Just days ago my students asked me to go out on a limb and predict the presidential election results. Since I teach a course this fall called "Political Communication and Elections" it was like catnip to this political animal. Cautioning that this was neither an endorsement nor do I have a margin of error of three percentage points, I said that my gut tells me Kerry will win. My class seems evenly divided between pro-Bush and pro-Kerry supporters (although I haven't asked them specifically), so there was a vocal rush of excitement from some of the students. Here's what I base my very unscientific conclusions on:
- Kerry is starting to pull away with women. Women, the so-called security Moms and "W is for Women" camp, were on the Bush side right through September, but Kerry dominated in the debates, where he showed an ability to be tough on terror, despite his L word (that's liberal, not lesbian) tag. But Kerry didn't just stick with toughness and hunting skills. Unlike Bush, who spotlighted security on 9/11 and getting rid of Saddam, Kerry framed security within a larger landscape picture of domestic security issues, including job security, healthcare, and education. Liberal Democrats, as we all know, never get much credit for being stronger on military and national security, in part because they favor public opinion and citizen debate determining whether or not or even how a nation engages in war. Security Moms were in lockstep with the conservative Republican approach to let elites in government, notably Rumsfeld, Cheney, and Bush, make those big decisions for us. As the economy sluggishly rolled along the last two months, security Moms were challenged by both single and married women without children, who were nodding their heads in response to Kerry's debate reminder of their own economic security gap in earnings.
- Kerry is wooing younger voters. There's no question that younger voters between the ages of 18-35 are registering in numbers exceeding the last contested presidential election of 2000. In my fourteen years of college teaching, I've never seen students quite so motivated and fired up emotionally about their respective candidate. Historically, younger voters don't automatically vote for the Democrat but rather mirror the general electorate. This time there seems to be a youth gap between Bush and Kerry. A much larger percentage of younger voters dislikes the incumbent and prefers anyone but him, which helps explain why Michael Moore's Slackers Tour has brought out tens of thousands on college campuses. Maybe the younger voter isn't in love with Kerry, but s/he is willing to try the other brand on for size. Is it fear of a draft that motivates some? Is it Drew Barrymore's Rock-the-Vote appearance on Oprah, P. Diddy's Vote or Die campaign, or Eminem's new anti-Bush video (see www.gnn.tv) that urges his followers to vote November 2nd? Not exclusively, because this youth demographic is more sophisticated and segmented than a single cause-effect analysis. Several of my students have said they simply care more this time because they think there is really a difference between the candidates and that a single voter, given Election 2000, can actually make a difference. Now we'll have to see if all those registered younger voters actually come out to vote this Tuesday.
- If polls say it's a tie the weekend before, this favors the challenger. President Bush better hope he has the luck of the "buck stops here" man from Missouri, Harry Truman, because you'd have to go back to 1948 to locate the last president who had such a 50/50 split in positive/negative favorability in the summer before who managed to eke out a win in November. This isn't so much a polarized electorate as the media love to remind us but one that is ambivalent about this sitting president. If the American electorate offers Kerry a position as the new CEO of this company we call America, Inc., then Kerry will certainly win, because there seems to be less ambivalence about Kerry's ability to run the company after the three presidential debates (and more concern about the incumbent CEO). Bush will stay if the American public votes to retain the sitting CEO despite low earning ratings. Then we'll know that he has successfully diverted our attention from global economic leadership and company credibility to lower-level fear and anxiety reminders that he, and only he and Dick Cheney, can stop terror and protect us from Bin Laden's threats.
- Finally, as for Bin Laden's late-breaking video appearance and its possible impact on the election, there's no question that Bin Laden uses a Bush-led America as a recruitment tool in his al-Qaida ideology and movement. A Bush win keeps Bin Laden's credibility in tact with those parts of the world that loathe the United States because of its government leadership. Bin Laden's video does serve, however, to bring President Bush's main security argument for protecting us from shadowy terrorists to the forefront of people's minds as they vote November 2nd. In the end, the American people are going to vote for change at the top and won't let some far-distant terrorist reinforce his recruiting status.