By the first week in November, it will all be over.
We will have a new president-elect, we will know which party controls the U.S. Senate, and we may even have hearings on a U.S. Supreme Court Justice.
But getting there is going to be quite a ride.
After almost two years of speculation about elections — and the heavy media coverage of polls, presidential primary debates, and fundraising — everything moves from the hypothetical to the real once we actually get votes cast in the election.
I keep a running set of graphs on my office door during the presidential election years to show how the candidates are amassing delegates toward the number needed for the nomination.
National candidates begin to make visits to the far-off West, to places like Oregon and Washington, in search of the elusive primary caucus-goer or voter.
I pay attention to whether the candidates say anything that has to do with Oregon or Washington — most of the time they do not. This shows me that Oregon and Washington voters will probably be responding to national campaign themes, not necessarily local political issues that they may pay attention to in their own state elections.
The fall of the election season is my favorite political time of year. I always teach a class, Political Parties and Elections, in which all the students must volunteer with a campaign. The best campaigns for them to work for tend to be the smallest — they get to meet the candidates, work in a variety of tasks, and be involved in setting out some of the strategy of the campaign.
But students are always attracted to the big campaigns during the presidential year, so that’s where most of them will spend their time.
I have to increasingly balance my life as a political analyst with my life in the classroom. I get a lot of calls from the media, and I travel to Portland for a lot of live radio and television. It’s always handy to have a full tank of gas during this part of the season. If it works out, I bring my students along.
In 2008, three of my students ended up working election night at the television station I was working with. They took information about election results from different counties in the area so that we could get an up-to-date statewide count on the candidates and the ballot measures.
Even if something like that doesn’t work out, my students are required to be with their campaigns on election nights. Will there be a happy party? Will there be more of a funereal quality to the gathering?
On election night itself it’s my job to call the elections for whichever media outlet I am working with, to look at broader returns and formulate questions for reporters in the field to ask of candidates at their own election night parties, and to be on top of any developing patterns and results that are somewhat surprising.
It used to be that the day after the election was my busiest time. After being up past midnight on election night, I’d get up early to be on live radio and television from 5 to 7 o’clock the next morning.
For the last several election cycles, however, Election Day is just the beginning of the public speaking season.
In 2014, I ended up giving about 15 talks to various groups about what the elections meant, and what they might mean for the future — both in terms of future elections, and the ideas for governing that might occur in Oregon and at the national level.
In all of this process, one of the great joys is to introduce my students to systematic ways to understand the election, to go beyond being one of those voters who can be influenced by a commercial with an ominous voice and instead become critical thinkers about the election process and what it means to the governance of our country.
It is incredibly rewarding to see them actively engaged in the political process, and then put that engagement into a firm analytical context through their academic work.
While my work with the media is, in effect, just teaching to a wider audience, my work in the classroom is helping to create engaged citizens.
And it’s a blast.