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Martinez works his magic on the gallery.
Paul Baker/the Gauntlet

Obamarama and the American election

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As the dust settles from the Canadian election, our neighbours to the south are preparing to head to the polls Tuesday. The American general election will see voters cast ballots for president, vice president, 11 state governors, 35 senators and all 435 congressional seats.

Throughout October, the University of Calgary's Institute for United States Policy Research has been hosting a videoconference series, the Race to the White House. The conferences have brought political experts like Canadian Press Washington bureau chief Lee-Anne Goodman and University of Florida associate professor Michael Martinez to share their views on the election with the U of C community.

"Every time I think it can't get more exciting or more wild, it does get more exciting and more wild," said Goodman. "It's historic. It's sort of turned a lot of stereotypes around on their heads and a lot of people's expectations about the way things were going to go and the way Americans were going to vote have been disproven."

Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama's lead in the latest polling has been discounted by some in the media as misleading. A number of different reasons have been discussed, including poll sample sizes, methodology and a reliance on landlines skewing the numbers.

"Polls are so interesting, we've seen them be completely wrong," said Goodman. "The last [2006] Canadian election they were kind of off. A lot of people suggest it's because they're not reaching cellphones. There's a whole generation of people under 30 that don't have landlines and so they're not getting reached."

One prominent theory that may affect polling is the Bradley Effect, named after failed 1982 California gubernatorial candidate Tom Bradley, an African-American who lost despite being up in voter polling. The rationale behind the Bradley Effect is some voters may not wish to appear racially prejudiced during an opinion poll, so they give false information that taints the polling numbers.

"Race is definitely part of what's going on in some voters' minds, but it's actually I think working both ways," said Martinez. "Some people are upset about the prospect of having a black candidate as president. I also do think that there are some people that are extraordinarily proud at the opportunity, a lot of them are African-Americans but not exclusively, of being part of the electorate that chooses the first black president."

Both Martinez and Goodman noted that early indicators-- increased party primary involvement and reports of long lines at advance polls-- suggest that in contrast to Canada's recent showing, the United States will likely see an increase in voter turnout.

"The expectations are that it's going to increase again," said Martinez. "It actually was about 60 per cent of the voting-eligible population in the United States in 2004 and the expectation is that it will go up somewhat in the United States in 2008. I don't know by how much, but it is obvious that lots of people have been mobilized."

While the historic presidential race between Obama and Republican candidate John McCain will draw a lot of attention on election night, Martinez noted there is potentially much more at stake in the Senate races with the Democrats seeking to win a 60-seat majority.

"I don't think the Democrats are in any danger of losing their majority in the Senate," said Martinez. "The question is, how big of a majority are they going to get?"

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