Secession Silliness And Voter Disinterest

The BBC reports that more than 100,000 Americans have posted petitions asking to secede from the union to a White House website.  The petitions apparently quote the Declaration of Independence, which speaks of when it “becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another,” and cite “blatant abuses” of citizen rights such as overly intrusive screening by the Transportation Security Administration.  The most popular petition, from Texas, has attracted more than 25,000 signatures.

I suppose the would-be secessionists recognize they can’t really secede — hundreds of thousands died in a bloody Civil War to establish that principle — and are merely hoping to make some kind of symbolic statement.  But for what purpose?  Saying that you want to secede because your candidate lost is as stupid and mindless as dim-witted celebrities like Cher threatening to leave the country if the Republican candidate wins.  In both cases, the sentiment expressed just reflects negatively on the speakers as juvenile sore losers who want to take their ball and go home.  What rational American is going to be persuaded by a petition that posits that overly aggressive TSA pat-downs justify secession from the United States?

Rather than submitting silly and counterproductive petitions, people who take their politics seriously would do well to consider the fact that voter turnout fell sharply from 2008 to 2012 and determine why that occurred.  I think the answer is simple:  Americans turned out to vote for change in 2008 and turned out again to vote for change in 2010 — and no change occurred.  They watched an endless Republican primary season that blended into an endless campaign.  They suffered through a barrage of negative ads and outright demonization and distortion of the opposing candidates, and they decided they had had enough and just weren’t going to waste their time any more in a process that seems to occupy huge amounts of time, attention, and money without achieving anything.

Thirteen million fewer Americans voted in 2012 than in 2008 — and voter turnoff affected both candidates.  President Obama won, but he received almost 10 million fewer votes in 2012 than in 2008 — and in fact received fewer votes in 2012 than John McCain received in 2008.

If our political leaders of both parties don’t figure out how to work together to address our looming problems, and we see only more years of pointless partisan bickering, don’t be surprised if the 2014 and 2016 turnouts continue the downward trend.  Americans not only won’t vote, they won’t care.

Neck And Neck In The Buckeye State Battleground

Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan was in town on Saturday.  He did some campaigning before he went to the first quarter of the Ohio State-Miami RedHawks game — Miami being his alma mater — and then he jetted off to some other battleground state.  Ryan’s been in Ohio multiple times already, as have President Obama, Mitt Romney, and Vice President Biden. The New York Times reports that Ryan even carries a lucky Buckeye in his pocket.

We’ll be seeing a lot more of them all in the days ahead.

The campaigns are treating Ohio as a toss-up right now, and according to polling data, it is.  The most recent look at Ohio, a pre-Republican convention poll by the Columbus Dispatch, had the presidential race tied, 45-45, and also had the U.S. Senate contest between incumbent Democrat Sherrod Brown and Republican challenger Josh Mandel tied, 44-44.  What better definition of a battleground state than one where contests are not just within the margin of error, but literally tied?  The airwaves are full of ads for and against various candidates, and the campaigns seem to be scientifically targeting certain areas — even certain suburbs — as they look for votes.

It feels like a close race here, too.  In 2008, there was a remarkable outpouring of support in Ohio for President Obama.  You saw it in unlikely places like Upper Arlington, a Columbus suburb that traditionally has been a Republican stronghold.  The President won Ohio by nearly 5 percentage points.

This year I haven’t seen that same level of buzz for the President.  Activists and the professional pols are trying hard to drum up excitement, but many people seem to have backed away from politics a bit, perhaps because they believe the President hasn’t delivered the change he promised in 2008.  Whether they re-engage with the political process now that Labor Day has passed, the Republican ticket is set, and the traditional campaign season has arrived will tell us a lot about which way Ohio, the quintessential swing state, will swing this time around.

An Ohioan’s Thoughts On The Race Ahead

We’re now less than seven months away from the 2012 presidential election. What does the race look like, from the perspective of battleground Ohio?

I think the 2012 election will be much less emotion-charged than 2008 was.  In 2008 many hoped that Barack Obama would be a transformative figure whose election would finally slay the dragons of racism in America.   Many others were panicked by the financial abyss yawning open beneath our feet and were looking for the candidate they felt was best suited to deal with the crisis.

Barring unforeseen events, neither of those emotional themes will be at work in 2012.  President Obama still has many supporters, but I don’t know anyone who views him as a kind of magical arbiter capable of bringing people together through sheer force of oratory and personality.  His time in office has demonstrated, to all but the true believers, that the President is a politician who makes the same kinds of political calculations that other politicians do.  The hopes for a miraculous national reconciliation and a perfect leader that motivated many people in 2008 just don’t seem to exist now.

Nor does the terror that gripped some people in 2008.  Worries about a complete financial meltdown cut both ways in that election; some voted for Barack Obama because he seemed to deal with the crisis without drama, others voted for John McCain because he was more experienced.  Now, I think, people are not panicky, but rather are concerned and angry — concerned because, years later, the economy still stinks and jobs remain hard to come by, and angry because our political leaders don’t seem to be doing anything much about it.

What does this mean?  First, I think fewer people will be deeply involved in the election and a smaller percentage of people will vote.  No one will be arguing that the election offers a chance to vote for a perfect candidate.  Second, I think many people have already made up their minds, based purely on their assessment of President Obama’s performance.  They either think he has done a good job in avoiding another Great Depression despite the obstructionism of his opponents or believe he has spent recklessly and put the country on the path to financial ruin.  Even the most powerful political ads aren’t going to change their competing perceptions.

Third, I think many people are still reserving judgment and want to see how things play out.  They’ll be making two judgments in the coming months.  First, is Mitt Romney up to the job?  Can he handle the pressure and juggle the competing demands without meltdowns or gross missteps?  If Romney passes that test, then they’ll think about whether President Obama has done a good job.

Elections in which an incumbent is on the ballot are almost always referendums on the incumbent’s performance, and I think 2012 will be no different.  Stripped of illusion and romantic hopes, undecided voters will consider whether the economy is improving in ways that affect their lives.  Are family members and friends who have been out of work getting hired, or are other acquaintances getting laid off?  They’ll look at gas prices, and unemployment statistics, and the stock market, and I think those indicators will tell the tale.  If unemployment rates inch back up, and gas prices remain at or above $4 a gallon, President Obama will face a very tough road.