While the campaign for President rages on, people are taking sides for many different reasons. Some are choosing their candidate based on their perception that one candidate or the other agrees with them on issues that they are passionate about. Some voters are basing their decision on experience or trust in their candidates intentions. Others are voting simply based upon their party affiliation. There are even some reckless and bigoted individuals voting along ethnic or racial lines and others who are voting based on age.
A majority of people are basing their decision on more overall factors that look at the big picture and determine their vote factoring in issues, the candidates voting records and history along with their honesty and abilities.
Be it history, affiliation, color, one issue or many issues, the determining factors that account for the decision of each single voter varies.
From the managerial point of a campaign, the name of the game is getting more votes than the opposing campaign. In doing so a campaign manager must look at the demographic breakdown of the electorate and ascertain their likely supporters in those demographics. The reason being that in order to win, you must maximize persuasion and voter turnout among the demographics that are inclined to support your candidate.
There are many different aspects that factor in to demographics. First of all they must be registered voters. You can appeal to someone who has a strong opinion but if they are not registered to vote, their opinion does not matter. You have regional concerns and the mathematics of the electoral college. You have party affiliation and religious backgrounds as well as racial demographics and age. Of all these, and even more demographic breakdowns, age, happens to be one of the most crucial.
It is a fact that out of all specialized categories of voters, senior citizens are the segment who are most dedicated in an election. It is a group that exceeds all other cross tabs including race, gender or religion.
Senior citizens cherish their vote and they use it. There are many reasons for this fact. One deals with the fact that people of retirement age have entered into a less fast paced lifestyle and are not bogged down by long commutes to work and trying to meet deadlines in between addressing all the needs of their domestic lives. This gives them more time to focus on the issues and pay more attention to them. Other reasons deal with the fact that with their age also comes the revelation of the importance in their vote. They have come to learn that the leaders of our nation have more of a direct impact on us than other citizens think or understand. Unlike some younger voters who still feel invincible and detached from the effects of Washington, D.C., senior citizens realize the direct impact that Washington has on us.
Because of these points, senior citizens are the most important voting block in almost any election and most definitely in any national election. They comprise approximately 12.5 percent of the national population. More importantly, they comprise an even larger percentage of the voting population. 79 percent of this population registered to vote in the last election and even more have registered for this election. That is the largest percentage of voters out of all other demographic groups. Furthermore, of the 79 percent who can vote, more than 71percent actually cast a ballot, accounting for the highest voter turnout of any demographic.
All this points to one thing. When you combine the issues with the likely voters on Election Day, senior citizens are one of the most important groups that a campaign can appeal to. They listen and they vote.
In this election, Barack Obama has burst on to the scene and there is incredible enthusiasm for him. Especially among so-called young voters. It is often pointed out that the size of the crowds that turnout at Obama events are humungous. I will not disagree with that but I will suggest that it has little bearing on the election. Many of these young voters do not vote. Come Election Day, they often find themselves preoccupied with other happenings in their lives and the level of importance that some of them put on their right to vote often pales in comparison to some truly less important trend of the moment. The crowds that show up for Barack may be large, but how many of those people are registered to vote? How many of them who are registered will actually make the effort to vote?
Barack Obama’s appeal to the youth vote is admirable. We need all voting age citizens to vote and many do. But the fact remains that the most reliable voters are 65 and older. It is a point not ignored by John McCain and his campaign which has not simply geared his efforts to the “hipper”, younger part of the electorate as does Obama. McCain’s appeal is rooted in accomplishments and examples and he directs it to all Americans, including seniors.
That being the case Barack Obama is losing this election based upon not only his lack of accomplishments to point to or the incongruity of his policy positions but because the direction of his campaign is tactically wrong. He is relying on a segment of the electorate that has paid little attention to the real issues. A segment of the electorate that thinks it knows all that they need to know by getting their news from MTV. Admittedly, there are many young and first time voters who pay more attention and are not swayed by Lindsay Lohan, Britney Spears or Matt Damon. That is why the youth vote is not monolithic in it’s support of democrats. Neither are golden agers. But the older, reliable, likely voters are more conservative in their thinking. They also are not as open to change as is the x-generation and VH1 or MTV crowd.
This does not bode well for a candidate who has taken his campaign to the streets of Germany and promotes change without having a record of bringing about any reform. Older citizens take pause and wonder if the type of change being offered is the type of transformation that Jimmy Carter brought to them when they were younger and lived through economic times far more difficult than we may have today. The retired voter is not impressed by commercials geared to the youth vote and claim that John McCain is out of touch because he doesn’t use e-mail. First of all John McCain doesn’t use email because the improper setting of broken bones during his Vietnam experience handicapped him and left him without the dexterity to properly use a keyboard. Secondly, many in the older generation don’t rely on e-mail, yet they are still in touch with the issues and the reality they live in.
According to many polls, experience is one of the most important qualities that people 55 and older look for in a candidate. Currently, polls have shown that this age group leans heavily to John McCain for that reason. They see in him someone that brings vast experience to the ticket and in his running mate they see someone who actually has experience in governing. All are qualities that they do not find in Obama. It is a point hammered home by Pennsylvania, which has the second largest senior population in the nation. In Pennsylvania’s Democratic primary for President, Clinton overwhelmingly defeated Obama in large part due to the senior population and their focus on experience.
It is also interesting to note that the three states with the highest population of seniors are also battleground states in the presidential election. Among them are Florida, which has the highest concentration of voters 65 and older.
These factors do not offer great optimism for an Obama victory. His ambiguous calls for change, his lack of experience and accomplishment along with his attempts to make McCain look out of touch and feeble do not necessarily appeal to one of the largest and most reliable group of voters in the nation.
The political professionals on the Obama team will realize all this in time. And when they do, they will pull out the DNC handbook and resort to their usual tactic of trying to scare senior citizens. They will try to scare them into believing that John McCain will steel away their social security benefits. It is a tactic that they have used in every election cycle since Reagan and it is a tactic that has failed them. In fact, it is a play on their fears that has often offended seniors and backfired on democrats. But rest assured, the democrats will panic and play that game again.
In the mean time Barack Obama should sit down and asses his campaign. He should look at the voters whom he is trying to appeal to and try to address them properly. Instead of mocking age, he should try to point out all that his age brings to the table . Instead of promoting change for change’s sake, he should develop and articulate an economic policy that would strengthen the economy and allow people to keep more of the money that they earn. Instead of appealing to Germans in Berlin he should appeal to Americans and outline his direction for keeping us safe. Instead of using text massages to make announcements such as who his running mate will be, Barack should address the people properly. Perhaps a good way to do that would be to accept John McCain’s call to joint town hall meetings with the people, where the two of them can address the people, together, in real life, not online and scripted.
In the end, the campaign that has been best at putting forth their vision to all the voters and has been able to best support that vision with real results, will win the day. However, it will not be won by continuing in the direction that the Obama campaign is going. It will not be won by trying to appeal to the youngest and most unreliable voters and offending the oldest and most reliable voters.