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President-Elect Biden and a Divided Congress: 2021 Policy Outlook

The results of the 2020 elections seemed to have something for everyone to be happy (or unhappy) about. Former Vice President Joe Biden pulled out a convincing electoral victory, and while President Trump has yet to concede and his team continues to threaten legal challenges to the results, these protestations seem to be largely political theater at this point. However, while winning the White House was obviously the most important outcome for Democrats, they dramatically underperformed expectations in the Congressional races. This outcome likely leaves President-elect Biden with a difficult landscape to navigate in order to enact his policy agenda after the transition.

Presidential Transition

With the presidential race decided, attention now turns to the presidential transition. Almost immediately, the President-elect’s team began moving forward with plans and key appointments. The President-elect launched a transition website that so far lists four major priorities for the new Administration: COVID-19, economic recovery, racial equity, and climate change. In addition, the transition team has appointed a COVID-19 Advisory Board headed by David Kessler, former Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner and Professor of Pediatrics and Epidemiology and Biostatistics at the University of California, San Francisco; Vivek Murthy, former U.S. Surgeon General; and Marcella Nunez-Smith, Associate Dean for Health Equity Research at the Yale School of Medicine. COSSA will continue to provide updates on plans for the transition, including notable policies and appointments.

House Races

While Democrats headed into Election Day hoping to expand their majority in the House of Representatives, the results tell a different story. The House will likely remain under Democratic control; however, at the time of this writing, Republicans flipped eight seats while Democrats have netted only three.

Notable Results:

  • Donna Shalala (D-FL), former Clinton cabinet member and professor of political science, was defeated in a re-match with Maria Elvira Salazar (R).
  • Kendra Horn (D-OK), member of the House Science Committee, lost to Oklahoma State Senator Stephanie Bice (R).
  • Daniel Lipinski (D-IL), PhD political scientist and social science champion, lost his primary bid to a more progressive Democrat, Marie Newman, earlier this year. Newman went on to win the seat against her Republican challenger in the general election.

Despite these losses, several major science—including social science—champions on both sides of the aisle won reelection. A few races remain too close to call, such as incumbent Rep. Matt Cartwright’s (D-PA) bid against Trump booster Jim Bognet (R); Rep. Cartwright is a pro-science member of the House Appropriations Committee.

Also important to watch is the incoming Republican freshman class, which will be skewed pro-Trump. Of particular note is the election of Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) and Lauren Boebert (R-CO), both proud QAnon conspiracy theorists, and Ronny Jackson (R-TX), who served as the White House physician from 2013-2018.

Senate Races

Underwhelming performance by Democrats in the Senate races was also a major headline, especially given that Democrats went into Election Day with the real potential of securing Senate control. Republican incumbents defied the odds, with a net loss of only one seat (having lost two and flipped one). Given the likely win of the Republican incumbents in the two outstanding Senate races (Alaska and North Carolina), we expect control of the Senate to be decided by a runoff election for Georgia’s two Senate seats in early January. The Democrats would need to flip both seats to tie control of the Senate 50-50, which would allow the Democratic White House to break ties in their favor.

Notable Results:

  • Cory Gardner (R-CO), who has been a visible figure in pro-science policy activities over the last several years, was defeated by former Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper (D).
  • Martha McSally (R-AZ) has been unseated by astronaut Mark Kelly (D).
  • Gary Peters (D-MI), vocal supporter of science, narrowly won reelection in Michigan.
  • GOP incumbents Susan Collins (R-ME), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Joni Ernst (R-IA) and Steve Daines (R-MT) all squeaked out wins in highly competitive races.

With so many unknowns, close monitoring over the next several weeks will be critical to determining a path forward for social science advocacy. Stay tuned to COSSA for the latest developments.

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Posted in Issue 22 (November 10), Update, Volume 39 (2020)

November Headlines to Feature Deep Dive on 2020 Election

headlines bannerCOSSA members are encouraged to sign up for the monthly Headlines webchat on Thursday, November 12 at 2:00 pm Eastern Time. The COSSA team will break down the most important social and behavioral science news from the past month, followed by a deep dive discussion on the 2020 election with Costas Panagopoulos, Professor of Political Science at Northeastern University and member of the American Political Science Association’s Election Assistance Task Force. Individuals employed by or affiliated with a COSSA member organization or university can register for the webchat here.

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Posted in Issue 9 (April 22), Update, Volume 39 (2020)

Get Out the Vote with “Vote Science Strong”

Research!America, a DC-based advocacy organization working in support of health and medical research, has partnered with several scientific organizations on a website aimed at equipping the scientific community with resources to help make informed decisions at the polls this November. Vote Science Strong seeks to make scientific research—across all domains—part of the conversation in this year’s elections. It includes several different tools to help scientists engage with candidates, such as through town hall meetings and social media, and includes factsheets on the benefits of research to various aspects of life. Help amplify science in this year’s elections by visiting Vote Science Strong and sharing the resources with your colleagues.

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Posted in Issue 20 (October 13), Update, Volume 39 (2020)

House Elections Subcommittee Holds Hearing on Combatting Misinformation in the 2020 Election

On October 6, the Subcommittee on Elections of the Committee on House Administration (CHA) held a public hearing on voting rights and combatting misinformation during the upcoming 2020 election. The Committee heard testimony from Member of the Board of Elections of Cuyahoga County in Ohio Inajo Davis Chappel, Secretary of State of Colorado Jena Griswold, Commissioner of the U.S. Election Assistance Commission Benjamin Hovland, and President of the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies Spencer Overton. No Republican members of the Subcommittee attended the hearing.

Witnesses and participating Members of Congress discussed various dangers of misinformation and its effect on U.S. elections, including the role of social media in spreading misinformation, available resources for governments to combat misinformation, viable methods to educate voters about misinformation, and current misinformation surrounding voting such as the validity of mail-in ballots. A full recording of the hearing is available on the Committee website.

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Posted in Issue 20 (October 13), Update, Volume 39 (2020)

Sunshine Hillygus Delivers 2020 Henry and Bryna David Lecture on Young Voter Behavior

On October 5, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) featured Dr. Sunshine Hillygus as the 2020 Henry and Bryna David Lecturer. A political scientist from Duke University, Dr. Hillygus spoke on the participation of young voters in the United States and how current barriers and opportunities to mobilize young voters could shape the nature of U.S. elections.

The Henry and Bryna David Lecture honors a leading innovator in the behavioral and social sciences who is invited to deliver the eponymous lecture and publish an article in Issues in Science and Technology magazine based on that lecture. A video recording of the Henry and Bryna David Lecture will typically be available on the National Academies website within a few weeks after the event.

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Posted in Issue 20 (October 13), Update, Volume 39 (2020)

October COSSA Headlines to Feature Deep Dive on Presidential Election Polling

headlines bannerCOSSA members are encouraged to sign up for the monthly Headlines webchat on Thursday, October 8 at 2:00 pm Eastern Time. The COSSA team will break down the most important social and behavioral science news from the past month, followed by a deep dive discussion on presidential election polling with Aimee Vella Ripley of Harris Insights & Analytics. Individuals employed by or affiliated with a COSSA member organization or university can register for the webchat here.

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Posted in Issue 19 (September 29), Update, Volume 39 (2020)

Nita Lowey, House Appropriations Chair, Announces Retirement

Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY) announced on October 10 that she will not seek reelection next year after 31 years in Congress. Rep. Lowey became the first woman to Chair the House Appropriations Committee when the Democrats took control of the House in 2019.

Her retirement will lead to a reshuffling among senior Democratic appropriators. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-OH), who currently chairs the Energy and Water Subcommittee, is the most senior Democrat on the committee after Lowey, has said that she would be interested in chairing the Committee, but Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), current chair of the powerful Labor, Health and Human Services, Education Subcommittee, also indicated her intention to run for the role. In addition, there will be a key vacancy on the Commerce, Justice, Science Subcommittee (which funds the National Science Foundation and the Census Bureau) as longtime senior Democrat Rep. Jose Serrano has also announced his upcoming retirement.

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Posted in Issue 20 (October 15), Update, Volume 38 (2019)

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