Douglas Schoen — strategic consultant to former U.S. President Bill Clinton LAW ’73, current senior advisor to New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and business partner to dismissed Sen. Hillary Clinton LAW ’73 campaign manager Mark Penn — came to campus Wednesday to share his thoughts on the U.S. presidential election and the changing American political landscape with Yale students.
In a talk entitled “The Rise of Independent Politics in America,” Schoen spoke about the campaigns of Democratic hopefuls Clinton and Sen. Barack Obama and American attitudes toward politics. In attendance were about 10 undergraduates and a handful of graduate and professional students.
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Public-opinion polls in this year’s election have fluctuated constantly and unpredictably, Schoen said at the beginning of his talk, but the American people’s widespread dissatisfaction with partisanship and partisan politics has persisted throughout.
Despite having less experience than Clinton, Obama has a message that makes him more likely to win the Democratic nomination, Schoen said.
“Barack hits the mood of the nation just right and speaks to the essence of what people want,” he said. “His message of unity is clear and compelling, making him better positioned to win the Democratic nomination.”
In contrast, Schoen said, Clinton has been forced to “go negative.” Although this tactic has been successful to some extent, he said, it has also brought her criticism for being unauthentic — a sign, perhaps, that she should reinforce and clarify her stance on big issues like the economy and healthcare.
Schoen was skeptical about presumptive Republican nominee Sen. John McCain’s chances of winning in the November general election.
“[McCain] represents a continuation of Bush, particularly with regards to the war in Iraq,” he said.
In a dialogue that followed Schoen’s talk, students exchanged their thoughts and opinions about the candidates. David Broockman ’11, who spoke about how candidates try to convey “perception as reality,” said he wondered whether Clinton’s recent attempts to portray Obama as elitist have hurt her chances.
While understanding public perceptions is important, Schoen said, an election is an election, after all. Each candidate has to play to his or her own strengths to reach the voters, he said.
During the discussion, Arther Nacht DRA ’09 expressed his disillusionment with the honesty of the candidates and questioned whether authenticity can ever be a large part of the campaign process.
Schoen said he could not definitively answer Nacht’s question. But the candidates, particularly Obama, “do believe in the things they say,” Schoen said.
Schoen is a founding partner and a principal strategist of polling firm Penn, Schoen & Berland and author of the recently published book, “Declaring Independence: Beginning of the End of the Two-Party System.”