As the midterm elections approach, Michigan State University offers a host of experts to media who can discuss pressing issues to the nation, ranging from political communication to the economy to education.
Johannes Bauer, Quello Chair for Media Information and Policy in the MSU College of Communication Arts and Sciences and professor in the Department of Media and Information, is an expert on harnessing the benefits of information and communication technologies while avoiding their downsides. Bauer can speak about how misinformation and disinformation spread and affect elections and society.
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“Misinformation, and especially disinformation, can bias voters’ choices and, hence, affect election outcomes. A broader and more concerning effect is that misinformation and disinformation undermine trust in elections, their outcomes, the media system reporting on elections and the broader political and governmental institutions that any prosperous, peaceful society needs. This could result in long-term damage to our country’s ability to solve the most challenging economic and social problems, which often require finding common ground.”
Dustin Carnahan, assistant professor in MSU’s Department of Communication, is an expert in political communication. Carnahan can discuss how communication processes — such as exposure to partisan news sources and the spread of misinformation — influence public opinion and political behavior.
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“One of the more notable things we are starting to see is some of the longer-term effects of misinformation, especially around the institution of voting. We have a slate of Republican candidates in states like Michigan, Nevada and Arizona who are up for statewide election administration offices that have openly endorsed the “big lie” that the 2020 election was illegitimate — and who are likely to be very competitive on election day. Should these people win their elections, they will have considerable influence into how future elections are conducted in their states. And there’s ample reason to think that they would immediately seek to enact measures that would be more restrictive of ballot access under false pretenses of widespread voter fraud and other unfounded allegations of misconduct. Further, they could have plenty of support in pursuing such measures from their fellow elected officials. A recent Washington Post analysis found that a majority of Republican candidates for statewide and federal offices do not believe the 2020 election was legitimate.
It could well be that these candidates publicly challenge the 2020 election while privately acknowledging its legitimacy, using their public stances to garner support from Trump-aligned voters. If so, this is a very dangerous game. Voting is the most central democratic institution we have, so spreading disinformation around such an important institution just to score political points might further erode confidence in the legitimacy of our elections. We are already seeing a notable decline in Americans’ confidence in election outcomes, particularly among Republicans. Should this continue, it seems fair to wonder what this means moving forward.”
Matt Grossmann, professor of political science, can discuss the candidates, political parties — especially Democratic/Republican differences — and the role of ideology and interest groups in each party as well as television advertising and candidate messages, campaign consultants, strategy and negativity. Grossmann also directs MSU's Institute for Public Policy and Social Research.
“Midterm elections are usually referendums on the incumbent president and their party, meaning President Biden's low approval and difficult economic news would normally doom Democrats. But this year, former President Trump and the Republican candidates he promoted are helping make the election more of a choice than a referendum — and the Supreme Court's abortion opinion is motivating Democrats as much as Biden's actions motivate Republicans.”
Will Repko, MSU's head debate coach, can discuss presidential and vice-presidential debates, including the candidates' performances, debating styles and the significance of the debates on the election.
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"Debates — including the upcoming Michigan Gubernatorial Debate — provide voters an opportunity to gauge candidates. A great deal is display, from candidate style to their ideas for public policy. Debates can create new messaging for campaigns. They also allow voters to assess how well candidates can think on their feet. As elections draw near, debates offer an important opportunity for candidates to shape their image. Exchanges can go in many directions. Sometimes candidates improve their image with voters and sometimes they do not."
Corwin Smidt, associate professor of political science, studies American electoral politics, presidential primaries, Michigan politics, campaign politics and dynamics in American political behavior.
"Traditionally, we would expect Republicans to gain seats in a midterm. But poll-based forecasts show the chances of either party controlling both the House and Senate are about as even as the chances the Democrats hold the Senate and the Republicans control the House. One reason for the uncertainty is that we don't have enough polls of at least five competitive U.S. House races this year, making forecasts less precise."
Ahmet H. Kirca, associate professor of international business and director of MSU’s International Business Center, can discuss how the U.S. election could affect the global economy. Specifically, Kirca can offer expertise on international trade policy, trade agreements, globalization, international political economy, U.S. international competitiveness and general international business issues.
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“If Democrats lose control of the U.S. Senate and/or House of Representatives, the Biden administration is likely to face serious policy gridlock that might have significant economic implications for the global economy. In this scenario, anti-free-trade sentiments fueled by high inflation and lingering risks of a recession in the U.S. might lead to the implementation of more protectionist trade and foreign direct investment policies. As we have seen in past global economic crises, these trade and economic policies would negatively affect the global economy, which has already slowed down because of the pandemic, higher interest rates, higher energy prices and geopolitical turmoil due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.”
Steven Melnyk, professor of supply chain management, has expertise in supply chain risk and resilience. Melnyk can share insights about the dynamics between economic changes and businesses around the world, considering impacts on supply and demand and what is needed going forward.
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“The current supply chain struggles in the U.S. contribute to issues such as inflation and scarcities. These issues are on the minds of many consumers and business owners. Supply chain problems have real impacts higher prices, out-of-stock products — but the solutions that many politicians are proposing are often too simplistic and attack the symptoms of supply chain struggles rather than the root causes.”
Anjana Susarla, professor of accounting and information systems, has expertise in the economics of information systems, social media analytics and the economics of artificial intelligence. Susarla can comment on the role of social media in elections and threats to election integrity via social media and algorithm biases. She recently authored an article on the readiness of social media platforms to handle misinformation ahead of the midterm elections.
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Pang-Ning Tan is a professor of computer science working in the area of data mining and its applications. Tan has conducted research on using artificial intelligence to detect vaccine misinformation in Twitter posts and can discuss the general use of AI technology in misinformation detection.
David Arsen, professor of education policy and K-12 education administration, can discuss school funding and the connections between federal and state funding issues.
“In the telework era, good schools and good broadband are the keys to economic development in Michigan’s hard-pressed rural communities. By focusing on divisive cultural issues in schools, candidates in the current election cycle are failing to explain to voters how they plan to improve rural educational opportunities. And that is a major loss for rural communities and Michigan as a whole.”
Brendan Cantwell, associate professor and coordinator of the Higher, Adult and Lifelong Education program, can discuss how policy and politics influence higher education in the United States.
“Expertise and institutional independence are on the ballot this fall. Partisan culture wars have spread beyond specific people, ideas and events. Now the target is public higher education itself. The contemporary Republican approach to higher education is part of a broader partisan campaign to undermine independent expertise. Anti-intellectualism has deep roots in American political life, and contemporary conservative suspicion of expertise and nonpartisan institutions has been brewing for a while. It’s based on ideological skepticism of government and regulation. Fox News, social media and conspiracy theories fuel mistrust in independent expertise. Indeed, the conservative movement has worked to degrade Americans’ trust in just about any institution that is not explicitly aligned with the Republican Party — be it government agencies, corporations, health-care providers, the media or colleges.”
Sarah Reckhow, assistant professor of political science, can discuss education policy and candidates’ positions on education.
“From pandemic school closures to school choice to recent controversies over LGBTQ and racial issues in the curriculum, we are seeing growing partisan polarization in education politics. Candidates for school boards and state offices are featuring these issues, sometimes to mobilize their base. Despite this attention to education issues, the core challenge of academic recovery for students since COVID-19 is getting less airplay.”
International and social issues
Sean Valles is director of the Center for Bioethics and Social Justice in the MSU College of Human Medicine. Valles is a philosopher of health specializing in the ethical complexities of how social contexts combine to create patterns of health disparities.
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“Michiganders’ access to maternity care and reproductive health care is at stake in the November elections. The Supreme Court’s decision to overturn the Roe v. Wade guarantee of basic abortion rights has put the future of reproductive rights into the hands of each state’s voters. The Michigan ballot includes a proposal to amend the state constitution to guarantee reproductive freedom, including fertility treatments, abortion care and the management of miscarriages. If that ballot proposal fails, then Michiganders’ health-care access and rights will remain cloudy and partly depend on the legislators and the governor elected. The 1931 Michigan abortion ban law, and similar laws in some other states, threatens to imprison doctors who provide abortion services to patients except in cases of life-threatening need. A prosecutor could second-guess a doctor’s medical judgment that there was a life-threatening need and put the doctor on trial. No doctor wants to face the impossible ethical choice of either standing back and watching a patient die or risking prison time. There are 33 counties in Michigan that already lack full access to maternity care, and hostile laws and politicians make it harder for the state to attract obstetricians and gynecologists. Michigan’s restrictive 1931 abortion ban law remains on pause, and the next governor and state legislators would have a great deal of influence over whether the law is dropped, reinstated or replaced with something similar. It is in the hands of Michigan’s voters now.”
Carla A. Pfeffer is director of the Consortium for Sexual and Gender Minority Health in the MSU College of Social Science. Pfeffer is a sociologist and gender scholar in the School of Social Work who specializes in analyses of stigma, discrimination and marginalization, and the impacts of social ills on health, families and society.
“Last week, five Michigan House Republican representatives (several of whom are currently running for re-election) introduced House Bill 6454. If passed, HB 6454 would ban gender-affirming medical care for Michigan transgender youth and criminalize parents and healthcare providers who support or offer it, with penalties of up to life imprisonment. Proposal 3 on the Nov. 8 ballot will determine whether sexual and gender minority people in Michigan, who have disproportionately high rates of unintended pregnancy, will continue to have safe and legal access to comprehensive reproductive health care, including abortion. Across the state and country, we’re seeing school board elections become some of the most contested on the midterm ballot as extremist ‘disruptors’ aim to take over school boards, promoting anti-LGBTQIA+ agendas and banning or censoring materials that promote diversity, equity and inclusion in our public schools. Educational environments that are unwelcoming and exclusionary to some students are unhealthy for all students. In short, this midterm election will surely be consequential for LGBTQIA+ health and well-being, particularly that of Michigan’s LGBTQIA+ youth.”
Matt Zierler, associate professor of international relations in James Madison College, can discuss foreign policy and international issues related to the election, including implications for diplomacy, defense posture and identification of potential threats like the Islamic State and Russia. Zierler can also discuss the Iran nuclear deal.
“Many voters this year are thinking about the economy when making their candidate selections. Issues like inflation, energy prices and supply chain disruptions are front of mind. But many do not understand fully how these issues are fundamentally related to international politics. Most candidates are not focusing seriously on the world, and if so, it is often to demonize other countries. But the United States’ role in the world should be more centrally and carefully debated in congressional and state elections than has typically been the case.”