(Providence, Rhode Island) – Wow!!! What a week in politics, with gay marriage, accusations of high-school bullying, and other oddball issues popping up. Here is what it all really means:
“Never Mind the Man Behind the Curtain!” – My favorite line from “The Wizard of Oz” rings true this week, because what you see isn’t necessarily what you get in the world of politics. One might think that by announcing his support of gay marriage this week Obama is just trying to shore up the gay vote. Well, in 2008 he received 70 percent of the gay vote, based mostly on his support of a gay rights agenda (with pretty much everything but marriage included). No, his sudden support for same-sex marriage is not really aimed at gays. The vast majority of them are going to support him anyway
“Will They? Or Won’t They?” – The biggest question in Campaign 2012 is really whether youth voters will come back. Prior to 2008, young people never voted in great numbers, even after the Constitution was amended in 1971 to lower the voting age from 21 to 18 (see campaign button photo). No! Even at the height of the Vietnam War and Watergate, young people were apathetic and didn’t vote in great numbers for nearly forty years. To some extent this group perked up a bit in 1992 and supported Bill Clinton; but still the youth vote never showed up en masse until 2008, when they came out for Obama, with 66 percent of the voters ages 18 to 30. But, will they be back in 2012? The White House is worried.
“Where’s My Job, Man?” – A number of recent studies and reports suggest that over half of last year’s college graduates are either unemployed or underemployed. Half! As in 50 percent! Four years ago two-thirds of this demographic backed then-Senator Obama. However, only half are now working at their desired professions. The While House is in a panic, not knowing whether this Internet-loving, Facebook-using, text-messaging, connected generation will come out for Mr. Obama, as it did four years ago. I’ve spoken with many Democratic Party leaders who are very concerned about this.
“Gay Is Okay?” – So is 2012 about the economy, or is it about gay marriage? Well, who supports gay marriage the most? Recent Gallup Polls say that 65 percent of voters under age 30 support gay marriage. As the polling sample gets older, the numbers turn; and the majority of people over age 60 oppose gay marriage. So, is what the President did this week a cynical attempt to shore up his youth base? Again, young voters are fickle and historically haven't voted in great numbers, except for 2008. With as a many as half of them underemployed or out of work, they may need a reason - besides an economic one - to vote for President Obama again. The big worry is not that the youth vote will shift to Romney; the concern is that large numbers of young voters may just stay home.
“Who’s Winning?” – His announcement suppporting gay marriage was certainly a roll of the dice by President Obama. There are upsides and downsides to this bold political gamble. The biggest upside, as I’ve shown, could be motivating young voters to return to his camp. The downside is the risk of losing marginal states which he barely won last time - states that usually go Republican. My guess is that his new gay marriage stance just cost Mr. Obama North Carolina, Virginia, Indiana and New Mexico, four traditionally Republican states that he won last time. On the other hand, my guess is that the gay marriage issue will help him win Colorado, New Hampshire and Nevada, often GOP-leaning states he won in 2008. The big question marks are Ohio, Pennsylvania and especially Florida. All three have big urban areas where gay marriage has significant support; and they all have large rural areas where it is not popular. Mark my words, whoever wins two of these states - Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania - will win the White House. While the main issue is economic, we are probably looking at margins of victory of less than one percent in some swing states. A wedge issue could certainly make a big difference.
“Bullygate” – Did Mitt Romney help bully a fellow high school student, who classmates thought was gay, back in the mid-1960s? "The Washington Post" suggests he did. Romney says he has no recollection of such an event, but did offer an apology if he behaved in such an inappropriate manner. The man who was supposedly bullied is now dead, and his family has renounced the story. Without any type of real corroboration, the story probably has a shelf life of 72 hours and will die after the Sunday talk shows. As an election issue, such a non-economic story will likely be a non-factor.
I spent part of Saturday talking with former Rhode Island First Lady Sue Carcieri about how tough politics can be on spouses and children. I tip my hat to all the First Ladies - past and present - who have served our states and country with such grace and dignity while trying to raise their kids in a proverbial glass house. Happy Mother’s Day to all!
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