Messenger Recital Hall may have been pushing the maximum occupancy limit on Friday with so many people attending Sabato’s Docking Lecture. However, everyone there was given the opportunity to experience the “most cited college professor” according to the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal.
Sabato is currently the director of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics. He has written several books, two of which he mentioned during the lecture: “A More Perfect Constitution: 23 Proposals to Revitalize our Constitution and Make America a Fairer Country,” and his most recent, “The Year of Obama: How Barack Obama Won the White House.”
He also invented “Sabato’s Crystal Ball,” which includes his current predictions of political races. He is nationally known for being incredibly accurate on these predictions.
Before the lecture Sabato spoke to students in the Media, Law and Ethics class. “There’s always news, and in the world of cable TV… the intensity and ferocity with which every news event is covered affects the perceptions of the event,” he said.
He talked about the stark difference of media coverage between his days and today. Whenever something important was broadcasted on television, every channel broadcasted it. Essentially, people were forced to watch the event from beginning to end. Presently, a whole speech can be summarized in a 6-7 sound bit, so people before better advanced technology might have been the ones with the advantage after all.
Sabato also mentioned personal scandals that attract so much more attention. “Now I’m not going to argue that [the scandals are] never relevant. They are relevant to the extent that the individual’s been a hypocrite, Mr. Run-On-Family-Values is practicing multi-family values privately. There’s a story there. But how much it reveals and how much it matters to the functioning of government or to us living our lives in the public sphere, which is what we look to the news media to cover. I just don’t know. I wonder about it,” he said.
This coverage of perhaps irrelevant information, to Sabato, isn’t what is truly necessary. “You don’t get the hard news, you don’t get investigative journalism, you don’t really see what’s happening in the back rooms, and that’s what people need to know,” he said.
After being introduced by Dick Merriman, president, Sabato began by noting changes in very recent political facets. “There are events every single day that change the calculus, and so we have to be very humble in April projecting November results. You can give a general indication about what’s going to happen… but no one can give you very specific result in April,” he said.
Sabato discussed the two main parties and their impressions upon the government system, stating that “99.7 percent of all congressmen and state legislators are Democrats and Republicans.” He did so in a way that was unbiased toward either party as well.
Interestingly, Sabato not only covered some traditions of the government system, but also changes that are likely to occur over time. He talked about the roller coaster power of the two main parties, and how the alternating rise and fall of both is typically normal. On the other hand, he pointed out how, as an example and taking into consideration his research and economical changes in the United States, Texas might someday become a democratic state. “You never know, there can always be a surprise even in a state that seems locked up for one party or the other,” he said.
Sabato made the point that filling out a census is imperative for many reasons, including redistricting. “We are always surprised by the census numbers, in part because people won’t fill them out…anybody who doesn’t fill out the form is just defeating himself or herself or his or her group because you’re reducing your representation and federal funding… and dries up government spending,” he said as he displayed a map of projections for redistricting.
Throughout his lecture, Sabato constantly made predictions about a wide variety of topics and demonstrated facts by exhibiting his maps, graphs, charts and illustrations. He closed the lecture by discussing a question about the future. Possible candidates for the next presidential election then displayed his most recent books, referring to them as “wonderful holiday gifts.” He concluded by answering several questions from the audience.