Big shifts in U.S. politics and Gen Z values - Discussion with a political insider

Rick Dunham is co-director of the Global Business Journalism program at Tsinghua University in Beijing. He was Washington bureau chief of the Houston Chronicle from 2007-13. He also served as Hearst Newspapers Washington bureau chief and the White House Correspondent of BusinessWeek Magazine.

He is a past president of the U.S. National Press Club and the National Press Club Journalism Institute.

Rick Dunham is a Nordic West USA collaborator and featured expert.

You run the Global Business Journalism Program at the Tsinghua University and teach Advanced News Writing course as a full-time job. Now, you’ve added two new responsibilities in this remote communication environment.

I have. And I am busier than ever. I have created a weekly Global Business Journalism Lecture Series featuring prominent journalists, academics, business people and policymakers, and helping the International Center for Journalists with its new Global Health Crisis Reporting Forum.

What do the students in the program wish to learn?

These young adults have two concerns: the global health situation and the future of the global, and their local, economy. They are fascinated by the differing responses to the coronavirus pandemic in different nations and are horrified at the “info-demic” of disinformation and nationalistic propaganda.

We are following closely the Gen Z values and habits in the Hearts & Minds program. Have their interests changed?

Before this global economic collapse, all of my program graduates felt secure about getting a job immediately after graduation. Now, it’s a struggle. They also are suddenly wondering whether they will be welcome to work in nations other than their own, such as China or the United States.

There is widespread anxiety about the new uncertainties in life, both the health of their families and the availability of good jobs. Economic distress often leads to prejudice, nationalism and xenophobia. Global Business Journalism is truly global, so our young journalists and would-be entrepreneurs could face more challenges as they try to build international careers.

What about you yourself as a Washington insider and political commentator. What indicators do you follow?

I closely monitor public opinion in the U.S., so I want to see if there is any change in Donald Trump’s popularity or any lasting shift in public preferences in the Trump-Biden general election race. I also closely follow trade tensions, struggles of international institutions, and questions about global supply chains.

In what way has the COVID-19 crisis changed the political landscape in the United States?

Donald Trump is more popular than ever among his “Make America Great Again” base. Having said that, his approval rating has dropped markedly among older Americans, a key group he won in 2016, college-educated women and working-class voters in the North. Trump will need to change the current political dynamic to win re-election, but that could happen. Just look at 2016.

One other important change in the political landscape: If the election were held today, Democrats would win the Senate, something that was nearly unthinkable six months ago. Of course, Republicans rebound from their current lows. But it’s better to be ahead six months before the election than to be behind.

What is your tip for us in the Nordics when we follow the U.S. presidential race? Who or what to keep an eye on?

Three things to look at: Contests in key states, polling of swing voting blocs, and trendlines. Biden has to win five of eight closely contested states: Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, North Carolina, Arizona and Florida.

In 2016, Trump won all of these states except Minnesota. Key voting blocs include over-65 voters, white women without college degrees, and high-income suburban voters, all of which favored Trump four years ago. Finally, the national polls in 2016 correctly called the popular vote for Hillary Clinton, but many analysts underestimated the pro-Trump trend in the final weeks. That gave Trump very, very narrow wins in key states. If Trump is surging at the end, he could still win, even if the national polls show him trailing.

Thank you so much, Rick. We look forward to discussing with you again at the next Hearts & Minds program.