October 29, 2008
7 Days before US Elections: what are people saying?
The countdown begins in America, with all eyes and ears on the final push between Obama and McCain: 7 days to go! Yesterday we were brought to the US State Department for a briefing on the US system of government and the key trends and issues in Election 2008. Today we visited the international headquarters of Gallup Poll. In between we’ve had numerous speakers talking to us about the campaigning strategy, media strategy and others. Learning a lot which can definitely be transferred back to Malaysia. (Next elections!)
The reason this will probably be one of the most historic election in the States yet is because of some of the following: It’s the first time since 1952 that none of the incumbents are running as either Presidential or Vice-Presidential candidates. No matter the outcome, the US will either have the first African-American President or the first lady Vice-President. It is also the longest campaign ever, and the most expensive, costing more than USD1 billion.
The US practices early voting, which is seeing more voters coming out than ever before. It is estimated that by 4th November, next Tuesday, one third of the voters would have cast their ballots already. The state of Oregon, for example, is using ONLY postal votes.
As we all know, the main issue overriding the elections is: the Economy (it’s the economy, stupid). Gallup interviews 1000 people a day, everyday. Those who worry about money are more inclined towards voting Obama. Because things are going so negatively here, any candidate wanting to bring about change is going to have a significant advantage over the incumbent: obviously the Democrats are using it to the full. By disassociating himself from Bush and the Republican economic policies, Obama is leading the race. Better for Obama, Bush’s approval rating has dropped to his all-time low of 25%. (His all-time high was just after September 11th 2001, a 90% rate).
Religion is also another issue. We already know that the conservative religious right (also known as the evangelicals) are most likely to vote Republican – whoever the candidate is – and the Gallup poll stresses this: Those who attend church regularly are McCain supporters. But interestingly, more than 90% of the blacks would vote Obama – and these are probably very religious as well!
On religion, Focus on the Family has issued a nasty letter predicting what would happen in the future should Obama win (sparking what critics are calling “the politics of fear”), including the following (read it in full here):
Far-left liberals could hold a 6-3 majority on the U.S. Supreme Court.
The nation’s highest court could rule same-sex “marriage” is a constitutional right — in all 50 states.
Preaching from the Bible could be banned from radio and television.
States may not be able to restrict abortion, and taxpayers could be forced to fund abortions.
In several states, it could be illegal to own a gun.
There are severe responses from alternative Christian groups such as Matthew 25, who are into issues of climate change and trying to provide another way of interpreting the Christian faith – it is turning out to be a psychological war of words and concepts. The key is whether or not they will make any headway at all into the evangelical heartland of America. The people are more interested in domestic issues of lifestyle, gay marriage, abortion, social security instead of foreign policy (although the rest of us would like to think that Iraq and Afghanistan feature strongly in their voter sentiment – they do not!).
“If there were only whites voting in America, McCain would win”, Dr. Frank Newport stated, the head of Gallup International – showing us a chart that showed 44% of whites support Obama, and 48% supporting McCain. Of course, this would change if we did a cross-section showing the young white, because the young overwhelmingly support Obama. Does race still feature strongly in the election? That discussion still continues, but most of the political experts here have said to our face that Obama is going to win.
But not so fast: polls sometimes have their flaws. First because they tend to call users who have landlines. Although Gallup has updated its methodology to include cell phones, other polls usually call people at home and skews the results. Also, there is always a margin of error which people forget (and the Obama-McCain lead is only several points apart). Plus, nearing Election Day, the gap seems to be closing (even if ever so slightly) – this is worrying for the Democrats. Nevertheless, it would probably take a major event taking place for Obama to lose. Some are predicting a landslide victory.
In the meantime, Obama has the financial advantage. He does not have Federal restrictions on the amount of money he can spend on advertising, McCain does. He will be pumping loads of cash into TV ads over the final week. Tomorrow he will be buying up half an hour of ad space on TV. And the ads are bordering on downright vicious. Obama ads show footage of McCain saying “I voted with Bush 90% of the time”, and saying that McCain is trying to make people scared. McCain ads say Obama has no experience and are trying to frighten people into thinking they are voting for the “unknown”.
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