POTSDAM, N.Y. (WWNY) - When it comes to politics, here’s something we don’t get very often - good news.
An expert in presidential campaigns at Clarkson University says we should all relax. Even if one of the candidates doesn’t accept the result, democracy will most likely survive.
Alexander Cohen is an assistant professor of political science. In an article for The Conversation, an online publication, he looks back at six times in American history when presidential races were contested.
“The institutions that we’ve built are fundamentally fairly strong. This fear of collapse of democracy is overblown,” Cohen told 7 News.
The five races date as far back as 1800, when Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr ran for president, and as recent as 2000, when Al Gore and George W. Bush ran.
In each case, the race was decided - whether by the House of Representatives, or the Supreme Court or negotiation between the two sides - and “followers of the losers and the losers themselves acknowledged the legality of those outcomes,” Cohen said.
This is an issue in 2020, primarily for people on the political left, because President Trump has refused to commit to accepting the results of the election, and has questioned whether mail-in voting can be conducted fairly and honestly. “You’re never going to know when the election is over,” the president said.
“No matter what happens with the election, we have legal institutions that handle these kinds of disputes, all of these disputes can be adjudicated without violence. So this fear of a coup is sort of overblown,” said Cohen.
Cohen cautioned “We should take threats to democracy seriously; we should take a look at the dialog that’s being used; we should pay attention to efforts to manipulate votes.” But - he said - “There are lots of examples of similar things happening and democracy goes on. Life continues, the rule of law persists. A lot of the panic we’re feeling is pretty normal.”
There is one exception to his “democracy survives without bloodshed” argument: the election of 1860, when Abraham Lincoln beat four other candidates for president, but the southern states did not accept the results.
“So the southern states repudiated the election; they stormed out and hence the Civil War began,” Cohen said. But as polarized as the country is in 2020, Cohen said it is nowhere near the conditions which existed in 1860, or - for that matter - the conditions of the late 1960s, when the country was deeply divided over Vietnam.
“We have a tendency to think every election is special,” he said. “But they’re elections and they go on.”