2016’s seemingly endless presidential campaign cycle stretched for nearly twenty months and came to a quick conclusion on November 8th, 2016. In a campaign marked with hostility and record levels of disapproval, civility between candidates and their supporters appeared to have evaporated. A departure from this tension-filled political climate occurred in Minneapolis ten days before Election Day: the Twin Cities Election Forum. Held at the University of Minnesota, and supported by the College of Liberal Arts’ Joan Aldous Innovation Fund, fifty-two Twin Cities residents gathered for five hours at the University of Minnesota to discuss the most compelling reasons to support each presidential candidate and understand why their fellow Minnesota residents might support each candidate.
The project was led by C. Daniel Myers, professor at the University of Minnesota’s College of Liberal Arts. As consultants for the project, Jefferson Center staff joined Dr. Myers by training student facilitators and assisting in the design and execution of the event. We selected participants to mirror, as nearly as possible, the demographic and political makeup of the seven county Twin Cities metropolitan area.
Upon their arrival, forum participants completed surveys to assess political attitudes and track any shifts resulting from participation in the deliberative event. The goal of the event was not to change the minds of voters about which candidate to support, but rather to cultivate mutual understanding among citizens with opposing political beliefs. Forum participants were charged with “producing a list of reasons why Twin Cities voters might support each of the major-party presidential candidates.”
Participants were split into diverse small groups and listened to presentations from Chris Fields, Vice-Chair of the Minnesota Republican Party and Ken Martin, Chair of the Minnesota DFL Party, about each of the major party candidates. Participants had the opportunity to ask questions of the party representatives before they began deliberating to respond to the charge. The small group deliberations were facilitated by Dr. Myers’ students.
In small groups, participants developed reasons they felt most compelling in support of each candidate. Many of the reasons were echoed between tables, so some consolidation by the organizers was necessary. Final surveys were completed with the same questions of the first to measure any changes in attitudes and understanding. After the surveys, participants assessed the top ten reasons in support of each candidate before being excused to collect their $75 participation stipend.
Dr. Myers’ final report demonstrated a sharp cleavage between Clinton supporters and Trump supporters. Both candidates’ supporters reported a fairly high level of understanding of opposing perspectives, although Clinton supporters tended to understand reasons to support Trump better than Trump supporters understood reasons to voting for Clinton. Supporters of each candidate found a few of the ten reasons to support the other candidate unpersuasive. Third party (mostly Gary Johnson) supporters aligned more closely with pro-Trump reasons than pro-Clinton reasons.
The vast majority of participants felt that the event was fair and unbiased, that other participants listened well and were respectful and courteous, and that “politics should be like this more often.” As we work towards a future that will be more civil, more informed, and centered around many more voices and perspectives, we share this same hope.
See the reasons in support of each candidate in the final report.