Georgetown Invites Student and Public Engagement in the 2016 Election

By Michael Wieczorek, Executive Assistant to the President, AJCU

From left: Jerry Seib, Melinda Hennenberger, John Carr, Emma Green, Mark Shields (Photo by Georgetown University)

From left: Jerry Seib, Melinda Hennenberger, John Carr, Emma Green, Mark Shields (Photo by Georgetown University)

On September 13th, Georgetown University sought to examine some of the major forces at play during this election season in the panel discussion, “Faith, Anger, and Trust in Campaign 2016,” which was co-hosted by the Georgetown Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life and the Institute of Politics and Public Service at Georgetown University. The panel featured an impressive array of individuals, including Mark Shields, a well-known commentator on PBS NewsHour and Jerry Seib, the Washington bureau chief of The Wall Street Journal.

John Carr, director of the Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life, served as moderator for the event. In the historic Gaston Hall on Georgetown’s main campus, he began the discussion by saying, “In some ways, anger has been more powerful [throughout] this election than money.” He then asked Seib to consider the question, “In Clinton vs. Trump, who is angry, and why?” 

Seib pointed to the diverging economic realities of varying segments of the population, and emphasized that many Americans believe the major institutions in this country are broken. He said, "People are angry not only at what is happening in Washington, but also at what is not happening in Washington." In his observations, fear of the future and anger at the present have reached high levels this year; indeed, they are "the two most powerful emotions in politics."



Another panelist, Melinda Henneberger, a visiting fellow at the Catholic University of America’s Institute for Policy Research and Catholic Studies, added that the political industry has been feeding the anger in the electorate for a long time- in part because, “there is no fundraising without outrage.”

Shields added that the failure to hold the barons of Wall Street legally accountable for the 2008 financial crisis is a key part of the anger in the electorate, as well as the United States’ wars in the Middle East. He asked, “Who bore the burden of those wars? It was the sons and daughters of blue collar workers and white blue collar workers themselves.”

The discussion then turned to the issue of trust in the 2016 campaign and dissatisfaction with the candidates. Seib noted the unusually high unfavorability ratings of both candidates this cycle. He explained that in previous elections, Wall Street Journal polls on presidential races always had options for voters to indicate support for either candidate or show they were “undecided.” But this year, for the first time, the poll featured “neither” as an additional option for voters who decided against supporting either candidate.

In discussing trust, Seib said, “The intelligent Trump voters feel guilty about their vote but are trying to justify it by saying, ‘I know he is not telling the truth, but I think he will get something done.’”

Finally, the conversation turned to the role of religion in this election, and its impact on voters' decisions. Henneberger said, “I think voters tend to wrap a religious justification around a candidate they have picked for other reasons.”

Shields echoed the sentiment that religion is seldom a primary motivation for voters, and colorfully argued that evangelical support for Trump is nonsensical. In doing so, he highlighted the fact that these are the same voters who used to say that character was their biggest issue with President Bill Clinton. 

The fourth panelist, Emma Green, a Georgetown graduate and Senior Associate Editor for The Atlantic, noted that last summer, the U.S. saw a reversal among the parties in regard to religion. She said that instead of appearing as a major theme at the Republican National Convention, it was regularly invoked at the Democratic National Convention.

The panel discussion concluded with questions from the audience that covered numerous topics, including the media’s role in the rise of Donald Trump and Pope Francis’ impact on Americans.


In addition to engaging students and the public through discussion forums on the election, Georgetown is also encouraging its students to vote by utilizing a subscription with TurboVote. The online application aids voters by tracking users’ upcoming elections, sending reminders via email and text, and simplifying voter registration and absentee voting.

Historically, young voters have very low turnout rates. The U.S. Census Bureau reported that in the 2012 presidential election, only 38 percent of 18-24 year-olds voted, the lowest rate of any age group.

According to Scott Fleming, Georgetown’s Associate Vice President for Federal Relations, “Not only do colleges and universities have a legal obligation to bring voter registration information to the attention of our students, it is also consistent with our mission – here at Georgetown, shaping men and women for others – to encourage our students to participate in the governance of our nation by registering to vote."