put huge efforts into getting them out.”

For Tuffaha, Trump challenges the notion of “third-rail politics,” or issues so controversial and politically charged that any politician who touches upon them will suffer.

“The reason a guy like Donald Trump is so popular is because he is talking about things that we used to not be able to talk about on a national scale,” Tuffaha said.

Tuffaha highlighted the importance of the presidential debate taking place on Sep. 26, as it will be the first of the series of debates and may sway many undecided voters, which currently make up 10 to 13 percent of the electorate, according to Tuffaha

Shrum recommended that Clinton attempt to reveal something of herself in the debate and show some personality in order to combat criticism of her aloof demeanor. He added that she will already win on substance.

The conversation then turned to racial issues and minority voters.

“There is a very significant break generationally, as Latino millennials by staggering numbers voted for Bernie Sanders in the primary, but meanwhile what you saw was older Baby Boomers and Generation Xers overwhelmingly voting for Clinton,” Madrid said.

This trend is very much based on the vastly different society millennials live in, compared to their parents and grandparents, according to Madrid. Because of these demographic changes and the growing number of young Latinos in California, Madrid said that the Latino vote in California is essentially synonymous with the millennial vote.

“Millennials do not view race as a construct in the same way people over the age of 35 do because they have grown up in a far more diverse society and interact with far more people of far more different backgrounds far more often, and these interactions change how they perceive race and gender,” Madrid said.

The panelists also discussed the impact of growing Islamophobic sentiment on the election, particularly when it came to candidate statements supporting or denouncing past U.S. actions in the Middle East. For Shrum, Islamophobia is a tool used by the candidates rather than a deciding factor in the election.

“Islamophobia was one of the keys to Trump getting the Republican nomination, but it is one of his big problems in the general election,” Shrum said. “I’d give the American people more credit that to think they identify an entire religion with terrorism.”