Penn State Penn State: College of the Liberal Arts

The McCourtney Institute for Democracy

Volume 2: Madison Stromswold

For this week’s interview, we had the pleasure of sitting down with Madison Stromswold, a political science student who was most recently an intern for the Greenlee Partners, a lobbying firm in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Madison is a senior studying political science and communications and a member of the Schreyer Honors College. Her honors thesis compares education spending habits in U.S. state legislatures. As a native of Montana, Madison originally worked for the Montana GOP before moving to Pennsylvania as a freshman in college. The following is an abbreviated transcript of our 30-minute interview.

How would you define democratic deliberation?

Madison: When I first say that term, democratic deliberation, I thought, what might that mean? When I thought about deliberation, I immediately thought about consideration and thoughtfulness. However, democratic deliberation itself spurs debate and spurs emotion. It’s a place where people can hash out divisive issues. You often have to put yourself in uncomfortable situations sometimes and challenge your viewpoints.

How have you, in your working life, applied democratic deliberation or seen how democratic deliberation applied?

Madison: I have witnessed democratic deliberation a lot in my working life. I’ve witnessed deliberation firsthand on the State Senate and House floors. And what you see in these kinds of deliberation are politicians who are emotional and passionate about their viewpoints. I think it’s very interesting how these emotions can even cause a domino effect on the floors of the House and Senate. Interestingly enough, these emotional or passionate responses would occasionally cause a number of people to change their votes. I find it very fascinating.

What is it in politics today that makes you angry? 

Madison: I think what political parties have become today, makes me angry. More and more you see politicians voting based on party expectations and along party lines instead of voting with their heart or with their conscience. The amount of power that a political party today is immense, so when I see a party using its power to push representatives to one side, it angers me.

Do you think that American people generally more favor their party name and affiliation as opposed to the individuality of the ideas of the politician they might be voting for?

Madison: I do think that’s the case for a couple reasons. First, the United States is a two-party system, so it’s unavoidable. At the end of the day, one party is going to win and the other is going to lose. In the average person’s head, they think “how can I maximize ‘the win’ for my party”.

On the flipside of that, what in politics today makes you proud? 

Madison:I have been very proud of the resurgence of young activism in politics. Since the last election, we have seen more young people, including people our age, become more involved. It’s a proud moment to see these young people get involved in the way they have.

What did you make of the Parkland Students/The March For Our Lives Protests?

MadisonI thought that was amazing, honestly. You have these high school students, who might not even think they have a lot of power because they can’t even vote. It’s a moment in history where you can look back at these kids who made a difference without actually submitting a ballot. That’s part of the reason why I was so attracted to lobbying in the first place. You don’t necessarily need to vote to make a difference, your voice can be heard regardless.

What in politics today makes you worry? 

MadisonA number of things, really. Money in politics, super PACs, lobbying loopholes on the state and national level could especially be better. But if you would like to look at it in a party-specific light: on the right I am worried about the increasingly aggressive rhetoric we find from them, and on the left I’m worried about their ability to understand the everyday issues that people face. That really worries me on both sides. On the right, there is a lot of fear-mongering. As a Communications student, we learn the best, and often most appropriate ways to communicate a message through rhetoric. Using aggressive rhetoric such as fear-mongering, or displacing other groups of people into different categories is not healthy. It sort of squashes the democratic deliberation process. And as for the left, it seems like most politicians do not understand the issues that many Americans face, especially in the middle of the country. Those are the people who swung the votes this past election.

What in politics today gives you hope?

Madison: I would say there is still a lot of courage in politics today. When the Kavanaugh hearings were happening, there was a lot of emotion on both sides of the aisle. When Senator Jeff Flake stood up for what he thought was right and called for an FBI investigation, that was a courageous moment. His party was probably not too happy with him for doing that, and some Democrats still probably thought he did not go far enough. Nevertheless, he stood up for what he thought was right. Especially in this divided political climate, it is very courageous. As someone who has seen these deliberations happen first hand, it is very difficult to stand up against your party. Although, I should note that the only way he was able to do this is because he is not running for reelection.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

Madison: I would say to literally anybody: get involved more. Do not sit in front of your phones or sit in front of a television trying to consume political information. A democracy is more than that. It is canvassing, making calls, and of course: voting. As a society we should go out and try to explain things to people more often instead of everyone trying to consume as much information as possible from television or the Internet.