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News & Events

Kellogg students get an election education

Senior Associate Dean David Besanko explains the facts of U.S. presidential politics

By Amy Trang

10/10/2008 - The November presidential election is being watched by people around the world and with less than a month to go before Americans head to the polls, some Kellogg School of Management international students are learning about the U.S. election process.

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David Besanko
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On Oct. 9, David Besanko ’82, senior associate dean of strategy and planning, spoke about the election process and its key issues to a capacity audience of students.

His talk was part of the Kellogg Election Series sponsored by Ford Motor Company Center for Global Citizenship and supported by Kellogg Student Association. Besanko told students he was pleased to be able to talk on a set of topics that he feels passionate about, having earned an undergraduate degree in political science from Ohio University.

Besanko offered a brief lesson on the presidential election process and the role of the Electoral College. He added that the candidates’ strategies are to win swing states, such as New Mexico and Ohio, which in recent years have been toss-ups in terms of voting for Democrats or Republicans.

“The game is to deploy resources so you can win the battleground states,” Besanko said. “Candidates devote time and money to those states. You don’t see many TV campaigns in Illinois because the state will most likely go to [Barack] Obama.”

Campaign financing also has been an important topic in this election, as Democratic presidential nominee Sen. Barack Obama has nearly a two-to-one lead over Republican presidential nominee Sen. John McCain in private funding, Besanko said.

“Obama has changed the model for campaign financing,” he said, noting that part of Obama’s resources have come via the Internet from individuals donating less than $200. “He took advantage of the power of the Internet.”

If Obama wins the presidency, this outcome could result in a nationwide political realignment, Besanko said, indicating the sort of fundamental change in voting patterns previously seen in U.S. elections in 1968 and 1980.

Besanko said that these realignments happen during grave economic and social circumstances, such as the oil crisis in 1980. He noted that the country’s landscape would change dramatically if Obama wins the presidency and the Democrats continue to hold a majority of seats in Congress.

After Besanko revealed that voting isn’t compulsory in the U.S., as it is in other countries, such as Australia and Belgium, some in the audience appeared surprised. Besanko pointed out that the U.S. has one of the lowest voting turnouts of any Western-style country.

“This is a country of choice,” Besanko said. “But it matters a lot if you vote or don’t vote.”