US election: ‘In this bitter contest voters must select who they dislike least’

Dr David Capper, QUB academic and US election enthusiast, pictured in Las Vegas in 2015.

Dr David Capper, QUB academic and US election enthusiast, pictured in Las Vegas in 2015.

A long-time Ulster-based devotee of US elections has said although American politics has been “vituperative” and “divided” for decades, he cannot recall any contest quite so bitter as this current one.

Dr David Capper, a qualified barrister and lecturer at Queen’s University Belfast’s School of Law, said that whilst it is a ferociously-fought battle between the two candidates, he expects that it will be decided on the basis of whom the US public “dislike the less”.

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton speak during the second presidential debate at Washington University in St. Louis, Sunday, Oct. 9, 2016. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton speak during the second presidential debate at Washington University in St. Louis, Sunday, Oct. 9, 2016. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

In 1990/91, Dr Capper spent about a year working in the University of Detroit Mercy, and has been “fascinated” with the US political system ever since.

He has travelled regularly to the USA, and from 1997 onwards has also helped organise the Study USA programme.

The programme sends about 60 Northern Irish students to America each year to study business and absorb US culture.

Asked what he recalls about the state of US politics back in the early 1990s, during the era of Bill Clinton and George Bush Snr., he said: “The tone was certainly vituperative; very, very partisan. And it doesn’t seem to have diminished in any way over the years.

“American politics is extremely divided, very partisan... It’s been that way for really quite a while.”

He has watched each election there closely over the last few decades, adding: “This is on an unparalleled scale. I’ve never seen anything quite this vituperative ever before.

“It may well just be because Donald Trump’s not a career politician. He probably feels he’s got nothing to lose.”

Dr Capper last year took a trip along the old Route 66 highway (during which time he proposed to his girlfriend).

“We had a very interesting experience on a Saturday night in Amarillo, Texas,” he said.

“We were sharing a stretch limousine. Three other passengers in this car were three regular guys – gun-toting, hunting, shooting, fishing, pick-up truck-driving guys.

“They were avid Trump supporters.

“They said – all of them – that America wants change.

“Now, when you started to quiz them on what they really meant by ‘change’, they didn’t have any specific policy proposals in mind.

“What they were effectively saying was: ‘We don’t want career politicians’. And that’s the appeal of Donald Trump.”

He said that Mr Trump “appears to be racist, appears to be sexist, he appears to be phenomenally prejudiced”, and has talked of engaging in “extremely dubious behaviour” with women – however, Mrs Clinton herself is also hugely unpopular.

A practicing Christian, he said that most American Christians will probably still largely vote for the Republican Party on Tuesday, November 8, despite their “reservations about its candidate”.

He said that voter turn-out for US presidential elections have stood at around 50% for decades – a “miserable”, “extraordinary” figure.

So disliked are the candidates, he expects that this election is likely to see much the same turnout – in spite of its fiery nature.

Ultimately, it could come down to a question of “which of these two candidates they dislike the less”.

Asked for his own prediction of the result, he said: “It just is impossible to call.”

VIEW OF A LEGAL MIND ON TWO BIG QUESTIONS:

Dr Capper was asked his legal opinion about two issues which have made major headlines in the campaign to date – Donald Trump’s pledge to ban all Muslims from coming to the USA, and Hillary Clinton’s legally-questionable use of a private e-mail service to send sensitive information while she was Secretary of State.

When it comes to the first, Dr Capper said: “Legally speaking, I think it’d be almost impossible to do that.

“Because that is not something, as I understand it, you can do simply by presidential decree. You’re going to need legislation through congress.”

He added that even some fellow Republican Party members in the Senate and Congress would balk at backing such a measure.

On Mrs Clinton’s e-mail scandal – which recently became the subject of a re-ignited FBI investigation – Donald Trump has said that if he were president she would be “in jail”.

Asked if he feels she would indeed be charged over the matter, Dr Capper said the facts of matter were “very complicated”, and he did not have “command of the necessary information” to make a prediction.

However, he added that it was a perhaps a sign of Mrs Clinton’s deep unpopularity that “even a suspiciously-timed re-investigation of the e-mail scandal seems to have been quite effective in reversing the momentum at the polls... shifting it back towards Donald Trump”.