Professor addresses concerns of divided government

By Travis Taylor


Pat Flavin is an assistant professor of political science at Baylor who earned his Ph.D. in political science from Notre Dame. He sat down with the Lariat to give his insight into the results of the election and his predictions for the next four years.

Q: After seeing the results of the election, were there any surprises?

A: It was surprisingly unsurprising. What I mean by that is that all the polls going in showed, at least at the presidential level, that in the swing states the president had a small but robust lead, so two or three percentage points, and he won every one of those states; so states like Iowa, Wisconsin, Colorado, Ohio, Virginia. I guess the one surprise was Florida, because that was kind of a toss-up, and they finally got done with counting their votes Saturday, and he won that one as well. Going in, that was probably the most toss-up or undecided. It was hard to tell who was going to win that particular race.

Q: A lot of people focus on the presidential race. What happened in the congressional races?

A: Well, if we take a step back and just look at what we have after, there isn’t a whole lot of change. The Democrats picked up a couple of seats in the Senate; they’ll probably have 55- 54 plus one independent that’s going to join them- so 55 seats in the Senate, and in the House they picked up a couple of seats, but still the Republicans have a pretty strong majority there. So I think that’s the biggest result of the election, that we still have a divided government.

That means any legislative deal has to be compromised because the Senate can’t make laws on its own, the president can’t make a law on his own. It takes all three of them. So I think, oddly, after two years of complaining about nothing getting done in Washington, we’re back in the same place, which is a set-up for gridlock basically because we have opposing parties in the government.

Q: What would you say we could expect from the government in the next four years?

A: Well, with a divided government, sadly my expectation is not a whole lot. There’s indication there might be a deal on immigration; an actual comprehensive immigration bill as opposed to something that’s kind of piecemeal. I hope I’m wrong, but I kind of expect more gridlock. But with this fiscal cliff thing, something has got to happen. We risk dropping back into a recession.

But I gave you the pessimistic view; the optimistic view is that it’s the kick in the behind that we need to actually make a long term deal on getting control of the debt.

So maybe this is what we need. But in terms of the next two years, with a divided government, immigration is the one that stands out as a possibility. And the reason that I think that is because if you look at who voted for which candidate in the election, the Republicans have a demographic problem in that their core constituency is actually a demographic group that is getting smaller: whites, especially white men. Whereas the growing demographic group is Hispanics, and one way to kind of reach out to that group would be to get on board with the kind of immigration reform that sets a policy for all the people who are in the country illegally.

Q: Is there anything in particular that college students should be looking for in the next four years?

A: Yeah, I guess two things. One, you want the government to do something about this fiscal cliff or it’s going to be, for those graduating seniors, it’s going to be difficult to find a job.

The economy will most surely slow down and even go back into a recession, so that means people aren’t hiring, that means you’ll be graduating and it will be tougher to find a job. That’s kind of in the short term. In the long term, if we don’t get our debt under control, we do have to pay for that just like when you rack up things on the credit card. It doesn’t just go away. It’s going to fall on the backs of people that are your age and that means a bigger piece of the budget pie every year spent on paying that interest. That means there’s less money to spend on all the other things that we want government to spend on. So everyone has an interest, but I would say especially young people in getting control over the national debt.

Otherwise it’s going to crowd out all the other things we want government to spend money on. So, young people in particular want to see a bargain struck here that’s not just a short-term thing, it’s a long-term fix. And something has to happen in the next month and a half or so, so stay tuned.

The full transcript of this question-and-answer interview can be found at