Hope, fear crowd election


Originally published in The Metropolitan. Oct. 30, 2008

Sunshine Morsette, 23, is afraid her uncles’ small businesses will suffer if Sen. Barack Obama is elected. Looking after her nieces at Sen. John McCain’s Oct. 24 rally, she said Obama’s tax plan will hurt her family.

“I’m afraid he’s not going to know what to do,” she said about the Democratic nominee. “He’s had no executive experience.”

Morsette is also worried about the safety of America. “We’ll be less secure if Barack Obama is elected,” she said. “John McCain won’t let something happen like (Sept. 11) again.”

But Marcells Ruscia, also 23, said she can’t find a job and Obama is her only hope. Born into a family of Democrats, Ruscia just moved to Colorado, and she believes the would-be first black president will fix the economy.

“I believe in what he says.” Ruscia went to Civic Center Park to see Obama and was lucky enough to score a front row ticket. She’s afraid if John McCain is elected, the economy will continue to suffer and the two months she’s been searching for a job will seem like nothing. “I’m very afraid of a depression,” she added.

Negative ads, hope always work

Change, hope, fear: words and emotions that typically sum up any presidential race. But this year, if these feelings seem more extreme to you, you aren’t alone.

“This is probably the most emotional election in our lifetime,” Metro political science professor Richard Moeller said.

He said people are disappointed by the current administration and now have a blind enthusiasm for both candidates. He said either Obama or McCain will be a clean break from past ways, due to the fact that this is the first presidential race since 1952 that neither party had a candidate from the previous administration.
Jennifer Duffy of Cook Political Report echoes Moeller.

“People are worried about their future,” she said.

And there is a reason, according to human-services professor Nancy Moke. She thinks a large majority of the population is suffering from pre-traumatic stress. It’s similar to post-traumatic stress disorder, but instead of having fear and trauma of an event that happened, these feelings of anxiety are based on the fear of an event.

“People aren’t sure where this fear is coming from,” she said.

Moke said there are too many mixed messages for people to function rationally. “People are very fragile,” she said.

The 2008 election wasn’t always about fear.

“I think hope was winning the game until mid-September when fear took over,” Duffy said. It wasn’t until then that the negative ads began to roll out.

Duffy said the economic crisis, not any one candidate, caused panic among the electorate as compared to 2004.

But with McCain behind in the polls, experts The Metropolitan spoke to agreed the Republican didn’t have a choice but to go negative recently.

McCain would do anything to have an impact, Moke said. “There isn’t anything left for him to do.”

Duffy said these tactics are motivators to get some people off the couch.

“Republicans do not have the market share,” she said. “Democrats do the same thing.” She said a common tactic among Democrats is bringing up the possibility of Republicans overturning Roe v. Wade. Duffy saidthe current scare tactic being used by the GOP is the possible imbalance of power that could happen if

Democrats win 60 seats in the Senate.

If a party has more than 60 seats, a filibuster to stop legislation by the other party would be impossible. Or as the GOP likes to put it: “liberal” legislation would be unstoppable.

But while Moeller believes both candidates are using negative tactics, the caliber of both McCain and Obama make it difficult for these attacks to stick.

For the first time, Moeller’s happy with both candidates, although he said he’s more conservative and hawkish when it comes to foreign policy.

“We finally have two decent people,” he said, adding this is the same reason why few people are using the term “lesser of two evils” this election cycle.

A popular term coined after the Cold War, Americans have often found themselves not liking either candidate but voting for the candidate they felt would do the least amount of harm to the country.

Both candidates have expressed their policies are the necessary change. But Obama might have done that better. Ask any of his supporters why they’re voting for Obama and they’ll all tell you the same thing: He’s going to change things.

Moeller said this is a testament to a well-run campaign. He said candidates need to keep the message simple so their voters can effectively repeat it.

“People seem to care less about specifics when they see this Kennedy-esque figure,” he said. “With hope, you don’t need tangible evidence. It’s almost a spiritual thing.”

Obama is change in himself, Duffy said.

But she warns: Sometimes change isn’t what the voters want. She pointed to Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels who has a low-approval rating despite fulfilling several of his campaign promises, like putting his state on daylight savings time and privatizing the department of motor vehicles. His ratings have been in the high-30s and low-40s.

“Change can sometimes come too fast or is bigger than what the voter expected,” Duffy said.

Bigger problems

Ronald Reagan crafted a simple, deliverable and repeatable messaged to the American people in 1980. The incumbent, Jimmy Carter, did not Metro adjunct political science professor Mindy Glover said.

Today, a politician only hopes to emulate the same success of “the great communicator.”

“I don’t know if Barack Obama is going to make the right decisions for me and my children,” Aaron Hills said at the Western Arena. He and another 4,000 people came together to see McCain deliver remarks. “If he’s elected, his policies could jeopardize not only my future but my children’s.”

“I don’t feel our troops need to be in Iraq,” Lisa Godbehere said at Civic Center. Denver Police estimated at least 100,000 people were there to witness Obama speak. Most, like Godbehere, a U.S. Navy vet, couldn’t even see him. Of the troops, Godbehere adds, “Obama will pull them out.”

Glover believes our world and problems have become bigger than we can understand.

And with each day, fear is growing in the electorate. But in the end, voters are going to rely on hope.

The questions remains who do they fear more and who has won their hope?