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President Trump inherited the ‘law and order’ issue but seems to have squandered it: Princeton Professor

Omar Wasow, Political Scientist at Princeton University joins Yahoo Finance Live to discuss the impact of social unrest of the 2020 presidential election.

Video Transcript

AKIKO FUJITA: Let's bring in Omar Wasow. He is a political scientist at Princeton and joins us from Los Angeles today. Omar, it's great to have you on.

OMAR WASOW: Thank you for having me.

AKIKO FUJITA: It's interesting here because this is one of those issues that has mobilized both sides of the aisle, you could argue. You've heard President Trump coming out and talking about he's going to be the law-and-order president to restore sort of stability, as he calls it, to the streets.

And then you've got, of course, those who have been out protesting since the summer. How do you see this tipping? Or which way does it go in, you know, the final results?

OMAR WASOW: I think you're exactly right, that this has a mobilizing effect for both folks who are sympathetic to the larger Black Lives Matter cause but also folks who are concerned about or for whom the law-and-order appeal might speak. And so what we've seen in kind of polling data is, if you look kind of broadly, Biden has been leading, you know, going back to even pre-COVID periods.

But there is a spike in support for Biden that follows the protests that come after the killing of George Floyd. And that suggests that at least part of what the dynamic is is that there's a kind of amplifying or mobilizing effect of protests on people who are sort of ideologically aligned with the Democratic Party and that there may be a kind of boost that happens for the Democratic side. But you're exactly right. It also is [INAUDIBLE] activating for folks on the right and may bring some folks who are kind of fence sitters between kind of rights and order into the order coalition.

ZACK GUZMAN: Yeah, Omar. Based on what you're seeing, you know, those protests, obviously, very different than what we could see play out in terms of social unrest tied to the election results and what we see reported on election night and how long we have to wait, and what happens with the ballots that were being discussed here as well. So there's a lot of question marks. But, in terms of this being, obviously, a socially charged year, what are your expectations for what could play out, given all the unrest we're already seeing play out?

OMAR WASOW: So I think there are a couple of key things to consider. One is that part of what fuels a sense that-- you know, what pushes people to the streets is a sense that something illegitimate or unjust has happened. And so a really key question is, does the process appear to unfold in a way that seems fair? If the election gets called, you know, Florida goes to Biden or something and it's pretty clearly a decisive win, I would expect things to be relatively stable.

If there's a kind of long, drawn-out process of trying to resolve, you know, who carried Pennsylvania and Arizona or something, then I think that might fuel kind of rumors and the kinds of-- and almost certainly President Trump will try to dial up the sense of, this was rigged. And that may contribute to conflict and get people trying to resolve this in the streets as opposed to through a more deliberative process.

AKIKO FUJITA: Well, what about the issue that's at the heart of this, which is police reform and concerns about racial profiling? I mean, that has really been the catalyst for all of these demonstrations that we've seen over the last few months. And yet the core issue still remains unresolved. What happens after the election in terms of that movement?

OMAR WASOW: That's a great question. And I think one mistake people made looking at Black Lives Matter in the past is to say, well, there were all of these protests, but nothing happened. And, in fact, there were a bunch of things that did happen then, and I think there are echoes of what will happen now.

So, one, there were local elections. Philadelphia elected a reform district attorney. Chicago elected a reform district attorney. A bunch of police forces changed their use-of-force policies. So I think we're going to see kind of local, not necessarily-- a lot of policing is a local issue. So I suspect there will be reform at the local level that's just less visible.

But, if the Democrats take the Senate and the White House, there are a number of bills that they have proposed for reform so that, for example, an officer who is sort of discharged dishonorably from one force can't just go across state lines and easily get hired at another force. And so trying to increase the kind of transparency for misbehavior that doesn't exist very well now at the federal level. And those kinds of bills, I would expect, would get passed relatively quickly if Democrats take White House-- they take Washington.

ZACK GUZMAN: And, Omar, we've seen President Trump be pretty active in terms of trying to tie all together the movements that have been out there, protesting here, trying to connect the dots to a Biden administration and what that could bring. Is there any chance there, as he's trying to push for spotlighting antifa and those connections there on that side, that that could backfire for the president when it comes to kind of trying to polarize the nation and saying, this group is going to be coming for you, this group's going to be coming for you, depending on how this goes? I mean, what's your thought on how that's playing out as we approach the election?

OMAR WASOW: So what we saw in the 1960s in research I did and in more recent polling is that, in periods of where there's highly contentious politics, there is an opportunity to be seen as a kind of a unifier, as somebody who's going to bring order. In the 1960s, Nixon ran on law and order, but he was perceived as a moderate between a liberal in Hubert Humphrey and a segregationist in George Wallace.

What polling suggests now is that Trump has actually not carried-- law and order has been an issue that the Republican Party has owned for 50 years. And, remarkably, even though Trump inherited that great advantage, he seems to have squandered it because Biden is thought to be the more credible on law and order by about 15 points in a number of the polls I've seen. And that suggests that the divisive and often violent rhetoric that Trump uses is not capturing that kind of orderly middle that he was striving for and puts him more in the lane echoing the 1960s of someone like George Wallace rather than Richard Nixon.

AKIKO FUJITA: Omar, I want to get back to a point you made earlier about change being made at the local level. You're in California. There's an initiative there to bring back affirmative action. And I know this isn't tied directly to social justice and this movement that we've been talking about. But I do wonder, if you expect that kind of movement, those initiatives to continue to get pushed now because, for so long, the calls for equality, the calls for diversity haven't been met?

OMAR WASOW: So what's interesting about that initiative is that it appears in the polling to be, right now, below 50% support to return to-- basically to move away from a policy that says, you can't consider race in things like college admissions, to one that would allow that.

And this is-- you know, it's interesting is that California is an incredibly multicultural state. And this policy does not appear to be capturing a majority support. And my interpretation of that is that two things are going on.

One is that we see a broad shift, particularly on the left, particularly among white liberals, in support of concerns about racial equality but that the policies that-- but the way that's going to play out is going to depend on a policy. And that, for something like police reform, there may be more support but not necessarily for defund the police. Or, for something like education reform, there may be no commitment to investing more in funding but not necessarily in restoring the kind of old model of affirmative action.

And so I think it's-- you know, we're in a period of a certain amount of both opportunity and that there's a real commitment to racial equality. But I also think there's going to need to be-- it appears we're going to need to have newer ideas about how to kind of advance that because some of the policies that have been the reforms of the past are not being supported by that broad coalition, that broad multicultural coalition.

AKIKO FUJITA: Yeah, no question this is a conversation that will continue well beyond the election. Omar Wasow, political scientist at Princeton, thanks so much for joining us today.