Making Sense of the System

by David O’Connell, assistant professor of political science

David O'Connell

I teach courses on both American government and the presidency, but the truth is that the 2016 election is not going to have a major impact on what I do in the classroom. What I try to do is to introduce my students to the empirical research and historical context that can help them make sense not just of this election, but of any election. I want them to understand the dynamics of all presidential elections, not just this one. So, ironically perhaps, I will wind up talking about the 2016 election more in future semesters, once we have a full understanding of how this election might influence our understanding of topics like partisanship, turnout and so forth.

Where the election will have more of an impact for me is actually outside of the classroom. I have been actively involved with a variety of campus organizations as we plan a series of events where students can watch the debates and the election results. For me, events like these help fulfill one of the purposes of a liberal-arts education—they are events where students of different perspectives can come together to experience, analyze, debate and discuss history as it occurs. And, of course, it is my ultimate hope that the knowledge my students have gained in my courses will help make those discussions just a little bit more well-reasoned and well-informed than they otherwise would be.