What does Cokie Roberts think will happen with this election?

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NORTH ADAMS — Broadcast journalism veteran and author Cokie Roberts, a political commentator for ABC News and NPR, visited the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts campus on Thursday as the distinguished guest speaker for the sixth annual Michael S. and Kitty Dukakis Public Policy Lecture.

Faced with one of the most dynamic and divided U.S. presidential election seasons in recent history, Roberts has been tasked throughout with providing context for the politics and policy proposals currently on parade for American citizens to ponder when heading to the polls.

Prior to her Thursday evening lecture, she spent nearly 90 minutes fielding questions from students and members of the local press to help them make sense of it all. Here, she discusses how polls and debates, leaks, technology and other issues have influenced the political climate and social discourse heading into Election Day on Nov. 8.

Q. How should constituents interpret such dramatically shifting numbers in the polls?

A. We've seen a division in American society before, but nothing like this ... Horse race polls mean nothing, and any pollster will tell you they're not predictive. What they are is a snapshot of the race in that moment in time. Now, they scare you to death if you're a candidate, or give you great comfort. And they certainly show movement and they show a candidate where he or she needs to shore up support. ... That said, we have many, many fewer polls this year than we had in 2012, and the main reason for that is money. They're expensive.

Q. What was your overall take on the role of this year's presidential candidate debates?

A. I am so ambivalent about these debates. I think they are very useful because people only pay attention really as a nation a few times in the course of a campaign - in the conventions and at the debates. And as much as they are kind of staged, that's when everybody is watching. I do think the best format is one moderator with the candidates able to go back and forth with each other. But, it's a tough, tough job, it's a horrible thing to moderate a debate - I've done several primary debates and gubernatorial debates and it's just horrible and you just want to die. But I actually thought the last one, the one Chris Wallace moderated, was the most successful.

Q. Is WikiLeaks a good thing for this [election] process?

A. I don't think so. I mean how would you feel if your emails were out there for everyone to read? ... It's a similar sort of phenomena to a hidden camera which has all kinds of ethical problems. It's got all kinds of benefits if it does reveal something like tainted meat, or many places where they're often well used is in proving discrimination and there are ethical issues involving them. And I think the same thing is true about WikiLeaks. And the fact that they appear to be coming from a Russian source certainly complicates things. And the fact that the attempt is apparently, according to all the intelligence agencies, to disrupt the election. ... There's a tremendous concern about what happens from here in terms of hacking of voting machines and voter registration lists. So if in fact what we're looking at is a Russian attempt to disrupt our elections, that's a very serious thing.

Q. Do you have any criticisms of how the media has been covering the elections?

A. I think one fair criticism is that we gave Donald Trump our microphones and let him run away with it this entire political season.

Q. What do you think will happen with this election?

A. What we're talking about is a tied election, and that makes all the sense in the world because we're a tied country. I don't think there are any "undecided" voters. They know what they think. But I think it will be anybody's guess who will when this election. The electoral map and the demographic map favors a democrat. But anything can happen between now and Tuesday. I think what's happened with the FBI has changed the momentum of this election. But other things can change too. Every day, we wait and see what happens between now and then.


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