Ross School - Senior Projects 2010

Student: Luke Hopping

Mentor: James Earle


Title: Unpledged Electorate


Unpledged Electorate is an in-depth study of the electoral landscape of the United States. It is a project that consists of a series of papers, each of which focuses on a different electoral trend. From the gender gap and the age gap, to the next presidential election, I analyzed these trends’ political consequences, past, present and future. I carried out extensive research in advance of my writing so that my essays would be as scholarly and academic as possible. By getting a better understanding of how elections function, I sought to comprehend the very source of politics and government.


Papers (Introduction, Mind the Age Gap, Mind the Gender Gap, 2012)

PowerPoint Presentation


For the past few months I have been writing and editing several essays on the electoral history of the United States. I collectively titled them, Unpledged Electorate. The study of electoral history is the analysis of voting trends and patterns as they evolve over time. American democracy is bigger than any single politician. We tend to believe that political policies are the product of one person's beliefs, but, however cynical this may be, they are more often attempts to win over a constituency. This is the practice of officeholders from dogcatcher to president. After all, an unelected politician is simply a noisemaker. Through studying these trends, I got a better understanding of the American political environment and better foresight into whom our future leaders may be.

My three essays offer explanations for some of the major trends that guide the American electorate, past, present, and future. Through extensive research and analysis, I have compiled these papers to give an unbiased snapshot of the American political landscape. My first essay, entitled “Mind the Gender Gap,” is a examination of the discrepancy in who male and female voters see as the better political candidates. Women tend to favor more liberal candidates, and men more conservative candidates. This trend first emerged during the 1990s, though I probed back further into the 80s and even 70s in my research. “Mind the Age Gap,” my second paper, explores an emerging rift between young and old voters. Until recently, both constituencies heavily favored Democrats, but lately, the elderly are trending away from the Democratic Party and the young are turning out for liberal candidates in higher numbers than ever before. This pattern is still developing, and it was exciting to document a phenomenon that few people have yet discussed. My final paper, “2012” looked toward the future. It was concerned with the presidential election of 2012, the next major electoral issue this nation will face. Although it is still a long way off, I felt I’d be remiss if I didn’t give it some attention. I analyzed what prospective candidates might win the GOP’s nomination and which could realistically defeat Obama in November. It was by far my longest paper and it combined research I had done of past and present trends (such as the age and gender gaps) with new research. I was constantly checking polls to make sure my arguments were founded and up-to-date. Since the election will not occur for another two and a half years and this was my most speculative essay, I wrote it in a uniquely informal tone, yet retained an air of professionalism and non-bias as well.

My final product achieved what I had set out to accomplish, I had produced an accessible series of papers that gave my readers a more informed perspective on the electoral history of the United States. The process that brought me to this final product was strenuous, complex, and rewarding all at once. I spent the summer reading various scholarly works on the alignments and realignments of the American electorate. Among them were The Battle for America 2008: The Story of an Extraordinary Election by Haynes Johnson and Dan Balz and The Big Sort by Bill Bishop. During the fall, I began writing (first with “Mind the Gender Gap”) while simultaneously continuing my research, checking new polls, and generally staying abreast to current events. By mid-December my three rough drafts were complete, I would spend the rest of my allotted time (and much of my Winter Break) editing feverishly. During the process I cut down several excessive pages and fine-tuned my writing and arguments. I also finished compiling my nearly three pages of works consulted during this time. By early January, my final product was complete.

I am extraordinarily pleased with Unpledged Electorate. In the end, it was far more encompassing and professional than anything I had expected when I proposed the project in spring of 2009. The knowledge I acquired will be useful in many of my future pursuits and the essays will be helpful resource not only for me to draw upon, but for whomever wishes to read them.

Works Consulted

"2006 Votes by State Delegation." The American Conservative Union. Web. 14 Nov. 2009.         

"Age Data of the United States." United States Census Bureau. 22 May 2008. Web. 1 Dec. 2009.            

Ambinder, Mark. "So Why's Huck An Early 2012 Frontrunner?" The Atlantic. 2 Oct. 2008. Web. 21 Oct. 2009.

Balz, Dan, and Haynes Johnson. The Battle for America 2008: The Story of an Extraordinary Election. New York City: Penguin Group, 2009. Print.

Barr, Andy. "Newt Gingrich: Tim Pawlenty 'should run'" POLITICO. 6 Oct. 2009. Web. 23 Nov. 2009.

Bishop, Bill. The Big Sort: Why the Clustering of Like-Minded America is Tearing Us Apart. New York City: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2009. Print.

"Bush's Final Approval Rating: 22 Percent." CBS News. 16 Jan. 2009. Web. 1 Nov. 2009.

Clarke, Thurston. The Last Campaign: Robert F. Kennedy and 82 Days That Inspired America. New York City: Henry Holt, 2008. Print.

"Congressional Favorability at 24-Year Low." Pew Research Center. 2 Sept. 2009. Web. 8 Dec. 2009.     

"Election 2012." Web. 12 Nov. 2009.

Engelhardt, Tom. "Why the US Military Loves Ron Paul." The Nation. 23 July 2007. Web. 22 Oct. 2009.

"Exit Polls - The New York Times." The New York Times. 2008. Web. 28 Sept. 2009.

Gerring, John. Party Ideologies in America 1828 - 1996. New York City: Cambridge UP, 2001. Print.

Hansen, Collin. "Q&A: John Thune." Christianity Today. 2 Oct. 2005. Web. 12 Nov. 2009.

Harfoush, Rahaf. Yes We Did: An Inside Look at How Social Media Built the Obama Brand. New York City: New Riders, 2009. Print.

"Harry T. Burn "Teaching American History. Web. 15 Oct. 2009.

Jones, Jeffrey M. "In U.S., Record-Low Support for Stricter Gun Laws." Gallup. 9 Oct. 2009. Web. 10 Oct. 2009.

Kurtz, Howard. "McCain Seeks Reagan Mantle." The Washington Post. 1 Feb. 2008. Web. 21 Nov. 2009.

Kraus, Nancy. "RI Gov Donald Carcieri Officially Accepts Stimulus Money l Financial Crisis l" | Eyewitness News. 26 Feb. 2009. Web. 23 Oct. 2009.

Malcolm, Andrew. "News shocker: Ron Paul was biggest GOP fundraiser last quarter | Top of the Ticket | Los Angeles Times." Top of the Ticket. 1 Feb. 2008. Web. 22 Oct. 2009.

Martin, Jonathan. “Iowa Republicans wince at Sarah Palin's $100K speaking fee” POLITICO. 29 Oct. 2009. Web. 1 Nov. 2009.

"Mitt Romney on Abortion." Web. 16 Nov. 2009.

Mullins, Brody. "Cost of 2008 Election Cycle: $5.3 Billion." The Wall Street Journal. 23 Oct. 2008. Web. 16 Dec. 2009.

"National Favorable Rating: Sarah Palin." Web. 12 Nov. 2009.

Obama, Barack. The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream. New York City: Crown Group, 2006. Print.

Obama, Barack. Change We Can Believe In: Barack Obama's Plan to Renew America's Promise. New York City: Crown Group, 2008. Print.

"Palin At The Top – And Bottom – for GOP Voters in 2012 - Rasmussen Reports" Rasmussen Reports. 7 July 2009. Web. 3 Nov. 2009.

“Party Identification by Year | The Independents |” The Washington Post. 2007. Web. 15 Oct. 2009.                               

Phillips, Kevin. American Theocracy The Peril and Politics of Radical Religion, Oil, and Borrowed Money in the 21st Century. New York City: Viking Adult, 2006. Print.

"Presidential Campaign Debate of October 22, 1976." Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library and Museum. Web. 14 Oct. 2009.

Public Policy Polling. Obama leads all comers. Rep. Public Policy Polling, 22 Oct. 2009. Web. 20 Nov. 2009.               

"Report Shows 2008 Electorate is Most Diverse in Modern History." Talking Points Memo. 19 Nov. 2009. Web. 20 Nov.  2009.                    

Saad, Lydia. "Election '98: A Promising Year For Congressional Incumbents." Gallup. 25 Apr. 1998. Web. 18 Nov. 2009.

Saad, Lydia. "Seniors Most Skeptical of Healthcare Reform." Gallup. 31 July 2009. Web. 8 Dec. 2009.               

Santoscoy, Carlos. "Rhode Island Governor Joins Anti-Gay Group."GLBT News & Entertainment. 8 Apr. 2009. Web. 5 Nov. 2009.    

Savage, Charlie. "On Nixon Tapes, Ambivalence Over Abortion, Not Watergate." The New York Times. 23 June 2009. Web. 13 Oct. 2009.

Schaller, Tom. "Angry White Seniors and 2010." 538. 4 Sept. 2009. Web. 1 Dec. 2009.    

Schaller, Tom. "Checking in on Tim and Mitt." 538. 7 Oct. 2009. Web. 7 Oct. 2009.

Schaller, Tom. "Sarah Palin Will Not Run for President in '12." 538. 21 Oct. 2009. Web. 12 Nov. 2009.

"Summary data for Ron Paul." OpenSecrets. 31 Dec. 2008. Web. 22 Oct. 2009.

Sundquist, James L. Dynamics of the Party System: Alignment and Realignment of Political Parties in the United States. Washington D.C.: The Brookings Institution, 1983. Print.

Toobin, Jeffrey. The Nine: Inside the Secret World of the Supreme Court. New York City: Anchor Books, 2008. Print.

Trygstad, Kyle. "Daniels Ends 2012 Speculation." Real Clear Politics. 3 June 2009. Web. 17 Oct. 2009.

Von Drehle, David. "The Year of the Youth Vote - TIME." TIME. 31 Jan. 2008. Web. 28 Nov. 2009.                 

Wallis, Jim. God's Politics: Why the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn't Get It. New York City: Harper Collins, 2005. Print.

Wolbrecht, Christina, Karen Beckwith, and Lisa Baldez. Political Women and American Democracy. New York City: Cambridge UP, 2008. Print.

Zinn, Howard. People's History of the United States 1492 to Present (P.S.). New York: Harper Perennial Modern Classics, 2005. Print.

Community Member (Details)

My outside consultant was Renard Sexton, a correspondent for the much-acclaimed political blog Since beginning work as a columnist there last March, he was written regularly about politics around the world. Sexton is currently based in Geneva.