Sunday, December 16, 2007

What does the average American voter think?

Republican Politics, American Style
Published on November 29th 2007 in Metro Eireann By Charles Laffiteau

As I was winging my way back across the Atlantic Ocean to my home (yes home is Ireland now), I reflected a bit on what I had experienced for the last 2 and a ½ months while I had been back in my former home of the United States of America.
The issues which seemed to have weighed most heavily on my mind were those involving the environmental effects of global warming, the upcoming US Presidential and Congressional election landscape and the heightened debate about how to deal with illegal immigration. I will now endeavour to compose my thoughts on where the sentiments of US citizens stand on these matters and discuss them in my remaining columns for 2007.
If it is sometimes difficult for me to gauge the true sentiments of most Americans on any number of political issues, then I think it must be extremely hard for those outside of the United States to understand how the average American thinks. Most people living outside of the US are much more limited in terms of their exposure to how the average US citizen thinks and reacts to politically divisive topics, so maybe it would be helpful to frame my discussions of where I think America is headed by first discussing how we have evolved as a society politically.
Unlike most other democracies in the world and particularly in the EU, the US political system is rooted in the two party system of political governance. Third party candidates for President or other state and federal political offices have, with only a few exceptions, never been successful in being elected to positions of political power. The reasons for this are many and complex, but in general this is a reflection of a kind of innate social and political conservatism on the part of American society as a whole.
This attitude is reflected in the fact that there are significant overlaps in the respective political positions of most members of the two long dominant Democratic and Republican political parties. Therefore, as compared to political parties in most of the other democracies around the world, these two US political parties are both essentially centrist in nature. The results of US Presidential elections over the past fifty years reflect these overlaps because they have always been fairly close in terms of both the popular and state electoral vote totals of the respective candidates.
The only two exceptions were the Presidential elections of 1964 and 1972 which occurred at the beginning and at the end of the Vietnam War and a period of great social upheaval in both the US and the rest of the world. In 1964 the Republican Party nominated a very politically conservative candidate, Barry Goldwater, and paid for this departure from previous nominations of more centrist Presidential candidates by losing the1964 Presidential contest in an electoral landslide to incumbent Democratic President Lyndon Johnson. Goldwater lost in an avalanche, winning the popular and electoral vote in only his home state of Arizona and five other southern states, largely because American voters thought Goldwater’s hardline foreign policy positions would bring about a deadly nuclear confrontation with the Soviet Union.
The Democratic Party however, did not heed the lessons learned by the Republican Party’s debilitating loss of the 1964 Presidential election. In 1972, Democrats nominated a very politically liberal anti-Vietnam War candidate, George McGovern, to run against incumbent US President Richard Nixon. Despite the rising unpopularity of the Vietnam War (and not due to Republican “dirty tricks”), President Nixon was re-elected in another avalanche by the second largest popular and electoral vote total in US Presidential election history. McGovern lost the popular vote by a 60 to 38% margin, failed to carry even his home state of South Dakota and won the electoral votes of only the state of Massachusettes and the District of Columbia.
Thus the elctions of 1964 and 1972 further cemented the idea that political elections in the US are won or lost based on the political views of the moderate center of the American voter electorate, rather than the political perspectives of the more activist conservative Republican or liberal Democratic Party members. But in more recent years I have detected a subtle but nonetheless discernible evolution in the American political landscape. I believe that much of this change has been due to the growing influence of the US electronic news media at the expense of the more traditional printed news sources.
The political positions of many elected officials from both parties (on a number of issues) have become decidedly more polarized in recent years. There is also much less propriety in terms of the way in which elections are contested by both Republican and Democratic Party candidates. My own sense is that the average American citizen is way out ahead of most US politicians (and much more moderate) in his or her views on issues such as health care, education, environment and foreign policy.
But you wouldn’t know this because the US news media, particularly the electronic versions, primarily focuses on the differences between the perspectives of various members of the “political classes” rather than the views of average American citizens. I say this with all due respect for both the news media and the political classes, because I consider myself to be a member of both. But the news media in the US and much of the rest of the world is now dominated by private business corporations which are motivated and driven by a desire to sell advertising and derive greater profits from the viewer ratings and or purchases of their news products.
Unfortunately, it is much easier to attract viewers’ and readers’ attention if you focus on controversial or attention grabbing “sound bites” and differences in political opinions, than it is to provide those consumers with an indepth and unbiased analysis of various different social issues and political positions. I will nonethelass attempt to provide readers with this kind of analysis in my future 2007 newscolumns.

No comments: