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National Agenda Director Lindsay Hoffman (top left) discussed the role of Russia in U.S. politics, election fraud allegations, and poll results with GQ Magazine correspondent Julia Ioffe and special guest Domenico Montanaro, a University of Delaware alumnus and NPR’s senior political editor and correspondent.
By Laura Matusheski, University of Delaware junior and intern for the University of Delaware Center for Political Communication
Watch the video. Read the transcript. To learn more about the National Agenda student experience, read "Keeping the Conversation Going" by CPC intern and National Agenda student Sean O'Connor.
DECEMBER 14, 2020—Russian interference deeply marked the 2016 presidential election. With allegations of widespread voter fraud, have Russian interests returned to infiltrate the system four years later? On November 11, the University of Delaware welcomed two political journalists to set the record straight and predict what voters can expect between Election Day and Inauguration Day.
Talking about Russian interference in the 2020 presidential election is very much fighting the last war, said Julia Ioffe, a correspondent at GQ Magazine. She joined the National Agenda 2020 webinar series, "We Are the People," hosted by the Center for Political Communication. Lindsay Hoffman, Ph.D., director of the National Agenda program, led the discussion.
As a former staff writer at The Atlantic and former Russian correspondent for The New Yorker, Ioffe has become a leading authority on Russian-US relations, with expertise built on years of in-depth reporting in Russia. Born in Moscow, Ioffe’s family moved to America when she was seven years old.
It is still unclear how much Russia may have disrupted the 2020 presidential election, “but the Russians are trying to be a bit more careful,” said Ioffe. “Vladimir Putin has yet to congratulate Joe Biden. And today, for example, the Deputy Foreign Minister of Russia said, ‘We’re not even going to talk to the Biden transition team until a new president is sworn in in January.’”
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“I think what was very different in this election than in 2016 and in the aftermath of 2016 is that Donald Trump threw it wide open. The fact that there were no real consequences for him for inviting openly on camera inviting Russian interference during the 2016 campaign.” she said. “And then saying again openly, China, you want to help me out? Ukraine, you want to help me?”
Following President Trump’s acquittal of impeachment charges last February, “we saw the Colombian government interfering and selling ads or broadcasting ads in the Miami area saying that Biden was a socialist,” said Ioffe. “We saw that the Iranians were meddling in this election. The Chinese were meddling in the election.”
Referring to a June 2019 ABC News interview, “[President Trump] said it to George Stephanopoulos on camera, when he was asked, ‘Would you take foreign help to win your election?' And he said ‘Absolutely,’” said Ioffe. “And, if you’re the leader of a foreign country or the leader of a foreign intelligence service you’d be an idiot not to take him up on that.”
The allegations of Russian interference in the 2016 election brought US-Russian relations to a nadir, said Ioffe. “Russia has become such a toxic part of our domestic politics, it’s become this third rail.” With suspicion and hostility on both sides, “I don’t think this incoming administration is predisposed to try to find any common ground with Russia.”
UD alumnus and CPC senior fellow Domenico Montanaro (AS01) gave a post-election update. As National Public Radio's senior political editor and correspondent, Montanaro appears on air and online for NPR, delivering analysis of the political climate in Washington and campaigns.
Disputing Trump’s false claims, Montanaro said there has been no evidence of widespread voter fraud in the 2020 election. “Once in a while you’ll have people who will fill out the wrong ballot. They put the wrong name. They do something surreptitious, but it’s not in the magnitude and order it would need to be able to overturn this election.”
“President Trump has become the first president in the modern television era to not concede,” said Montanaro. Although Montanaro wasn’t surprised about Trump’s refusal to concede, he was surprised about the number of Republicans who have enabled him. Referring to Georgia's upcoming special election on January 5 that will determine control of the U.S. Senate (triggered after Georgia’s two U.S. Senate races failed to win a majority of the vote on November 3), Montanaro said the Republicans are motivated by the crucial need for Trump votes in the runoff. “You have to ask if it’s worth your integrity,” he said.
Montanaro said that the “shy Trump voter” theory doesn’t completely explain why the polls were wrong, although he has observed Trump voters in a focus group qualify their support to avoid a confrontation. Montanaro believed that Trump voters were underrepresented in voter polls because they “distrust the media, distrust pollsters, and didn’t want to talk to them.” There was also no historical precedent to adjust for the “massive amount of early votes,” which overwhelmingly went to Biden.
Montanaro and Ioffe agreed that a civil society depends on a peaceful transfer of power. “It’s been such an important thing since the mid-19th century or so to have leaders and changes in this country where you don’t have coups, where you don’t have civil unrest, because you have leaders who take the temperature down,” said Montanaro. With definitive communication from leaders, more people would comply with protective measures during the coronavirus pandemic, such as wearing masks, said Montanaro. “It’s really dangerous for a society if one plus one equals three for one person and one plus one equals two for another.”
“It’s not just that we can’t agree on what one plus one equals,” added Ioffe. “It’s that we live in separate information bubbles.”
Not only does a lack of a formal concession from Trump create uncertainty, it also may be a threat to national security. “When you don’t have a smooth transition with cooperation like we’re seeing right now,” said Montanaro, “and you’re undercutting what the integrity of the election which is the thing that separates the United States from corrupt countries around the world, you’re setting up a recipe for a national security disaster.”
Ioffe shared vital advice on how to have civil, political discourse. “Stay calm and stick to facts.I find what works in interviewing people is empathy. It doesn’t mean you agree with them, it doesn’t mean you condone their beliefs. It means that you are trying for this moment to understand where they're coming from and what has shaped their beliefs and to kind of put yourself in their shoes a little bit.”
The 2020 edition of the University of Delaware's National Agenda program, "We Are the People," calls attention to the power of us—the citizens of the United States—as well as the liberties granted to us by the Constitution. Even in this tumultuous time, our right to vote in elections remains one of the most important acts we can perform as Americans. The 10th annual National Agenda speaker series tackles the issues facing the nation, with insight from a humorist, Hollywood producers, political insiders, and national journalists. In light of COVID-19 restrictions, National Agenda 2020 is presented as a series of webinars on Zoom. It is a free online series and open to the public. Lindsay Hoffman, Ph.D., UD associate professor of communication and political science, directs the program. It is made possible with support from the Office of the Provost and the College of Arts and Sciences. Learn more at cpc.udel.edu/nationalagenda.