Kansas State invited Kenneth Schultz, professor in political science at Stanford, to share his expertise and experience with political parties and United States foreign policy on Friday as part of the Provost Distinguished Lecture Series.
Schultz said America’s political party system is like a skateboarding half-pipe, with two peaks on both sides representing the two parties and a low point in the middle representing the independents, known as the “disappearing center.”
15 years ago, things were different, Schultz said. In the past, there was a larger presence of “conservative Democrats” and “liberal Republicans,” terms that seem oxymoronic today.
“It’s not so much about the parties moving away from each other, towards more extreme beliefs,” Schultz said. “It’s about a sorting of the mass public. We’re seeing an increasing consistency in ideological positions. People who were liberal we’ve seen become Democrats, and people who were conservative we’ve seen become Republicans.”
This point in particular stood out to Ian Boyd, sophomore in political science.
“Democrats are clearly on the left, and Republicans are clearly on the right,” Boyd said. “This in turn has decreased the ability for bipartisan bills to be voted into law and for more moderate approaches to issues to be drawn up.”
Schultz called this decreased ability to move bipartisan legislature forward “gridlock from party polarization.” These political stalemates can lead to frustration for many Americans.
“For me, it’s frustrating because I want the two main sides to be able to work together, but polarization is preventing our government and our nation from being effective in creating positive change together,” Anna Spexarth, sophomore in political science, said.
Schultz’s lecture also explored what partisanship means and how that can affect America’s foreign policy.
“The United States’ foreign policy hinges on its ability to make long-term commitments,” Schultz said.
According to Schultz, these long-term agreements create a stability that is ideal for international relationships. Studies show a “partisan cycle in the way countries view the U.S. during a Republican presidency.” What that means is many countries’ support of the U.S. fluctuates depending on the political party of our current president.
For example, the U.S. had more positive international support during Barack Obama’s eight-year run and less international support during George W. Bush’s presidency. President Donald Trump’s administration is also receiving low international support, Schultz said.
Part of Schultz’s lecture focused on America’s “vulnerability to foreign intervention,” particularly in regards to elections.
“How do you react to an advertisement that was bought by a foreign country to intervene in our political election?” Schultz said.
Schultz said both major parties actually have partisan interests, according to a survey he found.
The survey’s questions focused on whether people thought Russia had a part in the recent presidential election results. The results showed that Trump supporters denied these allegations, while Clinton supporters believed these allegations.
“Ultimately, what it did was create winners and losers, and that’s why it’s so insidious,” Schultz said.
Sam Bell, associate professor of political science at K-State, had a crucial role in bringing Schultz to campus since he spent last fall on sabbatical at Stanford.
“Professor Schultz is one of the more important researchers on the topic of international conflict and foreign policy… There is no one better to have presenting these important and complex problems than Professor Schultz,” Bell said.
Schultz emphasized the importance of staying engaged in political conversations.
“Part of being informed is exposing yourself to many different viewpoints,” Schultz said. “Resist getting angry and frustrated. In the end, we have to live together as a country.”