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Marist Poll goes to D.C.

By Ryan Slaney
On May 12, 2015

On Saturday April 25, the D.C. political and media elite rubbed elbows with sports and entertainment celebrities at the annual White House Correspondent’s Dinner, an event affectionately referred to as “nerd prom.” President Obama exercised his self-effacing comedic chops and brought out Key and Peele’s anger translator, Luther, in a crowd-pleasing set that even upstaged the night’s actual comedian, SNL’s Cecily Strong. 

The standard complaints from commentators about the event arose once again this year with critics pointing to the dinner as representative of Washington’s insular elitism. However, the dinner is generally more of a welcome injection of good humor into a city that is too often at odds with itself. 

If you watched the event on television, you may have noted some familiar faces from campus in the star-studded crowd. Dr. Lee M.  Miringoff, director of the Marist College Institute for Public Opinion, Dr. Barbara L.  Carvalho, director of the Marist College Poll, and other important Marist Poll professionals were in attendance along with our College President Dennis Murray. Dr. Miringoff noted that, in addition to being a very fun night, the dinner was a great chance to reconnect with the many people who have had ties to the Marist Poll over the years. In its 37th year of existence, the Marist Poll has reached a level of great prominence due, in part, to its many fruitful partnerships over the years, and Marist’s presence at this prestigious event underlines that progress. 

Two nights earlier and just a block from Mr. Obama’s front lawn, the Marist College Poll held its own political event at the historic Decatur House. Amidst the buzzing Washington atmosphere, Marist students and alumni gathered together on Thursday evening for an insightful and substantive panel discussion titled “The Message and the Messenger: The 2016 Race for the White House.” Dr. Miringoff and Dr. Carvalho presided over the panel, which was comprised of some of the preeminent names in beltway journalism.

The journalists on the panel were Steve Thomma, Senior White House Correspondent and Government and Politics Editor for McClatchy Newspapers, Amy Walter, National Editor of The Cook Political Report, USA Today’s Washington Bureau Chief Susan Page, and Chuck Todd, NBC News Political Director, Moderator and Managing Editor of the venerable Sunday morning institution “Meet the Press.” 

Before the panel started their lively discussion, Dennis Murray offered a few words on the Marist Poll and the important role Marist College plays in the political process. Sitting among scores of Marist alums who have gone on to do important work in our nation’s capital, President Murray’s words rang true, and there was a definite sense of pride in the room over Marist’s continuing tradition of political engagement. After Dr. Miringoff warmly introduced the panel, Chuck Todd took a moment to acknowledge President Murray’s legacy and wondered out loud who could possibly succeed him, before playfully suggesting Marist alum Bill O’Reilly. 

The panel then got right into discussing some of the key issues and storylines of the upcoming 2016 presidential race. Hillary Clinton, of course, was a name that loomed large in the panel discussion, especially since reports on the Clinton Foundation’s allegedly dubious behavior dominated the headlines earlier that day. Clinton’s long history in Washington, her relationship with the President, and how she will define herself as a candidate of the future were some of the major points of emphasis for the panel. 

On the Republican side, a major issue the panelists delved into was the sheer size of the playing field for the Republican primary and how that will be whittled down to one candidate. Remarking on the logistical difficulties of holding a debate for so many candidates, Chuck Todd conjured a humorous image of the debates set up like game shows with rows of candidates buzzing in with their response. 

The demographic shift of the country was another key issue raised by the panel for the 2016 race. The increasing number of Hispanic voters and non-white voters in general in the U.S. has major electoral implications, especially for a Republican party that has been unpopular with Hispanics due to a hard stance on immigration. An important sentiment among the panelists was that the Republicans will need to change their strategy from 2012, in which they fared rather poorly among minority voters. 

 The panel then opened up to questions from the audience, who were very engaged and asked questions that spurred even more spirited discussion from the panel. At the end of the discussion, each panelist was asked which campaign was their favorite to work on, and what historical campaign they would have most liked to work on. Reagan as well as John and Bobby Kennedy were among the historical candidates of choice, illustrating the enduring presence of those names in Washington. The common characteristics among each journalist’s favorite candidate to work with were accessibility and affability. Amy Walter offered an anecdote from her time covering Marco Rubio’s current campaign in which Rubio shared with his staff his and his daughter’s fascination with the color changing dress illusion that had gone viral. This anecdote, among others shared by the panel, showcased the importance of personal relationships in the world of politics. Dr. Miringoff noted afterwards that the event “highlighted what the mission of the Marist Poll is about.” 

The event brought together students, alumni, and journalists under the common goal of political engagement and the sharing of ideas. Underlying that crucial exchange of ideas are the personal relationships that are formed by a shared interest in the common good. 

Washington may look hopelessly insular and divided at times, but events like this show the intellectual passion and strong social bonds that characterize much of political life.

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