The either/or (Republican or Democrat) aspect of U.S. elections provide voters with the fewest of options. Yet with so many issues to consider, it hardly seems like two is enough.
It also makes it difficult to make sense out of what happened last week because there are multiple reasons why one might vote for, say, a Democrat: you might be an Iron Range blue dog big on organized labor; you might be an elderly person worried about social security and medicare; you could have been a voter looking to promote progressive policy. One could offer a similar bevy of reasons why someone voted Republican.
The first lesson here, then, is to keep in mind the multiple mentalities either side encompasses. It makes it tough to stereotype what an Obama or Romney supporter looks like (despite our desires to do so.) It also makes knowing which factors were the loudest hard to discern. But I’ll take a shot at it…
As much as they say the economy is usually the number one factor when electing a president (and I’d bet them right this year as well if, say, the economy was really bad at present), I think we discovered a factor more near and dear this election.
No, not foreign policy. This factor reliably does play second fiddle to concerns over jobs and the economy. The Ace up the victorious Democrats’ sleeves (or perhaps it was some Republicans foolishly showing their cards)–or however you want to portray it–was the issue over of women’s rights. With a few exceptions, (such as Minnesota’s Michele Bachmann) the “tax and spend” labels tossed from Republican candidates to their Democratic opponents couldn’t outweigh the labels being tossed the other direction.
One such label was that if Romney was elected, women’s rights would fall back 50 years. This, and labels much worse, were helped along because each week it seemed like there was a new headline highlighting what a Republican candidate said regarding the most intimate and emotional of women’s issues: abortion and rape.
Once that first Republican candidate offered his opinion, there were perpetual attempts from the media and a public with a watchful eye prompting further opportunities for more soundbites and talking points. The Republicans were simply being honest about their ideology: that abortion is wrong even in cases of rape, and that God has a plan for each of us. Said separately, I don’t think these things would ruffle too many feathers. Frankly, these are philosophical stances many in America have and many voters acknowledge as belonging to many conservatives. But it became the hot-button thing to do when putting the two pieces together and getting down to the brass tacks of what these beliefs actually suggest about the rights of women and atrocities like rape. In the end, we got statements saying that rape doesn’t cause pregnancy and that rape can be God’s will.
I wasn’t surprised by these conclusions–not because that’s what we expect from Republicans, but because that’s the logical conclusion anyone would come to with a belief that God is completely in charge. A lot of people believe this. And the funny part is that if someone suggests a murder was God’s will–depending on the murder, I suppose–it probably wouldn’t have been nearly as controversial.
Rape is different, though. It’s an act of incomprehensible terror and violation. From what I gather, to most women, it’s worse than murder, and a willingness of these politicians to speak about it–especially in this fashion–was a clear no win, particularly from female voters. In a contest of brands, there was no contest. The Republican brand was trashed; there was no way most women were going to vote for Republicans.
Voting is the act of choosing your favorite candidate, or choosing the one you think will do the best job. I also believe that voting is an act of choosing the person who will serve your best interests. That’s why the economy will trump foreign policy. For most voters, it’s more important to have a job than to have good foreign policy. That’s also why, I believe, voters cared more about these very personal, intimate issues over the economy. Who cares if we all have jobs if women are being raped?! This, I believe, really was the thought in many voters’ minds.
We vote for that which is most concerning to us, and with that, the old-fashioned ideas held by these Republican candidates were deemed more troublesome than America’s economic problems. And because of a two-party system, and a contest of brands, all Republicans paid the price.
Admittedly, this is a tough case for me to make because I think it even escapes many voters’ minds. Here are the results of a National Public Radio (NPR) poll taken just two weeks before the election, October 23-25:
“Which of the following types of issues are most likely to affect your vote for president and Congress this year: economic issues like jobs and unemployment; fiscal issues like taxes, spending, deficits, and debt; social issues like abortion and gay marriage; or national security issues like terrorism, Afghanistan, and Libya?”
National security issues
People responded overwhelmingly about the economy. But if the economy was really the dominant priority, why weren’t budget hawks elected? If these issues mattered to the degree that they would “affect your vote” as the question stated, Romney/Ryan should have won in a landslide.
But Obama won. And here in Minnesota, the Democratic candidates did very well, too. In the end, I don’t think there was room for concern about children being slaughtered by American drones in the Middle East, Guatemalan farmers decapitated south of the border because of our Drug War, or our continuing financial woes of debt and foreign indebtedness. I think, this year, it came down to the sentiment exemplified in websites like this: www.republicansforrape.org
I think we learned that, for most people, an interpreted threat to oneself–exaggerated (even imaginary) or not–is the ultimate voting motivator.
to new plateaus,