There are just 11 days left for Alabama residents to register in order to vote in the primary elections.
“On one level, voting is a very personal thing. so it is very difficult to give general advice,” said Steven Taylor, divisional chair and professor in the political science department. “It would be really nice if people stopped to think not just about their wishes, but how a given candidate could actually work in our system if they were to win.”
The primaries have begun in order for each major party to nominate a candidate to be the official party representative.
While he said that this election has been different, Taylor said that the same problems that always crop up have presented themselves.
“Candidates can promise all kinds of things, and they always do,” said Taylor. “But our Congress is designed to make blocking things easier than doing things.”
Taylor noted flaws in both Donald Trump’s and Bernie Sanders’ campaigns, each resting at far ends of the political spectrum.
“Separated powers mean that a president, in terms of domestic policy in particular, has to get Congress to get along with him or her,” he said. “And that has been difficult in recent years.”
Considering remarks that Trump has made about the different branches of government, Taylor said that “he seems to forget he has to work with Congress” if he were to be elected president, while some of Sanders’ campaign promises have been “unrealistic.”
According to Taylor, one of the two important issues to keep in mind as the elections draw closer is foreign policy.
“The one area that presidents have the latitude to act is foreign policy,” he said. “What you’re really electing when you elect a president is who is going to be guiding our foreign policy in the next four years.”
According to a poll organized by Gallup in December 2015, Americans named terrorism as “the most important” problem for the United States right now, and the Gallup website says that it was “the highest percentage of Americans to mention terrorism in a decade.”
The president’s responsibility of naming new Supreme Court justices is another thing to keep in mind, according to Taylor.
“There’s almost certainly going to be some vacancies in the next four years,” he said.
Members of the Supreme Court are given a lifetime appointment. During their eight-year runs as president, both Barack Obama and George W. Bush elected two justices to the Supreme Court.
A Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy study found that in 2006 the average age of retirement from the court was 78.7. By the time the next president is inaugurated, three of the current justices — Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Anthony Kennedy and Antonin Scalia — will be over that average and one — Stephen Breyer — will be within two years of reaching it.
Of these four justices, Ginsburg and Breyer were appointed by Democratic presidents, while Kennedy and Scalia were appointed by Republicans.
Besides the possibility of being able to radically change the landscape of the nation’s highest court, other aspects of this election cycle have been unique as well.
“Donald Trump is an unusual candidate in more than one way,” Taylor said. “Setting aside one’s particular views on Mr. Trump, it is unusual for a candidate that has no service in government to be as high in the polls as he is.
“Donald Trump seems to be tapping into some economic anxiety and also some racial concerns. As the country becomes more diverse, this causes some disquietudes. He has this element to his viewpoint that is identity-based.”
Taylor said that while predictions would be hard to make at this stage as “the Republican side has been very fragmented,” he did say that candidates would begin quitting the race as the primaries go on through June.
Since the Iowa caucus Monday night, the first contest of the primary season, Democrat Martin O’Malley and Republican Mike Huckabee have dropped out.
“Mathematically, any individual voter has practically zero influence on the outcome,” Taylor said. “Barring the remarkable and unpredictable, Republicans will win the Alabama electoral college.
“So you could make a pretty strong argument on yeah, your vote doesn’t matter. However, if I stay home and don’t vote, my vote may not matter. If lots of people stay home and don’t vote, this could have an influence.”
This argument has long been ascribed to Millennials’ apparent lack of voting. According to the U.S. Census, 38 percent of those aged 18 to 24 voted in the 2012 elections compared to 64.4 percent of those aged 45 to 64.
“Young people in general don’t vote,” said Taylor. “Millennials are just the latest in a longstanding trend.”
“There’s something about being civically engaged and understanding your role in the process,” he said. “You are letting your voice be heard even if it’s one small voice in a multitude.”
Alabama residents can register to vote online at alabamavotes.gov and have until Feb. 15 to be registered in time for the March 1 Republican and Democratic primaries.
“The only advice I would give is to do some homework beyond the commercials and the debates, which are often of limited usefulness,” Taylor said. “Look at multiple viewpoints — don’t get trapped into listening only to people that agree with you.”