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An Uncertain Future: Predictions about America’s Elections with Eleanor Powell

Over the last few cycles, America’s elections have defied expectations. Political scientist Eleanor Powell expects that expectation-defiance to continue.

John Allen
December 12, 2022

Eleanor Powell, Booth Fowler Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, is pictured on Sept. 24, 2018. (Photo by Bryce Richter / UW-Madison)

If there’s one thing that Eleanor Powell feels certain about, it’s uncertainty. Over the last six years, the UW–Madison political scientist has seen the assumptions that used to guide American electoral politics turned upside down. And she sees little likelihood that this will change soon. “I would certainly expect,” she says, “given a very narrowly divided country, continued uncertainty about political outcomes, about elections, about what the nature of policy and change is going to look like moving forward.”

Powell earned her degrees at Princeton and Harvard, and she taught at Yale before joining the faculty at UW–Madison. She’s now the Booth Fowler Associate Professor of Political Science, and her expertise is in electoral politics and political fundraising. On December 13, 2022, she will join a panel of speakers on The UW Now Livestream to discuss what 2023 may hold.

My Chief Areas of Research Are:

I primarily work on American politics with a focus on the U.S. Congress and the role of money in politics.

On The UW Now, I’ll Discuss:

The trend that we’ve seen is primary electorates voting for more extreme candidates — on both sides, but more pronounced on the Republican side. It’s going to be a question of whether the Republican voters care more about electability and whether their experience in losing these 2022 races encourages them to think more deeply about electability. Or does ideological purity and extremism continue to weigh out? I’m not convinced yet that the Republican primary voters are going to prioritize electability over the extremism that we’ve seen over the last several cycles.

The biggest puzzle of American politics is that many events that would seem to doom the fate of another politician have not had that impact on former President Trump. What’s going to be the thing that breaks the camel’s back?

The One Thing I Want Viewers to Know Is:

Uncertainty is really important to keep in mind, and you should be wary of any really certain predictions or claims, given the history-defying nature of American politics over the last few cycles. I don’t see any evidence that that’s going to change in the near future. Partisanship is deeply baked into the system. But then things that typically used to matter, like candidate quality and candidate selection, and concerns about electability — there are signs that those things are starting to matter again.

To Get Smart Fast, Read:

The news coverage in the Washington Post and in the New York Times on elections, on what’s happening in American politics, is typically fairly reliable. If you're interested in following polls, fivethirtyeight aggregates a lot of different polling information and can be an easy one-stop shop. The Monkey Cage is essentially where political scientists distill research into a more readable form and apply it to current events.

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