Someone posted on my Facebook page his opinion that Obama was reelected because he was cool. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not discounting the whole “cool” factor out of hand. I just refuse to believe that it tipped the scales in his favor. This idea of image playing a part in how people vote is not new. Folks claimed that JFK was elected over Nixon because JFK was more handsome. And he was. Mitt Romney is not a bad looking guy. Not at all. He may even be better looking (in that classic caucasian style that many gravitate towards) than Obama. I don’t know. Certainly Obama is cooler than Romney. I would make the argument that just about anyone is cooler than Romney. I might even go so far as to say that Al Gore may be cooler than Romney. (Soul kissing his wife on national televison gives Al the edge here, boys and girls.) And that’s saying a lot.
This comment, in combination with the eleven-hundred hours of news coverage leading up to the election, got me to thinking. And you all know what happens when I think. I blog about it. Just try and stop me.
For me, two things really stand out about this election. The first is how close it was. (While it looked like this may have turned out to be another case, like the 2000 Presidential election, where winning the popular vote didn’t have you packing the moving van and heading toward The White House, it appears that now that won’t be the case.) The second is why it was so close. I have some theories. Don’t worry, I won’t be boring you by backing up my theories with anything resembling political science.
This may come as a shock to some of you, but I am a trained historian. This does not mean that I know anything about political science. Actually, my knowledge of political science peaks out at the Election of 1824. I think they were still using abacuses (abaci?), quills, and slates. I know nothing about modern-day political science, what with all the polling, maps, graphs, and technologies that are in widespread use today. Good Lord. That shit’ll give you a headache just looking at it, never mind trying to interpret it.
Also, modern-day history is not my area. We can, if you like and if you’ll be in the area, sit down over a cup of Joe and have a scintillating conversation about Jeffersonian democracy vs. Jacksonian democracy. Or, we could talk about colonial American politics and religion (I’m big on Winthrop, Witherspoon, Bradford, Sherman, and Hutchinson) until the cows come home. And if you get me started on 1831, well, you’d better plan on staying for dinner. You’ve been warned. You’ll be riveted. I promise. Just let me know when you’re coming. So I can clean up the place. And brush up on all that stuff. Because in the intervening years between now and college graduation, I may have lost some information. But, it’ll still be fun, if you’re into that kind of thing.
Having now established that I really have no idea what I’m talking about, I will just go ahead and talk about it anyway.
For clarity, I will be using the popular vote, not the electoral vote— because you have to be a political scientist to actually understand the whole electoral thing. Or a historian. Okay. So, I understand it, but let’s not muddy the waters by talking about it for crying out loud!
This election was so close, not because people wanted to vote for the “cool” guy, but because what people ultimately crave in their personal lives and, by extension, in their governments, is security. How one defines security, though, now there’s the rub. And that, ultimately, is why voters did not overwhelmingly vote for one guy over the other guy. When I say that people want security, I don’t just mean that they want to feel protected from terrorism, the odd marauder, or some unexpected and random act of violence. Of course they want to be protected from those things. That should go without saying. And, by and large, we are protected from them.
People seek other forms of security as well. They want to feel secure about things like health care, Medicare, and Social Security. They want to feel that there will be some way of obtaining help in times of financial trouble or natural disaster. They want to see their children get the best possible education. They want to be protected, whether they are rich or poor, from the unforseen. Both candidates addressed these issues. They discussed their approaches for providing these things. They offered up their plans. The larger role of government was part of The Obama Plan; The larger role of corporate America and a reliance on the private sector was part of The Romney Plan.
This isn’t new, this divide. It’s been going on since before the adoption of The U.S. Constitution. This is the same stuff that the Federalists and the Anti-Federalists argued about back in the 1780s. Our population and our problems have increased immeasurably since then, but the argument is essentially the same. What entity should be trusted to be the caretaker of the populace? Government or Business?
Some folks think that if the private sector is allowed to move things along that, well, thing will move along swiftly and nicely. It’s really Reaganomics on some level. The whole trickle-down theory. The problem is, that more often than not, greed takes over and the trickling slows to a drip. So, then maybe the government has to step in and force the hand of corporate America. Well, why bother? Just go with the larger government thing in the first place. At least the folks that serve you in Congress have to answer to somebody. Who do corporations have to answer to? Ultimately, no one.
That our most current election contained no mandate for either side, but that ultimately the big government guy won, demonstrates, I think, that people really have less faith in the Captains of Industry than they do in the Federal government. I don’t know who’s right any more than anyone else does. But, unlike my parent’s generation (and the 65+ was the only demographic where Romney claimed a majority), I have little faith in corporate America taking care of me. I know that this is anecdotal, but the multi-billion dollar restaurant group that I work for will not be paying employees in New York and New Jersey who could not work (because there was no power in the restaurants) during Hurricane Sandy. I’ll bet they file an insurance claim for losses, though. And, I’ll bet they will, ultimately, lose nothing, but they won’t pay the folks that work for them. It’s disheartening. My father-in-law worked for General Electric for his entire life. General Electric shared it’s wealth with all of it’s employees. Even with my father-in-law, a lowly warehouse worker. They rewarded him with a decent wage that allowed him to raise and put four children through college. His retirement package was also generous. He was the son of an immigrant barber. Corporate America has changed. It no longer embraces or aspires to the role of caretaker to it’s employees.
This brings me to why I think the election was so close. And I think that 65+ demographic is telling. Not surprisingly, a large portion of this demographic goes to the polls. They are a generation who believes in exercising its right to vote. Also, not surprisingly, this portion of the population is shrinking in number, through attrition. Their numbers will only get smaller four years from now.
In four years my daughter and her constituents will have reached legal voting age. (God help us all!) In this election, something like 63% of young people (18 to 24 year-olds) voted for Barack Obama. That’s a huge number. Huge. They did not, however, come out, statistically, in the large numbers that the over 65’s did. But the next tier did. Apparently, as you age, you vote more. But, the ONLY demographic that went for Romney was the over 65 one. That statistic may not hold true the next time.
I work mainly with the 18 to 24-year-old demographic. I did my own personal poll. This is what I found out: they were overwhelmingly voting for Obama due to his support of social issues. His and his party’s support of things like gay marriage, women’s rights, and his passage of Obamacare (yes… they were for it) were their reasons for voting for Obama. They don’t have any money to protect yet, so they voted with their consciences.
I can tell you, because I live with a teenager and work with youngsters, that, by and large, they are far more progressive socially than you may realize. They also tend do be color-blind, less apt to judge a person based on his or her social background, and they embrace diversity. Embrace it.
So, things are changing. If yesterday’s election was held four years from now, I daresay that the margin of victory would have been wider. Because these young people vote with their hearts, not their pocketbooks. And because lots more folks in that upper demographic will be dead.
On that happy note, I will conclude by saying thank you for listening and, also, please accept my most sincere apology for including some political science in this post. Oh, and also, I do think Obama is kind of cool, but that’s not why I voted for him.
photo credit: huffingtonpost.com