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America’s day of decision shapes debate at UBC

Paul Quirk is an American political science professor and and Phil Lind Chair in U.S. Politics and Representation at UBC.

Jeff Vinnick/The Globe and Mail

Paul Quirk is Phil Lind Chair in U.S. Politics and Representation and a professor in the University of B.C.'s department of political science. After receiving his PhD from Harvard University in 1978, he taught at several American universities, most recently the University of Illinois. Mr. Quirk was a lifelong resident of the United States until starting at UBC in 2004. There, he is currently teaching a course on U.S. politics, where conversation often veers, not surprisingly, toward Tuesday's election.

In the classes you teach, what have the discussions about the election been like?

Usually we talk about who is winning and why, what the advantages are of each candidate. We discuss the positions they take and which ones will help them and hurt them, and why. The impression that I get is of an overwhelming preference for [Barack] Obama. One might expect this to be a bit more common among university students than the population. It could be that there are some who favour [Mitt] Romney … but they might be less likely to speak up, although I try to encourage people to have diverse views.

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In what ways might this forthcoming election affect people in Canada?

It's easy to argue that Romney and the Republicans would be better for Canada economically, with the sole reason being that Romney and the Republicans are more reliably pro-free-trade, much less likely to support barriers to imports from Canada. They are also much less likely to cause difficulty for Canada on energy and environmental issues because they are much more pro energy development and less concerned about environmental consequences.

Can you expound on the energy and environmental issues as they relate to B.C.?

One of the sharper differences between the candidates is that Romney has been highly critical of Obama for his decision to block the pipeline from Alberta into the United States. Obama is saying it will eventually be approved, after changes are made for environmental purposes, but Romney and most Republicans say it should have been approved at the outset. What I'm coming to understand is that the more barriers there are in importing natural gas to the United States, the more tendency there is to export things west and send them to Asia.

B.C., then, is more involved in it, because pipelines go through B.C., but these pipelines are tremendously controversial, on environmental grounds, in B.C.

Do you have a prediction for the election?

The estimates now are that it's a very close election, but Obama is leading. He has a lead in most of the swing states, so Romney would need a significant reversal. But if the turnout estimates are off – if, for some reason, we're underestimating the Republican turnout by just a couple per cent – then Romney will win. Right now, Romney has about as much chance of winning the election as an average hitter in baseball has of getting a hit on one time at bat – about 25 to 30 per cent. The reason why that's useful to point out is that people who are analyzing the polls in the most sophisticated way are transforming the percentage gaps and supports – which are only 1 or 2 per cent – into probabilities of winning the election. These probabilities are in the vicinity of the high 60s or 70 per cent for Obama right now. Some people look at these numbers and think that's a huge lead, but it's really only a small lead. Romney's chances are about one out of three, or one out of four.

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