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When Americans are asked what the most important issues are in this presidential election, they cite jobs and the economy. By any objective measure, the Obama presidency has been one of poor economic growth. No matter what hand a President is dealt, at some point, he owns the record. Since Mr. Obama is poised to be re-elected, some other factors must determine who we choose to vote for.

Do we want to vote for someone who looks like us?

In the 2008 heyday of hope and change, strong minority turnout helped push Mr. Obama to victory, especially in such swing states as Virginia and New Mexico. But as another election approaches, the minority thrill is gone. According to the Census Bureau, Hispanic voter registration has fallen 5% across the U.S., to about 11 million. Black registration is down by 7%

About 40% of whites who voted in 2008 crossed the racial divide and voted for a black man, while only 4% of blacks who voted did so for a white man. Most of Hilary Clinton’s supporters in the Democratic presidential primaries in 2008 were women, and for many, that was her greatest asset. We remain racially polarized on a political level in 2012, as the following chart shows. Each candidate’s total support among voters is broken down by race.

If we are ever to become a truly multicultural society, we need to make choices based on issues rather than appearance, race, ethnicity or gender. But how de we do that when so many voters are either incapable or don’t care to understand the issues and have no concept of macroeconomics? It’s almost perverse that we make naturalized citizens learn about our constitution and pass a civics test before earning their passports. Only about a quarter of the native born electorate could pass these tests. Is it any wonder how poor a job public education is doing in science and math compared to the rest of the world when in our public schools we don’t even properly teach our children their future rights and obligations as citizens?

Do we want to elect someone who promises to look out for us even if we doubt the ability to deliver?

President Obama has consistently promised that he would make the economy fairer and more level. Somehow his policies have had the opposite effect. The most recent report by the Census Bureau indicates that annual household income fell in 2011 for the fourth straight year. Between 2009 and 2011, income for the middle fifth of the population declined 1%, while income for the top fifth increased 4%. Seniors, dependent on their savings saw interest rates fall by over 31% (Jan. 23, 2009 to date), while inflation further reduced the value of their savings by 9%.

President Obama promised to create jobs. Since January 2009 the civilian labor-force participation rate has fallen by 2.2 percentage points, representing a loss of over five million jobs. His policies, though, have juiced the stock market. An investor willing and able to take risks profited by over 65% if he bought stocks tracking the Dow at President Obama’s inauguration.  The administration’s policies are hurting the poor more than they are hurting the workers and net taxpayers of America, i.e., the millionaires and billionaires.

Do we chose ideology over prosperity?

Without doubt, some of what comes out of the Republican Party with regards to social issues is simply hateful and fighting the tide of history. Opposition to gay marriage and “legitimate” rape are only two dark examples. The president’s economic policies have clearly hurt most Americans, whereas the policies advocated by the Republicans at least have a chance to improve the economy, and yet the Republicans are behind in the election race. Is it possible that America has reached a tipping point and finally prefers the “social equality” espoused by Democrats (equal shares of the pie) instead of unequal shares of a growing pie, also/known/as capitalism? Mr. Romney inelegantly makes the case that the “takers” in the 47% of Americans who do not pay income taxes, are now poised to overwhelm the “makers” he seeks to represent. Mr. Romney may know more about economics than Mr. Obama, but the public thinks he doesn’t understand the economic problems of average Americans.

Do we choose to vote for someone we want to spend time with?

As we approach the first presidential debate this evening, how will Americans decide who wins? Most of the audience will have long ago decided who they will vote for, if they vote (less than 60% of eligible voters will cast ballots.) Will any of the few truly undecideds in the electorate be swayed by the arguments that can be communicated within this rigid time frame?

Apart from their purely show-business aspect, do the debates in any significant way enhance our appreciation of the minds or the characters of the presidential candidates? Mostly the debates will show how quickly the candidates can organize and regurgitate sound bites and parry attacks without becoming flustered. A fast response has little to do with genuine thought, which requires brooding over a subject, laboriously working through its complications. Quickness of response, so central to the debater, is a useful  but minor skill that has little to do with handling difficult questions and serious problems.

In the final analysis, Americans usually vote in presidential elections for the candidate with the greater empathy, or likability. The clear exception here would be Richard Nixon, who it seems nobody liked very much. In this election, it’s not even close. Mr. Romney is another rich old white man, and Mr. Obama is seriously cool!

One Comment

  1. avatar

    david r says:

    “The best argument against democracy is a 5 minute conversation with the average voter” (Churchill).

    Why would anyone be undecided at this point? Better: What is the profile of the current undecided voter? My guess is that this is a non-reflective, uninformed, indifferent, barely getting by, ‘victim’ of circumstances kind of person…. possibly under-educated and possibly mentally deficient. That’s who the last $200mm of campaign ads are vying for. What a waste.

    I’d be surprised if even 10% of citizens could pass the citizenship test for immigrants.

    Why should citizens have a clue about the important issues? No one does. Who has read the Obama-care legislation? Who understands Medicare or how to fix it? How is it we get involved with hopeless war after war engagements and end up making a bigger mess after $T’s and lives lost/ruined? (and we learn nothing for the next time). The assumption of all politicians is that anything that can’t be said in 30 seconds is too complex to say. So all the citizens who won’t go out and dig for themselves get is 30 second solutions, which couldn’t possibly be right.

    More and more the real laws are written by the unelected and often not even officials — Congressional staff, agency rule makers. How many laws are voted on by legislators who haven’t even read the text?

    And of course, the President (or his minions — cabinet heads, agency directors, etc) enforce what they see fit and will even say in writing (e.g., Presidential signing letters) that they’re not going to enforce them.

    So in light of all this, why not just vote for the guy you think is most likeable or most ‘like you’ or the guy you’d prefer to spend a weekend camping trip with?

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