Reflecting that 2012 is a presidential election year in both the US and France, the Paris-Sorbonne University Abu Dhabi's Department of Philosophy and Sociology recently held a public conference, The 2012 Presidential Elections in France and the USA: Some Lessons from Political Science. NYUAD's Assistant Professor of Politics Adam Ramey, along with Assistant Professor in Political Science at France's Université Paris-Dauphine Jérôme Heurtaux, spoke at the event. Together, they presented two points of view — one French and one American — giving an overview of what the social sciences can reveal about presidential elections and highlighting the issues from a political science perspective.
As a scholar of American politics, political methodology, and comparative legislative institutions, Ramey's work is focused on developing and applying novel methodological techniques to the study of legislative voting behavior. Currently working on survey research that will help scholars to understand the degrees to which American legislators deviate from or adhere to the policy preferences of their constituents, he examined prominent theories of elections in American politics and evaluated the extent to which the 2012 elections might fit the paradigm.
As Ramey explained, "The most influential theory of American elections is likely the model put forth by [Anthony] Downs in his book, An Economic Theory of Democracy. He showed us that when two candidates are competing for office, there is a centripetal force that leads them to move closer to the median voter." However, during the conference, Ramey discussed the current Republican primary and how "the expectations from the Downsian model clash with the American electoral structure." "[Newt] Gingrich and [Rick] Santorum have been pitching their appeals to the median Republican primary voter," he noted, while "[Mitt] Romney has tried to position himself as closer in views to the median general election voter and, hence, more likely to be competitive with President Obama. Both strategies are valid at a basic level, but Romney's approach is more in keeping with the Downsian model."
On the other hand, Heurtaux, a specialist of regime change and processes of democratization, discussed what the 2012 elections reveal about contemporary French democracy through field research conducted by a team of scholars. He also illustrated that the French election is embedded in an institutional and political history and a social frame which determine its dynamics, explaining why and how the presidential election has become the central point of French politics. According to Ramey, the 2012 French elections "reveal some deep and troubling divides in French society." And, as evidenced by President Sarkozy's poor polling results for the last year, "there is a general hostility toward the status quo and a desire to toss out anyone from office who is associated with the economic downturn."
The conference was well received by approximately 80 faculty, students, and staff from both Paris-Sorbonne and NYUAD who "packed an auditorium and asked excellent questions of both speakers," said Ramey. Aside from talking politics, Ramey enjoyed the "dynamic bilingual approach" of the conference, which "helped to emphasize the global aspect of the conference and broke down linguistic boundaries."