Dr. Lori Cox Han Talks Politics with NAC Students at Chapman Visiting Scholars Series Presentation

On Saturday, March 22, Dr. Lori Cox Han gave her presentation, “Politics and the Millennial Generation” to Nicholas Academic Centers’ students as part of the Chapman University Visiting Scholars Series. Dr. Han, a professor in the Wilkinson College of Humanities and Social Sciences at Chapman University, is an accomplished author whose area of expertise includes American government, with research interests in the presidency, women and politics, media and politics, and political leadership.
To open the lecture, Dr. Han outlined the scope of the discipline of political science, noting that in addition to talking about states, nations, and government, political scientists raise awareness about political issues and inform citizens. Dr. Han noted, “As citizens, we need to take a very active role in our government and in policy making.” One of the ways in which citizens can take an active role is voting, an act Dr. Han encouraged students to register to do as soon as they come of age. Dr. Han added, “It’s one of the most important ways you can have a voice and get involved in our system of government.”
Students learned they are often grouped in what is known as the “millennial” generation, which supposes they share some common traits, including being socially connected, technologically inclined, likely to have tattoos, and more likely to identify themselves as “liberals.” After describing “millennials,” Dr. Han asked students what they consider important, and she challenged students to consider the role politics plays in their lives. One student, Denise Beltran, expressed concern about having to “clean up the mess of previous generations.” Many students said they value education, and Dr. Han noted that experts claim it may be the next economic “bubble” to burst, considering the high number of college graduates with extensive debt and minimal job opportunities.
At one point during her lecture, Dr. Han asked students if they think they’ll see a woman president in their lifetime, and she also asked about the significance of such an election and what it would change about the office of the presidency. Through discussion, students noted the symbolic significance, claiming the election of the first female president would represent diversity in the oval office. Several students shared that President Barack Obama’s election changed their minds as to what is possible. Concerning how the office would change, Dr. Han suggested it would depend on the person elected. Hilary Clinton, for example, stands as someone more interested in foreign policy as opposed to domestic issues, which in some ways sets her apart. As a “Clinton,” she would also bring a larger history to the position. Regardless of whether the President is male or female, the duties of the President would remain the same. The biggest change, it seems, would be from having a first-lady to instead having a first gentleman.
The trend over the last few years, however, sees women moving away from politics.  Dr. Lori Cox Han claims that it would help to get more women into lower level political positions, from city council to the office of the governor. This would help pave the way to someday get a woman into the presidency.
According to Dr. Han, the approval rating for the President has dropped to around 44%, while the approval rating for Congress sits around 10%. Do these approval ratings matter? Dr. Han affirms that they do. Low voter turnout, especially during midterm elections, often contributes to the reelection of politicians who continually serve with low approval ratings. Why is this? We have too many elections & choices; the U.S. has over 500,000 elected officials, and millions more campaigning.  Voting on Tuesdays might also factor in to low voter turnout. The basis for Tuesday voting goes back to early agrarian days and people coming back from market. What about online voting? Given the high potential for hacker interference, online voting will not likely happen anytime soon. Another reason people might not vote is that potential voters are likely uninformed and more often feel their votes won’t make a difference.  Dr. Han predicts that an increase in millennial voting would result in drastic policy priorities.
Dr. Han also talked about the role “new” media and “news” media play in politics. Many students chose Youtube as a favorite site to watch media. Dr. Han noted that a politician’s actions could have a significant impact, both positive and negative, if a video were to go viral. Dr. Han suggested that Obama’s success, in many ways, stems from his successful use of these social networks. When asked if he trusts the news media, NAC student Mark Aguirre responded, “Somewhat. I don’t always feel they give the full story.” Dr. Han supported Mark’s response, noting that the public in general maintains a “healthy skepticism” of the media. The media, after all, is profit driven. As a result of current media trends, people likely know more about politicians’ personal lives than their political platforms. The paradox exists that despite innovations in technology and the availability of information, people are more often overwhelmed, and as a result, under informed.
Enter the ESPN-effect of politics. Political coverage seems to be modeled on sports broadcasting, including the build up to “the big game,” for an event like the State of the Union Address. Follow-up commentary works similarly as well. Dr. Han notes that commentators often speculate, “Did Obama’s speech hit a homerun?” Dr. Han reminded students, “This is our government. This is not a game.” Partisan politics work much like sports, with an “us vs. them” mentality.  There should be more room for compromise as opposed to defining a clear winner and loser. Dr. Han believes that this style of broadcasting continues because people find it more “interesting.” As a result, politicians are treated more like celebrities than politicians. According to Dr. Han, “We don’t get what we need to know; instead, we get what is more profitable.” Dr. Han asked students to consider who’s to blame? Media outlets for following this format, or audiences for not getting more involved?
Before closing her presentation, Dr. Han reminded students that news sources often provide more entertainment than information. While NPR tends to go more in depth, other networks like CNN, MSNBC, and FOX, contribute more to the “echo chamber,” which only serves to reinforce the partisan ideals of the audiences who tend to follow these networks. The current scope of information available from the media is narrow in focus, which works for specialization, but is less helpful for understanding the bigger picture. Dr. Han encouraged students to register to vote, to do their research to stay properly informed, and lastly to get involved, whether at the ballot box or beyond.

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