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Recently, some Republican leaders and pundits in Virginia have been floating the idea of changing the way the state awards its electoral votes in presidential elections.  Currently, Virginia gives all 13 of its votes to the candidate who receives a plurality of the statewide popular vote.  In both 2008 and 2012, Democrat Barack Obama claimed Virginia, the first Democratic candidate to do so since Lyndon Johnson did in 1964.  This new plan, sponsored by State Senator Charles Carrico Sr. of Grayson County, gives the winner of each of the state’s 11 congressional districts one vote, with the remaining two votes going to the candidate who wins the most districts.

From nationalatlas.gov

From nationalatlas.gov

There is no doubt that this proposed change would radically modify the outcome in Virginia.  Taking 2012 as an example, Barack Obama only won 4 of the 11 of the congressional districts, with the remaining 7 going to Republican Mitt Romney.  If Carrico’s plan had been in place, Romney would have ended up with 9 of Virginia’s electoral votes has opposed to the zero he actually received.  The fact that Obama won 50.8% of the statewide vote would have been completely irrelevant.

Although there is some argument to be made that both the interest and will of Virginia’s voters would be better served under some other plan than winner-take-all, the Carrico solution is a particularly terrible suggestion.

The fundamental reason why this plan is poor deals with the ugly issue of gerrymandering.  According to the Constitution, each congressional district must be roughly equal in population.  Based upon the population of the Commonwealth, Virginia has 11 districts.  However, the question becomes, how should the state be divided into these 11 pieces?

Given that the Virginia legislature draws these districts, they are often created, not based upon regional hegemony, but for political gain.  For example, we know that, in general, the most heavily Democratic areas of the state are areas of fairly close population density, such as most of northern Virginia, and cities like Charlottesville, Richmond, Williamsburg, and Norfolk.  Creating a district that included a majority of Arlington or Alexandria would almost certainly result in a Democratic heavy district, while crafted a district using the counties of Augusta and Rockingham in the Shenandoah Valley, or Powhatan and Hanover in central Virginia would have the opposite effect.

With these thoughts, and previous voting history in mind, one can combine like-minded areas to generate safe districts, much like the 3rd & 8th congressional are for the Democrats, or 9th & 6th are for the Republicans.  It is also possible to dilute the vote, such as splitting the heavily Democratic city of Richmond between the 3rd and the 7th or to enhance the effects of a voting population as is done in the Virginia House of Delegates where four different Republican members of that body benefit from representing a portion of the Republican voting strength of Rockingham County.  Simply add a city or subtract a county, and one can often safely assume a result long before voters head to the polls. Offer any politically savvy consultant a pen, a map, and a few statistics; with these tools he or she can draw lines that can easily serve the interests of either the Republican or Democratic Parties.

Now some people might say that given the fact that the Republican Party controls the state government, rank and file Republicans should not speak ill against this proposal, given that if it passes it will likely benefit the party.  However, such a view is shortsighted and ignores the political health of the nation.  Sure, Republicans are in charge today and this move could bolster the Republican presidential candidate’s chances in 2016, but what happens when the Democratic Party regains control?  Would it be just for the GOP to speak out against a plan that they created when it no longer serves their political interests in the future?

Another factor to consider is the issue of political relevancy.  For example, in 2008, Barack Obama gave a speech in Harrisonburg in order to gain support among the residents of the city and the student body of James Madison University.  This move proved successful as he ended up winning this city.  However, if the 6th district voted as a solid block, then he would have had no incentive to go to Harrisonburg, for it would have been impossible for him to make any difference.  Even if every citizen in Harrisonburg voted for Obama, those totals would have been insufficient to overcome the Republican heavy 6th district.

The same logic would hold true for Republican candidates as well.  If the 6th were seen as a solid block, it would be foolish to waste time and resources in an area where victory was a certainty.  Thus, under the Carrico system, no presidential candidate would set foot in the 6th district ever again, all parties would largely ignore the region, and it is almost certain that political apathy and/or intolerance would become the norm throughout both the conservative and liberal segments of the Shenandoah Valley.

Therefore, for the twin concerns of gerrymandering and maintaining political relevancy, legislators, activists, and ordinary citizens throughout Virginia ought to oppose Senator’s Carrico’s plan to award the state’s electoral votes based upon the winners of each congressional district.  Yes, it sounds quite tempting to many Republicans today, but the lasting consequences of this change will certainly offset any temporary benefits.

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Shortly after the November elections, I heard Fun.’s Some Nights and realized that many of the lyrics in this song apply to the current turmoil in the Republican Party stemming both from the nomination of Mitt Romney and his failure to win the general election on November 6th.

Now, I know what some of you are thinking; gee, do you always draw ties between politics and pop culture?  Well, I guess that connection is simply programmed in my brain.  For example, when I watched the James Bond film Skyfall yesterday, I noticed a number of interesting theories at work, such as the question of when or if one should surrender his or her own needs and desires to the greater good of the state.  But any discussion of Skyfall will have to wait for another day.

First, if you haven’t heard Fun.’s Some Nights, or if you don’t remember the song, I encourage you to listen to it again here.

For purposes of this article, I’ll quote a line from the song and then explain the current political significance regarding the controversies within the Republican Party.  Is everyone clear on the format then?  Okay.  Let’s begin.

Right off, we have the line “Some nights, I stay up cashing in my bad luck”.

A few Republican pundits blamed the results of the 2012 election on bad luck.  Oh, if only Hurricane Sandy didn’t hit when it did…oh, if only Representative Todd Akin didn’t stick his foot in his mouth when it came to rape, Mitt Romney would have won.  Although bad luck can certainly play a factor in all facets of life, including elections, the Republican Party lost for more important reasons than simply “bad luck”.

The next line of interest is “But I still wake up, I still see your ghost”.

The political ghost for the Republicans is the spirit of Ronald Reagan.  Most Republican activists fondly remember the Reagan presidency in particularly idyllic terms.  Oh, they think, if only we could only find another Ronald Reagan then we could return both the country and the party to some sort of golden age.  Unfortunately, the standard practice is to whitewash history so we tend to forget that despite his greatness, Reagan did have his flaws and the country wasn’t perfect under his rule.  Nevertheless, Reagan was a good president, but we must recognize the simple fact is that he is gone.  The GOP must look to the future, not continually dwell on the past.

Moving on, we find the lines:

“Oh Lord, I’m still not sure what I stand for oh
What do I stand for? What do I stand for?
Most nights, I don’t know anymore…”

In these lyrics we find the crux of the GOP dilemma.  What does the Republican Party stand for these days, if anything?  Many conservatives I know would argue that the Republicans stand for a federal government restrained by the constitution, free markets, fiscal responsibility, personal liberty, a strong national defense, and a faith in God (see the creed of the Republican Party of Virginia).  But one does have to wonder, if those principles guide the GOP, why did they select such a poor standard bearer in the form of Mitt Romney? After all, during his political career, he opposed the 2nd Amendment, approved of judicial activism and fought against the right to life by supporting Roe v. Wade, spoke in favor of some aspects of government involvement in healthcare, and believes that government can deny citizens suspected of terrorism their basic constitutional protections.  Are these the values that the modern GOP supports?

Then we have “This is it, boys, this is war – what are we waiting for?”

Both the Republican and Democratic Parties have been actively working to destroy political dialogue in this country.  Differing political opinions are not tolerated; those who disagree, either domestically or internationally, are treated as enemies that cannot be reasoned with.  Taken in its extreme form, you get thoughts much like President George W. Bush statement in 2001, “Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists.”  The prospect of any sort of political middle ground is treated with hostility.  Once a people begin to treat their friends and neighbors as enemies based upon mere political disagreements, that country is no longer politically healthy.  As fellow political blogger Rick Sincere stated earlier today, “People with whom I disagree are people with whom I disagree. They are not demons, mortal enemies, or the Antichrist. Disagreements about policy and culture are the lifeblood of representative democracy and pluralist society. They are not signs of the Apocalypse.”

“Why don’t we break the rules already?”

The Republican Party famously chose to modify many of its rules at the Republican National Convention in order to favor the establishment and exclude liberty activists.  But it is okay, because the end justifies the means, right?

“I was never one to believe the hype – save that for the black and white”

Leading up to the election, some political pundits, like Karl Rove or Dick Morris, predicted a victory for Romney, apparently not based upon political reality, but predicated upon the mere hope that Romney would win.  Should we leave objective journalism to the “black and white” newspapers?

“I try twice as hard and I’m half as liked”.

Mitt Romney did work diligently to win the election.  However, far too many voters had a hard time liking a New England liberal elitist who was unable to relate to the plight of the average working man or woman.  Nationally, he claimed less votes than the not particularly well-liked John McCain.

“…but here they come again to jack my style”

Here we have the establishment lament.  Oh, those cursed Ron Paul supporters! If only they would have fallen in line behind the party nominee.  Who cares what principles they may or may not hold?  The victory of the party is of paramount concern.  They only exist to cause trouble or to “jack” the style of the establishment.

“…who I am, who I am, who I am.  Oh, who am I?”

As stated earlier, the GOP is a party with an identity crisis.

“Cause I could use some friends for a change
And some nights, I’m scared you’ll forget me again”

In order to survive as a national party, the Republicans will need to attract new voters or “friends”.  A lot of these potential friends are youth associated with the Ron Paul movement but in order to attract these folks, the party must adopt a more pro-liberty slant.

“Some nights, I always win, I always win…”

A repetition of the mistaken belief and/or fantasy that Romney and the Republicans would enjoy a great victory on Election Day.

“Well, that is it guys, that is all – five minutes in and I’m bored again
Ten years of this, I’m not sure if anybody understands”

One of the great concerns of the establishment is the acquisition of power.  To many of them, principles are a secondary issue.  Without this power, they grow bored and don’t wish to wait ten long years (or, in this case, four years) to regain influence in Washington.

“So this is it? I sold my soul for this?

Washed my hands of that for this?

I miss my mom and dad for this?”

Some conservative activists are rightly upset that they compromised their principles in order to defeat the supposed greater threat of Barack Obama. The line, “I miss my mom and dad for this?” echoes the fact that many volunteers sacrificed their family life for the pursuit of this political goal.  Unfortunately, at the end of the day, we don’t have a Republican victory, the GOP doesn’t seem to hold too closely to our principles any longer, and some of our personal relationships have become strained apparently needlessly.

“Who the %&*# wants to die alone all dried up in the desert sun?”

Unless the GOP returns to its principles and works to attract the new converts, sooner or later the party will die alone or be relegated to political irrelevance.  This line could also refer to the neo-conservative foreign policy of George W. Bush, which was extended by Barack Obama.  These conflicts resulted in many of our soldiers dying alone in the deserts of the Middle East.

“When I look into my nephew’s eyes…
Man, you wouldn’t believe the most amazing things that can come from…
Some terrible nights…ahhh…”

I’ve stated this fact over and over again, but the youth are the future of the party.  If we could but understand their concerns and tie them into the greater Republican movement then perhaps some good could come from the terrible night of November 6th.

Although I began writing this article before watching Fun.’s video, the backdrop of the U.S. Civil War is appropriate to the political situation.  After all, the Republican Party is embroiled in its own civil war to determine who will control the party, the establishment or the conservative/liberty wing.  This battle is clearly playing out in Virginia as Lt. Government Bill Bolling squares off against Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli for the Republican nomination for Governor in 2013.  One important question is yet to be determined.  Is the modern Republican Party in the mold of Thomas Jefferson, who called for a limited federal government, or has it reverted to the party of Abraham Lincoln who promoted the expansion of federal authority?

Perhaps after reading this article, you might hear something new when Some Nights comes on the radio again.  So what does the Republican Party stand for these days?  Honestly, some nights, I don’t know.  But I do know the direction that I’ll be pushing it.  The GOP must be a strong advocate for liberty at all times.

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In the days leading up to the November 6th elections, predicting the outcome of the presidential seemed a bit murkier than one would expect.  A few polls, like Gallup, had Mitt Romney ahead, while others, like Rasmussen, showed a very close race, and some, like Huffington, heralded another strong victory for President Obama.  It seemed to me that a lot of news outlets reported on the outcome that they hoped would occur rather than what would actually happen; Republican pundits predicted a solid Romney victory and their Democratic counterparts made similar claims.  Fellow Republicans were critical, but in 2008 I wrote about Barack Obama’s victory on the day prior to Election Day, as I believed the results were already a foregone conclusion.  However, I wasn’t quite as certain this time around.

In the end, however, Mitt Romney stood no chance of becoming our next President.  In the electoral count, he faired only slightly better than John McCain did in 2008.  He won the tradition Republican states of North Carolina and Indiana unlike McCain, but failed to capture key battlegrounds like Virginia, Ohio, Colorado, and Florida.  Curiously, both Romney and Obama failed to garner as many votes as the candidates did in 2008.  It seems obvious that Obama’s numbers would decline as his presidency has not been particularly popular and the great excitement (or novelty) generated from electing our first black president in 2008 is gone.  But what about Romney?  Although some activists have been urging people to resist resorting to the “blame game”, ultimately I believe that voters had a hard time supporting a rich New England liberal who had difficulty relating to the plight of the average American.  In addition, the actions taken by the RNC and the Romney campaign, which can only be described as unnecessary and spiteful, to exclude Ron Paul and his supporters at the Tampa convention tore open the growing rift in the Republican Party between the establishment and the liberty movement.  As stated earlier, a majority of Paul supporters I know either voted for Gary Johnson, wrote in Ron Paul, or simply stayed home on Election Day.  Speaking of the other party candidates, Libertarian Gary Johnson finished in third with almost 1%, Green Jill Stein was fourth with .35%, and Virgil Goode was fifth with .1%.

Moving on to Virginia’s U.S. Senate contest, as we approached Election Day it became increasingly obvious that George Allen would lose to Tim Kaine.  The conventional wisdom was that an Allen victory hinged heavily upon Romney’s coattails.  If Romney won Virginia by a large margin, then it was likely that Allen would also be victorious.  However, if the election was close or if Romney lost the state, Allen would be defeated.  Although the crossover wouldn’t have influenced the outcome, it is still important to note that Romney had the support of 37,766 more Virginians than did George Allen.

The House races in Virginia were not particularly exciting.  Each incumbent won re-election with a comfortable margin with the exception of Scott Rigell in the 2nd who won by 24,000 votes.  In the 6th, Republican Bob Goodlatte easily dispatched Democrat Andy Schmookler.  However, Schmookler did best Goodlatte in the more urban areas of the district, capturing the cities of Harrisonburg, Lexington, and Roanoke, and boasting a fairly close contest in Staunton.

Given that Harrisonburg voted Democratic for president, senator, and representative, it should come as no surprise that the Democrats faired well in the city council election.  With eight candidates on the ballot, three Republican, three Democratic, and three independent, Democrats Kai Degner and Richard Baugh were re-elected along with newcomer independent Abe Shearer.  Only Degner and Shearer cracked the 6,000-vote mark.  All but one of the other candidates was in the 4,000-vote range; Roger Baker finished in last place with less than 2,500 votes.  Political newcomer Christine Johnson finished at the top of the Republican office seekers, missing out on third place by only 202 votes.

So what does the future hold politically for Harrisonburg, the 6th congressional district, Virginia, and the nation as a whole?  Well, it depends on a number of factors including the strength of the candidates and the overall political climate.  Will the GOP learn anything from the 2012 elections?  It is obvious that they didn’t figure anything out from 2008.  Without strong conservative candidates that can clearly articulate the merits of a constitutionally limited government, the Republican Party will continue to suffer nationally, statewide, and locally.  Let me end this article with a bit of advice: Past big government Republicans who lost in a previous election don’t somehow miraculously transform themselves into either conservatives or winners.  So don’t retread on me.  Don’t retread on me!

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One particularly interesting development regarding the 2012 Presidential Election is the possibility that Americans could elect a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, better known to many as a Mormon.  Personally, I’m quite surprised that the issue of Mitt Romney’s religious faith has not played a larger role in public discussions.

If we turn back the clock a few decades, when John F. Kennedy ran for president in 1960, the fact that he was a member of the Catholic Church was a cause for concern for many citizens throughout the nation, sparking fears that he would owe his greatest allegiance, not to the United States and her people, but rather to a pope in the Vatican.  Recently, in response to this potential 2012 Mormon controversy, the perhaps best-known evangelist, Billy Graham, tried to defuse the situation, offering some tactic support of Mitt Romney’s candidacy and his church.  This news was a bit of a shock to many, given Graham’s previous declarations that the Mormon Church is a “cult”. 

I assume that there is generally little widespread knowledge regarding the Latter-day Saints, also known as the LDS Church.  Before spending considerable time learning about the religion and meeting many Mormons while living in Charlottesville, VA, in the mid 2000s, I’ll confess that Mormonism put me at unease; this concern did not stem from a reasoned theological disagreement with the church, but rather a lack of understanding and general widespread prejudice.  Now, I won’t claim to be an expert on the subject, but I’ll start off by saying that there are a number of issues that set Mormonism apart from what is generally regarded as traditional Christianity.  Some of the best well-known distinctions of Mormonism include the Book of Mormon and the church’s previous support of polygamy.

Let’s start with the Book of Mormon.  According to Mormon theology, Joseph Smith, the founder and first prophet of the LDS Church, through the assistance of the angel Moroni, discovered a number of golden plates on a hill in upstate New York.  With the aid of “seeing stones”, Smith translated the writing on many of these plates into what is now known as The Book of Mormon.  The text describes the ancient people of America as a lost tribe of Israelites and explores their history and theology.  In addition, after his death in the Middle East, Jesus appeared to these early Americans to impart teachings, many of which are similar to the concepts found in the Bible.  Some time later, two factions within these ancient peoples, the Nephites and the Lamanites came into brutal conflict.  The last Nephite, the then human Moroni, wrote the final portion of the Book of Mormon and buried the text only to be discovered by Smith about 1500 years later.  Besides the Book of Mormon, the LDS have additional extra-biblical texts including the Pearl of Great Price and the Doctrines and Covenants.

Polygamy, (more specifically polygyny, the practice of a man taking multiple wives), was an early custom in the Mormon Church.  Joseph Smith had a number of spouses as did Brigham Young, who led the Mormons on their trek to what is now the state of Utah.  Perhaps not surprisingly, polygamy caused considerable tension with the non-Mormon population and the United States government, which was one compelling reason for the Mormons to move westward, away from the established American communities.  Perhaps not surprisingly, Utah was not admitted as a state in the union until the Mormons renounced polygamy, which they did in the Manifesto of 1890.

Besides the Book of Mormon and early support for polygyny, there are a number of other aspects of the Latter-day Saints, which set them apart both in theology and in practice from traditional Christianity.  For example, there is baptism for the dead, where a member of the Church can, by proxy, be baptized for a deceased person.  The reasoning in doing so is to allow the deceased person an opportunity to enter into heaven, which would previously be denied to someone who had not participated in this rite while alive.

Most people consider a fundamental element of Christianity is the idea of Trinitarianism, the belief that God exists simultaneously in three separate but united persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. However, Mormons believe that God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit are three separate gods.  In addition, Mormons believe in the concept of eternal progression where men and women can become like God.  As former LDS President Lorenzo Snow stated, “As God now is, man may be.”   This theological distinction could lead some to claim that Mormons are not monotheistic, but rather either polytheistic or henotheistic.

Interestingly, I have found that many socially conservative Christians, like Billy Graham, who, all things being equal, I would assume would reserve the greatest criticism for Mitt Romney’s Mormon ties, are some of his more ardent defenders.  Then again, I’ve also heard some of these very same people use the line that it is better to elect “a Mormon than a Muslim”; playing upon the fear that Barack Obama is secretly a Muslim and threatens to subvert our national interest to Islamic terrorists.  Do they dislike Mormons still, but reserve a greater distrust of Muslims?  For some people, is it simply another case of choosing the “lesser of two evils”?

One overarching question that needs to be asked is what makes a person or a church Christian?  It is simply holding the belief that Jesus is the messiah sent by God for the redemption of mankind and that following him is the only path to salvation?  Does it require a literal or figurative understanding of the Bible?  What about acceptance or rejection certain texts like the deuterocanonical portion of the Bible, also known as the Apocrypha, or the Book of Mormon itself?  Is baptism required and, if so, how and when should it be done?  Must Christians adhere to follow the leadership of a certain spiritual leader?  So, are Mormons Christians?  How about other groups often labeled as cults such as Jehovah Witnesses, Christian Scientists, or Unitarians?  Given their veneration of Mary and other differing beliefs, are Catholics Christian?  Does supporting predestination preclude calling Presbyterians Christian?   And can a person be a Christian even if the church to which he or she belongs is outside the traditional definition of the term?  What about those who have no official church membership?  Is there one simple answer to this question and can it be universally applied?

Anyway, as mentioned at the beginning of this article, it is quite possible that, like the 1960 election, this contest will re-define the American perception of what it means to be a Christian.  Mormons, like Catholics before them, once viewed with suspicion and hostility, might slowly be welcomed into the larger Christian fold.

Although I appreciate the chance to improve religious dialogue, I am disappointed that this conversation seemingly arose, not from a desire to promote understanding, but rather as an afterthought to advance a particular candidate.  Do conservatives, like Billy Graham, honestly now believe that Mormonism is simply another branch of Christianity and not a cult?  Or are they willing to cast aside their longstanding beliefs for political gain?  If the answer is the first, then I’m hopeful that this change will permit more people in this country to openly practice their religious convictions without fear of societal persecution.  However, if the answer is the second, which I worry is the case, then the state of organized religion and politics in America is in a much more sickly state than I previously imagined.

Regardless of the circumstances and any particular personal preferences, as a result of the 2012 elections, Mormonism is being mainstreamed.  Whether you adhere to a more traditional Christian tradition, you are a Mormon yourself, or you chart a path separate from either, this development does make for a lot of important theological and political ramifications in America today.

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If you were to ask a political activist who strongly values the ideals of liberty and a constitutionally-limited government who was the best candidate running for president in 2012, chances are many of them would enthusiastically answer Representative Ron Paul of Texas.  I know that I would!  Unfortunately, due a number of issues, some relating the unfair tactics of the Republican National Committee, other due to errors on the part of the Ron Paul campaign, Dr. Paul is not the Republican nominee and will not be showing up on the ballot on November 6th.

As a result, some die hard Ron Paul supporters are planning to write-in Dr. Paul as opposed to voting for one of the other candidates.  However, I must caution my fellow Virginians, for I believe such a decision is a mistake.

Here in Virginia, we have five candidates on the ballot for president.  Besides both Mitt Romney and Barack Obama, who presumably everyone knows, we also have Virgil Goode, Gary Johnson, and Jill Stein.  Although write-ins are technically allowed in the Commonwealth, they are of practically zero value, as the state board of elections does not report individual write-ins.

Don’t believe me?  In the general election of 2011, I worked as an election official for a precinct in Rockingham County.  At the end of Election Day, we dutifully recorded each and every write-in response for each office and there were a fair number of them.  They ranged from potentially legitimate candidates to fictitious characters like Mickey Mouse and “anyone but the guy in there now”.  Look at the official results for House of Delegates in Rockingham County.  The only two options listed are Tony Wilt and the rather generic Write In candidate.  And that race isn’t some sort of anomaly.  Every race in 2011 is the very same way, so too are the election results for each year available on the state board’s website.  Let me tell you that the only people who know whether a write-in vote is for a legitimate and real person or someone absurd like Homer Simpson are the voter who cast the vote and the election officials.  They are the only ones.

So, now that we’ve established that a write-in vote is close to worthless in Virginia, why would anyone still write-in Dr. Paul?  As I’ve already mentioned, we have five candidates running for president that will be on the ballot.  Are any of them as great as Ron Paul?  No.  Although each has his or her merits and flaws, none are quite as good.  However, given the fact that we do have a number of choices, at least one of them has to share a lot of our political principles.  Now, as I’ve mentioned previously, if you don’t know much about them, I would recommend visiting iSideWith.com to find out with which candidate or candidates that you most closely align.

If, however, at the end of the day, you still feel compelled to write-in Dr. Paul, I will not condemn such an action.  After all, I believe that the most important facet of voting is to never betray your convictions.  Nevertheless, if you explore the candidates with an open mind, I’m pretty sure you’ll find one that is more than acceptable.  I know that I did.

I encourage you to take heart.  Remember!  Regardless of the outcome on November 6th, this great movement spearheaded by Ron Paul will not die so long as we faithfully promote the cause of liberty in our words, our deeds, and in our votes.

Best of luck to you on Election Day, fellow Ron Paul supporter!

For liberty and responsibility!

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About a week ago, I wrote about the attitudes of James Madison University students regarding the 2012 presidential election.  Although you should read the previous post below if you have not done so, the summary is that 42.6% of students surveyed support President Barack Obama, while Mitt Romney has 27.8%, Gary Johnson has 2.8%, Jill Stein has 1.9% and a large percentage, 24.1%, were undecided.

After the second presidential debate, but before the third, I conducted another door-to-door poll of a different batch of off-campus JMU students to gauge how their opinions had shifted.  The two questions asked were the same as before.  Are you registered to vote in Virginia and, if so, which of the presidential candidates would you support if the election were held today?  This time, 95 students answered.  Like the last survey, their answers closely mirrored the previous results.  Democratic candidate Barack Obama improved slightly, rising by .6% to 43.2%, while Republican Mitt Romney declined by 1.5%, falling to 26.3%.  Libertarian Gary Johnson dropped as well by .5% to 2.1%.  Interestingly, none of the respondents this time mentioned Green candidate Jill Stein as his or her top pick.  As before, zero students made any comment about Constitution Party candidate Virgil Goode.  With this numbers, you will note that a considerable number of students were once again undecided, showing an increase of 4.3% to now rest at 28.4%.  Continuing the previous trend, when considering just Obama versus Romney responses, Obama dominated with 62.1% to Romney’s 37.9%

With the two surveys combined, Barack Obama is the favorite of a plurality of James Madison students with 42.9%, Mitt Romney is second with 27.1%, Gary Johnson is third with 2.5%, Jill Stein is fourth with 1%, although not a candidate, Ron Paul is fifth with .5%, and a vast number of students are still undecided with 28.4%.  In the Obama/Romney head-to-head, Obama gets 61.3% to Romney’s 38.7%.

Although I’m admittedly a political animal, I’m surprised that the number of undecided voters remains so high among JMU students.  What explains this trend?  Do they suffer from a lack of information, is apathy high, or is there simply a strong dissatisfaction with both of the two major party candidates?  After all, as one undecided student commented, she didn’t particularly care for either Barack Obama or Mitt Romney.

Given the previous results, I would assume that at this point a majority of undecided students will break along the same percentages as their brethren have done, unless something changes.  But a lot of factors could alter this outcome in the 13 days that remain.  I hope to have one final survey of JMU students before Election Day to gain a clearer picture.

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On Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday of this week, I’ve visited three different off-campus JMU apartment complexes in Harrisonburg.  Part of the purpose in doing so was to assess the opinions of the students regarding the 2012 presidential election.  The general theory is that JMU students who registered to vote in Harrisonburg in 2008 supported Barack Obama by huge margins and helped him to capture the city last time.

For a bit of historical perspective, in the 2004 presidential election, when students had to vote in their hometowns rather than at their college or university, according to the Virginia State Board of Elections about 11,000 people voted in Harrisonburg.  George W. Bush won about 6,100 or 55.9%.  In 2008, John McCain had slightly less votes than Bush did four years prior, but only took 41.2% as around 14,500 people voted in the city. While about 1,000 more people voted in Harrisonburg in 2004 as they did in 2000, 3,500 more showed up in 2008 as compared to 2004.  A large portion of this increase was no doubt due to changes in Virginia law, which allows students to vote where they attend university.

So one important question to consider is will JMU break heavily for President Barack Obama this November?  With this thought in mind, I asked the JMU students two questions.  Are you registered to vote in Virginia and, if so, if the election were held today, which of the candidates would you support?

Now, a considerable number of students were not at home at the time of my visit, a handful was not registered to vote, some were registered in their hometowns in other states, and still others refused to answer.  However, 108 students did respond.  Perhaps not surprisingly, Barack Obama, the Democratic candidate, won a plurality, 46 or 42.6%.  Mitt Romney, the Republican candidate, finished in second place with 30 votes or 27.8%.  Gary Johnson, the Libertarian candidate, was a distant third with 3 votes or 2.8%, Jill Stein, the Green candidate, was fourth at 2 votes or 1.9%, and, although not a candidate, one student planned to write-in Representative Ron Paul.  Even though he is listed on the Virginia ballot, none of the students mentioned Constitution Party candidate, Virgil Goode.  However, you should note that a sizable portion of respondents, 26 students or 24.1% stated that they are undecided.

If these survey numbers are indicative of the entire student population, then the race is still pretty fluid at JMU.  As expected, Barack Obama is ahead, but not by an insurmountable margin.

I assume that whichever candidate or campaign works the most diligently to court these undecided voters will not only win the JMU vote, but also likely claim Harrisonburg as well.  Toward that end, rumors swirl that President Obama will visit JMU prior to the election as he did back in 2008.  And what sort of impact did the second presidential debates make? What will happen?  We’ll find out soon!

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