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Recall symposium stimulates academic proposals

| 22 October 2003

After political strategists, pollsters, journalists, and campaign consultants spent last Saturday discussing and debating the California gubernatorial recall, professors from across the state met to map out their own strategies for dissecting the election and discerning lessons to be learned from it.

The Institute for Governmental Studies, which sponsored the all-day election post-mortem, is bringing together 39 professors of political science, public policy, economics, law, and journalism to study — and try to solve — many of the puzzles of the historic recall.

“This represents the third project in which the IGS has taken on multi-campus, research unit-like responsibilities, initiating and funding cross-campus research endeavors on important California subjects,” said Bruce Cain, IGS director and professor of political science. Previous projects explored constitutional revision in California and the blanket primary.

Participants in the recall research come from Berkeley and five other UC campuses, as well as Stanford University, Hastings College of Law, the University of Southern California, Claremont McKenna College, California State University at Fullerton, and Sonoma State, as well as the Public Policy Institute of California.

Research topics discussed Saturday included:
• a comparison of California’s gubernatorial recall with recalls at the local government level and in other states;
• the impact of public opinion polls;
• the recall’s impact on business and state budget politicking;
• voter turnout, absentee voting, minority politics, and the role of voter gender;
• legal questions, such as whether the incumbent in a recall should be, or has a right to be, on the second part of the ballot;
• how the media framed the election and the replacement candidates;
• how the news media will cover the new governor if they find themselves elbowed aside by entertainment media;
• voting and registration systems, and the machinery used to record and count ballots;
• the roles of political mistrust, anger, partisanship, and defecting Democrats;
• the candidates’ policy positions, and whether those positions reflected real choices facing the state;
• campaign finance;
• the impact of litigation throughout the recall campaign;.
• whether the California recall will fuel similar efforts in the future, and if so, is there a way to forecast them.
Susan Rasky, a senior lecturer at the Graduate School of Journalism, said she hopes funding can be obtained for comprehensive exploration of the un-precedented media coverage of the recall.

“I think it’s important for the political scientists to help us understand the contemporary media and its impact on electioneering,” she said. “And the most important contribution academia can make to this is to devise a sound methodology for tracking Internet use, talk radio, and local broadcast media — which is where modern campaigns are played.”

The researchers will gather again in spring 2004 to update one another on their progress. The California legislature also is scheduled to hold hearings next year about laws relating to recall elections.

“The recall is clearly an event that had enormous consequences for the state of California,” said Shaun Bowler, a professor of political science at UC Riverside who led the research discussions. He credited IGS for taking the lead in organizing UC systemwide to look at the important issue.

The American Political Science Association journal PS will publish a symposium of papers on the recall by several of the professors involved in the research project. An edited book containing the research also is a possibility, Bowler said.