Never Mind That Pat Fellow
by Fernando Quintero
Political science professor Nelson Polsby predicts Bob Dole will remain the Republican front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination.
He believes Colin Powell would be a wise choice for vice president. And he thinks Pat Buchanan is a typical outsider and "professional windbag."
Polsby presented his thoughts on the current race for president Feb. 29 in the first of a series of "Cal in the Afternoon" lectures sponsored by the California Alumni Association.
Widely sought for his commentary and insight, Polsby is director of the Institute for Governmental Studies and co-author with the late political science professor Aaron Wildavsky of "Presidential Elections," now in its ninth edition.
Talking at Alumni House, Polsby clearly relished the opportunity to give his take on the tumultuous race for the GOP presidential nomination and on the struggle ahead for President Clinton's bid for re-election.
He said the press continues to play an increasingly important role in the outcome of elections.
In its attempt to boost ratings and sell newspapers, he said the press has paid less attention to Dole--despite polls showing him as the front-runner--and instead has shined the spotlight on other candidates in an attempt to get a "horse race" going and make the campaign more compelling.
"They overemphasize the closeness of the race in order to get the adrenaline flowing," said Polsby. "All this can cost the front-runner votes." Polsby said Dole's big test will be who he picks for vice president if he gets nominated.
"He will probably not choose a right-winger, but a centrist.
"I think Colin Powell would make a good candidate. Or (Indiana Senator and Republican presidential candidate) Richard Lugar," said Polsby.
"If Dole fails, it's because Steve Forbes was puffed up too much by the media."
Polsby said President Clinton will be running "against Congress, not a Republican nominee. He will hold up his pen and say, 'this pen will cast vetoes, my opponent won't.'"
All things considered, Polsby said this year's presidential nomination race has been pretty conventional so far.
"People are behaving as expected. The public saying all the candidates are unsatisfactory is normal. We always say that," Polsby said.
Polsby also explored some of the problems with presidential elections, such as low voter turnout.
"The answers most often given are that Americans feel alienated, they don't like the choices they are given, and are disaffected by government because they don't trust politicians," said Polsby.
"But in Italy, where surveys show the worst morale among the electorate, there is very high turnout."
Polsby blames the lack of voter participation on the low number of registered voters.
"You must re-register each time you move. Americans are an unusually mobile people.
"Seventeen percent of Americans change their address annually. You end up losing a lot of people on the registration rolls," he said.
Calls for campaign finance reform and for making campaigns shorter pose their own set of problems, Polsby said.
"If you set spending limits, then it becomes a matter of who the most famous person is getting all the attention," he said.
"And would you really want to cut campaigns shorter? Don't you want enough time to really get to know these people running for president?"
As for third parties, Polsby said the system is "rigged against them. Unless a candidate from a third party is completely secure in some region, they can't get the electoral colleges needed."
In a question and answer session following his talk, Polsby was asked why women were not considered as an influencing factor in the Republican race. He said women vote more Democratic than Republican by a margin of 10 points.
When asked why there are not more women in government, Polsby said it had less to do with politics and more with social patterns.
As more women enter the fields of law and public policy, "things will surely change," he said.
The next two lectures, which begin at 2 p.m. in the Toll Room in Alumni House, will feature The Vice Chancellor and Provost Carol Christ discussing "The Victorian Way of Death" March 21, and Materials Science and Mineral Engineering professor and chair Ronald Gronsky speaking on "Taking a Look at the Building Blocks of Matter: Atomic Resolution Microscopy" April 25.