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ISU Bone Distinguished Lecture addresses the implications of the 2020 election

The January 6 attack on the Capitol.
Samuel Corum
Getty Images
The Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol.

The 2020 election is long over, but the hyper-partisan politics that defined it are not. The widening gulf in the American electorate will be one topic of conversation Monday during the Robert G. Bone Distinguished Lecture at Illinois State University.

The lecture will be delivered by John Sides, a political scientist from Vanderbilt University. He is the author of "The Bitter End: The 2020 Presidential Campaign and the Challenge to American Democracy."

Sides spoke with WGLT’s Sarah Nardi in advance of Monday’s lecture. The conversation has been lightly edited for clarity.

Trump is a millionaire or billionaire — depending on who you believe — which makes is surprising he’s able to connect with so many people that don’t share any lived experience with him. Do you think he accidentally tapped into a sentiment coursing beneath the populace somehow?

“Oh, yeah, absolutely. There's a real reservoir of opinion. The easiest way to put a put it in a nutshell is to say that there's very much a perception that people who felt left behind, maybe economically, maybe culturally, were already blaming — or very much willing to blame — others for that circumstance. And so, part of when Trump is talking about, let's say, immigrants, or undocumented immigrants, or racial and ethnic minorities of various kinds, I think he's playing into this perception that if I'm not getting ahead, it's because other people are cutting in line.

Dr. John Sides
Dr. John Sides

Post-Trump, what are the implications of a mobilized base who feels that way? Is there a way to bring them back into a more mainstream conversation about the future of the country? Or is the toothpaste out of the tube on that?

I think some of that toothpaste is out of the tube in a couple different ways. One is that the shifts that we observed in 2016, where you had white Obama voters, who, despite voting for Obama, did not have particularly progressive attitudes about race and immigration, ended up shifting to Trump. What we observed in 2020 was those people stayed with Trump. It wasn't a wasn't a one-off. And so, part of what we've documented is that people's views about race and immigration are increasingly aligned with their partisanship. And that is not going away.

Thinking about politics in the wake of the Jan. 6 insurrection, have we been in a place like this before? Where so much of a person's identity seems to line up beneath their political affiliations?

We have a historical lens on the electorate that really only goes back to the 1940s, with the advent of public polling. So, I'm conscious that like, it's hard to make a broad statement across the sweep of American history here. But I think what political scientists have documented over this period of time, and particularly in the last 20 or so years, is two related things. One is that certain kinds of demographic characteristics line up with party in in ways they didn't use to. So, you used to imagine that the Democratic and Republican parties would be divided internally, on the basis of certain demographics. Like you had church-going Democrats and non-church-going Democrats — that kind of thing.

Now, church-going is pretty aligned with partisanship. Race and racial identity are pretty aligned with partisanship. Whether you identify as liberal or conservative is pretty aligned with partisanship. Your views on different kinds of issues are better aligned with partisanship. Some of those trends are long-term trends. Some of those trends are shorter-term trends. The trends on race and immigration are actually a more recent vintage, and Trump bears a significant role in helping to create those partisan differences.

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Sarah Nardi is a WGLT reporter. She previously worked for the Chicago Reader covering Arts & Culture.
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