U.S. Presidential Election Reporting Seminar


© Liz A. Dorn, East-West Center 

The U.S. Presidential Election Reporting Seminar is a 12-day professional study and reporting tour designed for working print, broadcast and online journalists. This special seminar enables participating journalists to report before, during and after the U.S. presidential election from key states in the American electoral system. Coordinated meetings and visits will provide journalists with an extensive knowledge and understanding of the U.S. election process, policy issues, and American voter attitudes, thereby enhancing a journalist’s coverage of the U.S. presidential elections to audiences back home. The program maximizes East-West Center’s experience in designing media programs and unique access to important organizations and constituencies. Benefits to journalists are:

  • Enhanced knowledge regarding the presidential election in the United States gained through discussions with government and political party officials, business leaders, academics, journalists, community activists and voters from a range of diverse constituencies. Emphasis will be placed on:
  1. U.S. electoral process including the complex electoral college and primary system;
  2. evolution of the two major political parties and their bases of voter support;
  3. policy issues such as the domestic economy, globalization and international trade, foreign engagement, immigration, growing economic inequality, social change, and racial and religious identity;
  4. impact of the election on the above policy issues as well as on foreign policy priorities with those countries represented by the participating journalists.
  • Access to key constituencies, the election process and U.S. political parties, via observance of the vote counting process, political campaigning practices and attendance at election night result parties at local Republican and Democratic headquarters, as public health policies allow.
  • Informed understanding of the American public through interactive dialogue with local communities via panel discussions, student forums, and host family dinners.
  • Development of reliable professional and personal information networks upon which participants can draw throughout their career.

For more information on East-West Center journalism fellowships and exchanges, see https://www.eastwestcenter.org/professional-development/seminars-journalism-programs.


2020 U.S. Presidential Election Reporting Seminar

Virtual Destinations:  Tampa, Florida; Lansing, Michigan; Washington, DC  

Summary:  On Tuesday, November 3rd, Americans will go to the polls to elect a new President and Vice-President, 35 Senators, 435 House Representatives, 13 Governors and a host of other local offices. The 2020 U.S. elections will be both historic as well as consequential for the American political party and electoral system. In particular, the coronavirus pandemic and subsequent social distancing guidelines adopted by state and local governments will have a historic affect on the 2020 U.S. elections as candidates find themselves unable to hold campaign rallies and town hall gatherings or engage in traditional grassroots efforts such as door knocking. The inability to engage in traditional campaign activities is, subsequently, expected to increase the importance and impact of paid, earned and social media coverage of candidates at the national, state, and local level. COVID-19 has also ignited state and partisan debate regarding the expansion of and implementation of “no excuse” mail-in voting, which is not currently allowed in 17 states. While experts predict that mail-in voting may double in the 2020 election, it is important to note that all six of the swing states Florida, North Carolina, Arizona, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin already allow “no excuse” mail-in voting and historical evidence does not indicate mail-in voting provides a clear advantage for either party.  

Voter demographics may also significantly impact the 2020 elections and the American electoral system, more generally. African Americans, Hispanics, Asians, and other ethnic minorities, as well as "whites with a college degree" have seen their percentage of nationally eligible voters increase since 2012, while the percentage of “whites without a college degree” has decreased. Although this demographic shift is most advantageous for the Democratic Party and their candidates, there has been a concurring movement among white, blue-collar workers and those 65 and older towards the Republican Party. As this latter shift has been significant in swing states like Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, it is conceivable that Trump could once again win the electoral college while losing the popular vote. Finally, given the coattail effect of presidential candidates, the party that wins the 2020 presidential election may also win a significant advantage in future elections as the 2020 U.S. Census and subsequent redistricting will affect a redistribution of congressional and state legislative districts as well as electoral college votes. Finally, Biden and Trump are respectively the oldest and second-oldest major party nominees in U.S. history; and if Biden is elected and inaugurated, he will become the oldest serving U.S. president. 

The 2020 U.S. Presidential Election Reporting Seminar will begin with several foundational sessions intended to enhance participating journalists’ knowledge of the U.S. electoral college; federalism and the separation of powers; freedom of speech and the press; the history, demographics and policy platforms of the Republican and Democratic political parties; and campaign finance laws. Journalists will then explore specific election issues of interest to the 2020 cohort from the perspective of two swing states – Florida and Michigan. Journalists will also have multiple opportunities to virtually engage with American voters of varying demographics living in Florida and Michigan. The Center is also working to secure still photos and B-roll from local stringers that may be used copyright free. Following the election, journalists will meet virtually with DC-based government officials, analysts and other journalists to discuss the impact of the 2020 presidential election on security relations and international trade between the U.S. and those countries represented by participating journalists. The DC program will also analyze the long-term impact of the 2020 presidential election on the American political party and electoral system.

Of the 538 total electoral votes 270 are needed to win. Just six swings states – also called purple states or battleground states – hold 101 electoral votes and represent where the 2020 U.S. presidential election will be fought and decided. 

Florida: Florida’s population has exploded in the past 65 years and its electoral importance has grown with it, from eight electoral votes at the end of World War II to 29 electoral votes today and likely 31 in 2024. Florida is seen as the ultimate battleground state as its population is a microcosm of the country’s growing racial, economic, and political diversity. This reputation was reinforced in 2016 when Florida was decided by 1.2% of the popular vote, with Donald Trump edging out Hilary Clinton 49.0% to 47.8%. The 2012 race was decided in favor of Barack Obama 50.0% over Mitt Romney 49.1% by even smaller margin. Since 1964, the state has voted with the winner in every presidential election except 1992.  

Michigan: Michigan’s population has shrunk since the 1970s due to economic turmoil, resulting in a loss of electoral votes, from 21 in the 1970s to 16 in 2020 and a likely loss of another electoral vote in 2024. From 1972 through 1988, Michigan voted exclusively Republican, before becoming part of the 'blue wall' that voted Democratic in six consecutive presidential elections from 1992 through 2012. Donald Trump narrowly flipped the state in 2016 by a margin of 0.23%, defeating Hillary Clinton by just 10,704 votes. Trump's victory in Michigan was attributed to overwhelming and underestimated support from working-class voters, a demographic group that previously tended to vote Democratic.

Funding:  The U.S. Presidential Election Reporting Seminar is funded by the East-West Center and U.S. Embassies in Bangladesh, India, Nigeria, Pakistan, South Africa, Thailand, and the United Kingdom. These funds provide for 13 full scholarships, valued at approximately USD$6455/pp.

Eligibility: Mid-career journalists from any country with at least five years or more of media experience. Media professionals from print, broadcast and online news organizations, including reporters, writers, editors, producers, columnists, editorial writers, and bloggers are eligible to apply. Freelancers are also eligible, but must clearly indicate how they intend to distribute stories generated as a result of the seminar. Fluency in English is required. 

Congratulations to the 2020 U.S. Presidential Election Reporting Cohort:
  • Mr. Humayun Kabir BHUIYAN, Diplomatic Correspondent, Dhaka Tribune, Dhaka, Bangladesh
  • Mr. Ollie COLE, Producer, Times Radio, London, United Kingdom
  • Mr. Nasim HAYDER, News Controller, GEO TV, Karachi, Pakistan
  • Ms. Thanchanok JONGYOTYING, Chief News Editor for Foreign Affairs, Thai News Network, Bangkok, Thailand
  • Mr. Marcel MBAMALU, News Editor, The Guardian, Lagos, Nigeria
  • Ms. Geeta MOHAN, Foreign Affairs Editor, India Today, New Delhi, India
  • Mr. Fayaz NAICH, Anchor and Reporter, Sindh TV Network, Karachi, Pakistan
  • Mr. Eric NAKI, Political Editor, The Citizen, Johannesburg, South Africa
  • Mr. Thomas NEWTON DUNN, Chief Political Commentator, Times Radio, London, United Kingdom
  • Mr. Porimol PALMA, Diplomatic Correspondent, The Daily Star, Dhaka, Bangladesh


2016 U.S. Presidential Election Reporting Seminar

Dates:  October 31 – November 12, 2016

Study Tour Destinations: Charlotte, North Carolina; Cleveland, Ohio; Washington, DC.

On Tuesday, November 8, 2016, Americans went to the polls to elect a new President and Vice-President, 33 Senators, 435 House Representatives, 12 Governors and a host of other local offices. The 2016 U.S. presidential election, in particular, was historic as Donald J. Trump became the first president with no previous political or military experience. In addition, the election of Donald J. Trump marks only the third time in U.S. history that an outsider has succeeded in the hostile takeover of a political party. The two previous successful hostile takeovers were mounted by former U. S. Congressman William Jennings Bryan (D) in 1896 and by U. S. Senator Barry Goldwater (R) in 1964. The 2016 U.S. Presidential Election Reporting Seminar held October 31 – November 11, 2016, took nine Asia Pacific journalists to Charlotte, North Carolina; Cleveland, Ohio: and Washington, DC to observe and report on this historic election.


The 47th Vice President, Joe Biden, stomping for Democratic presidential candidate Hillary R. Clinton. © Liz A. Dorn, East-West Center 

The 2016 U.S. Presidential Election Reporting Seminar included a number of rare opportunities to observe the U.S. political process in action and interact with American voters. In Charlotte, the journalists attended a rally of 350 Democratic volunteers headlined by the 47th Vice President of the United States and Hillary R. Clinton campaign surrogate, Joe Biden. The journalists also observed Republican presidential candidate, Donald J. Trump, connect with an audience of more than 2,000 supporters in Concord, a former textile manufacturing town. Finally, in Cleveland, the journalists watched from the floor as Democratic presidential candidate, Hillary R. Clinton, together with U.S. Representative Marcia L. Fudge, U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown, and basketball star, LeBron James, stumped before a crowd of over 1,500 supporters. Observing rallies for both Republican and Democratic candidates reinforced party differences discussed in formal sessions and offered one-on-one interaction with party activists and supporters. Organized constituent luncheons further enabled participating journalists to speak one-on-one with American voters regarding their level of engagement in the political process, what issues were important to them and for which candidate they intended to vote. As a result of these constituent luncheons, participating journalists met over 45 constituents representing:  millennials, retirees, business owners, grassroots party activists, issue advocates, and Asian-Americans.

Republican presidential candidate, Donald J. Trump, connecting with supporters in Concord, NC.  © Liz A. Dorn, East-West Center 

North Carolina's party loyalties have undergone a series of important shifts in the last few years. In the early 2000s, Republican George W. Bush easily won the state by over 12 points, but by 2008, demographic shifts, population growth, and increased liberalization in heavily populated areas, such as Charlotte, propelled Barack Obama to victory in North Carolina. In 2012, Republican Mitt Romney ultimately won the state’s electoral votes by a 2% margin. With 15 of the necessary 270 electoral votes to win the U.S. presidency, North Carolina was once again one of several key swing states in the 2016 election. The Charlotte study tour afforded participating journalists an introduction to core structural and ideological elements of U.S. elections and the two major political parties as well as an opportunity to explore specific election issues. In particular, the group benefited from an overview of the history of the U.S. Electoral College, its federalist intent and its impact on presidential and vice presidential campaigns. A session with Associate Professor, Susan L. Roberts, discussed the history and evolution of the Republican and Democratic parties, how both presidential candidates fit into those ideologies, and whether 2016 is considered a realignment election. Similarly, a session with Provost and Professor J. Michael Bitzer examined the role of Congress in the policymaking process and the importance of down ballot elections in 2016.  In addition to sessions on core structural elements of U.S. elections, the journalists discussed voter ID laws in the U.S. with proponent and North Carolina State Senator, Jeff Tarte. The journalists also explored issues of racial and social justice in a panel session with Patrick C. Graham, President of the Urban League of Central Carolinas, and Toussaint C. Romain, Assistant Public Defender and Adjunct Professor of Criminal Justice. Mr. Graham provided the journalists with an overview of the #BlackLivesMatter movement while Mr. Romain articulated an implicit bias within the U.S. criminal justice system and its impact on African American communities.

Democratic presidential candidate, Hillary R. Clinton and basketball star, Lebron James, appeal to voters in Cleveland, OH.  © Liz A. Dorn, East-West Center

Like North Carolina, Ohio has also been a battleground in recent elections due to tight voting margins, its wealth of 20 electoral votes and its long history as a bellwether state. In 2012, incumbent Barack Obama defeated challenger Mitt Romney by a 3% margin of victory down slightly from his 4.8% margin of victory over John McCain in 2008. In 2004, however, Ohio put George W. Bush over the top in a close 2.0% margin of victory. Since 1944, Ohioans have sided with the losing candidate only once. The Cleveland study tour allowed participating journalists to explore specific policy issues dominating the 2016 presidential campaigns via meetings with policymakers, business leaders, community activists, and most importantly, voters from a variety of important constituencies. In a session with Ethan Karp, president and CEO of Cleveland’s Manufacturing Advocacy and Growth Network, the journalists considered the importance of the manufacturing industry to the U.S. economy and job creation and the policy prescriptions each candidate supported. The journalists further explored whether the 2016 presidential campaign represented a public referendum on free trade, particularly, U.S.-China trade, with Assistant Professor Paul Schroeder. Another key policy issue dominating the 2016 campaign that the journalists explored in Cleveland was immigration. A session with Joe Cimperman, President of Global Cleveland, provided an overview of immigration into the United States over the last twenty years and its effects on the economy, with an emphasis on refugee relocation and authorized/legal immigration to Ohio. The journalists also met with Amy Hanauer, Executive Director of Policy Matters Ohio, as well as former Ohio State Senator, Nina Turner, to discuss income inequality and underemployment in the U.S. Finally, a session with Associate Professor, Justin Buchler, examined campaign finance laws, the role of bundlers and SuperPACS, and the influence, or lack thereof, of money on the current election cycle and presidential campaigns more generally.

2016 U.S. Presidential Election Reporting Seminar participants at the U.S. Capitol. © Liz A. Dorn, East-West Center

Throughout the Seminar, journalists had multiple occasions to observe the 2016 presidential election taking place. Visits to both the Mecklenburg County’s Board of Elections and Cuyahoga County’s Board of Elections afforded the journalists with opportunities to observe American voters cast their ballots as well as better understand the voting process, including absentee and mail-in voting, ballot counting, and the preservation of electoral integrity. Election Day also included additional opportunities to visit various polling stations followed by observing and interacting with U.S. party activists and voters at watch parties hosted by the Cuyahoga chapters of the Republican and Democratic parties.

Following the election, journalists traveled to Washington, DC to meet with government officials, researchers and journalists to analyze the 2016 election results and their impact on relations between the U.S. and the Asia Pacific region. The group met with U.S. State Department officials to discuss current U.S. foreign policy in the Asia-Pacific region. Later, the journalists met with Michael Kugelman of Woodrow Wilson Center, Blaise Misztal of the Bipartisan Policy Institute, and Satu Limaye of the East-West Center regarding how the Trump administration might perceive, prioritize, and negotiate relations abroad. In addition, the journalists met with Jeffrey J. Schott of the Peterson Institute for International Economics to discuss how the new administration might prioritize and handle international trade agreements, like the Trans Pacific Partnership. A meeting at Pew Research Center analyzed the public’s view of America’s global role with regards to defense spending, military action against terrorists groups, and ally relationships. The 2016 U.S. Presidential Election Reporting Seminar concluded with a facilitated debriefing session in Washington, DC.

The 2016 U.S. Presidential Election Reporting Seminar Participants were:

  • Ms. Emma CONNORS, Managing Editor, The Interpreter, Lowy Institute for International Policy, Sydney, Australia
  • Mr. Nirmal GHOSH, Indochina Bureau Chief, The Straits Times, Singapore
  • Ms. Charnika IMBULANA, Political & Int’l News Correspondent, Daily Financial Times, Colombo, Sri Lanka
  • Mr. Mirwais JALALZAI, Contributing Reporter, Turkish Radio Television, Kabul, Afghanistan
  • Ms. Audrey LI, Freelance Journalist & Independent Filmmaker, Guangzhou, China
  • Mr. Stuart LAU, Political Reporter, South China Morning Post, Hong Kong SAR
  • Mr. Emanuel SARFRAZ, Coordinating Editor, The Nation, Lahore, Pakistan
  • Mr. David WEBER, Reporter, Australian Broadcasting Corporation, East Perth, Australia


Contact Information

Liz A. Dorn
Seminars Program Coordinator
East-West Center
1601 East West Road
Honolulu, Hawaii 96848
(tel) 808-944-7368

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