Have you heard the candidates mention your state during the debates? How about the entire time during the campaign? Nope. Me neither.
Now of course I’m in the lowly state of Alabama with only 9 electoral votes, but chances are most Americans live in a state that simply doesn’t matter to either of these campaigns: CA, NY, WA, OR, TN, TX, OK, IL, GA…
How can you run for President of the United States of America and only have to convince a handful of states that you should be the next President of all the states?
…the actual share of voters nationally who are up for grabs is probably between just 3 percent and 5 percent in this election, polling experts say. The Obama and Romney campaigns are expected to spend on the order of $2 billion, in part to try to sway this tiny share of the electorate.
This NY Times piece goes onto describe how the campaigns are only targeting small groups of voters within counties of swing states:
A senior Romney aide, who requested anonymity discussing strategy, says the campaign’s microtargeting has identified specific swing-voter-rich counties in swing states: In Virginia, for example, a large number of swing voters are concentrated in Fairfax County, just outside the District of Columbia; in Ohio, by contrast, undecided or persuadable voters are scattered throughout the state. In some cases, demographic patterns emerge: In Arapahoe County, Colo., just outside Denver, the majority of swing voters will probably be women, the aide said.
These winner-take-all, divisions reinforce all the terrible tactics we’ve seen from both campaigns. In this digital age of advanced micro-targeting and micro-messaging the campaigns don’t need a broad message to lead the entire country, and they definitely don’t need to bother convincing anyone from across the aisle.
Supporters of the current Electoral College system argue a direct popular vote would unfairly favor big cities over rural areas, but isn’t the tyranny of Ohio worse! The candidates should be forced to appeal to as broad a group in the electorate as possible, by campaigning and appealing to all 50 states.
By building a national consensus around issues we can move past the simple answers we keep hearing on the campaign trail. One example from my state is the renaissance of car manufacturing going on here in the south. Mercedes-Benz continues to expand their plant here in Tuscaloosa. VW built a new plant in Chattanooga, TN. BMW has a plant in South Carolina. Hyundai is building cars in Montgomery, AL. Stop telling me how amazing the auto-bailout was for Detroit! That’s not the only place cars are made in America!
This pandering to swing states leads to simplistic answers at best and outright terrible policy at worst. Newt Gingerich’s overt pandering during the republican primary is the strongest case for why the system is flawed. Ethanol for Iowa. Dredge the Charleston for South Carolina. Space funding and a moon base for Florida. Basically, take money from all the other states whose votes don’t matter in the primary and give it to key states through federal spending. Thankfully, Newt lost in the primary.
The Big Picture
My biggest complaint throughout this campaign, compared to the 2008 campaign, is the lack of a big picture of what the candidates want to accomplish. Give us a meta-narrative! Tell us a story of why your vision, your party, deserves my vote.
In 2008, Obama’s slogans were hope and change, but he also painted a broad message of how we’re better together, than divided. From that belief sprang the healthcare law the administration spent much of their political capital on. The process of passing the law was less than ideal, but the goal of insurance for all was not a surprise based on the goals stated in the campaign.
That’s just one example from 2008, but tell me what the broad message is this time?
Obama: We’re getting better, because I helped stop the crisis. Everything is going to be ok. I killed Osama.
Romney: I’m a businessman. Did I mention I’m a businessman. I want to cut taxes to create more jobs.
With such a broad and diverse culture we need ideals and goals that unite all 300+ million of us instead of pandering to tiny percentages through divisive micro-messaging. After all this time of campaigning and billions of dollars spent, neither candidate has addressed most of the pressing issues that we face in the next 4 years:
How will you resolve the housing crisis?
What will you do about the unprecedented consolidation of Wall Street banks?
What will you do to reform immigration?
What can be done to address the meteoric cost increases in higher education?
What about the continued rise of costs in healthcare?
What can America as a nation do to remain competitive on the global market?
How can we fix the skills gap that continues to leave 20 million Americans unemployed?
Will we continue a foreign policy of bombing and killing our way to peace?
What will you do about the continued detainment of prisoners in Guantanamo Bay?
How will you form any sort of consensus in Congress to start working again?
Call me naive for thinking census matters, then you can call me cynical for believing 95% of the votes cast tomorrow won’t matter.