The moment we are in is full of worry and fear. The worry is mostly about the economy and is certainly reality-based. Some on the right would also like to turn the worry into fear that what Pres. Obama and the Dems in Congress are doing to deal with the economy will destroy America. Think that’s an overstatement? The only recent night that I watched the Hannity program on Fox was the night (Feb. 9) that the Senate, thanks to three Republican rank-breakers, reached a deal on the stimulus package. Hannity was apoplectic and seemed ready to file treason charges against the three.
“I say it’s the end of capitalism as we know it bill,” fulminated he. “We used to believe in things like liberty and Freedom.” His guest, the execrable Ann Coulter, after referring to the turncoats as “the stupidest most most traitorous Republicans,” was asked what it all means. Replied she: “It means we’re going to be a third-rate country… This is going to wreck America.” (You can watch this exchange for yourself if you like. Out of blood pressure considerations, I don’t really recommend it , but if you never hear what that crowd is capable of saying…)
As we negotiate our own wobbly paths along the optimism-hope-worry-fear continuum, as we try, despite the helpful guidance of the Hannitys and the Coulters, to keep hope alive, I wanted to bring up one more poll result from the late campaign.
In recent elections, pollsters have actually asked people whether they were actually voting for the person they were voting for or against the opponent. Obviously, our system has a little more life and joy and hope in it when voters feel they are casting a positive rather than a negative vote.
(Veteran Minnesota (DFL) political guru Wy Spano says that his favorite cartoon shows two women waiting to vote and one says to the other “Have you decided who you’re voting against?”)
Political scientist Lee Sigelman of George Washington University, writing in an excellent polysci blog called (I’m not sure why) The Monkey Cage, compiled the figures for all recent elections and demonstrated that the number of people casting a positive vote in 2008 was the highest it has been since pollsters started asking this question in the 1960s.
In 2008, just 18 percent of all voters said that they considered their presidential vote a vote against the other candidate. Writes Sigelman:
“The 2008 voters were not equal-opportunity pro-candidate voters. Predictably, Obama voters were overwhelmingly in the “positive” camp: 82% of them said they were voting for Obama rather than against McCain. By contrast, only 63% of McCain voters were motivated primarily by their positive feelings about McCain.
These 2008 figures represent a huge turnaround from the situation just four years earlier. In 2004, only 41% of those who voted for Kerry were actually voting FOR Kerry; 50% of them were using Kerry primarily as an instrument for registering their opposition to George W. Bush. Meanwhile, 76% of the Bush voters were attracted to him and only 21% were voting for him as a means of expressing their lack of support for Kerry.”
But 2004 was not the record setter for negative voting. That was 1980, when a great many Republicans were motivated to vote against the Dem incumbent Jimmy Carter and a lot of Dems were apparently clinging to Carter not out of any enthusiam for him but because the idea of President Ronald Reagan scared the heck out of them. In that election, 44 percent of all voters described their vote as a vote against.
Not to be a party pooper, but I do wonder how many of the pro-Obama voters would have said that their vote was substantially a vote to repudiate Bushism. I don’t know how long Obama, or Dems generally, can sustain their popularity simply by reminding people that Bush was a Republican. But I do want to believe that we have a moment here, and Obama has the appropriate style and rhetoric for that moment, when the country wants and will support a less polarized politics, notwithstanding the best efforts of the Hannitys and the Coulters to keep permanently frightened and angry. What think ye?