Unlike Hurricane Sandy whose every move is tracked and then predicted by a host of computer models, this political perfect storm seems to have formed under the radar of daily tracking polls.
The week before the presidential election sees the economy topping the list of voter concerns, with jobs, or the lack of them, sitting right in the center, just like a spider.
U.S. labor secretary Hilda Solis
did a waltz across Texas last week to push the importance of job training and placement programs offered by various organizations receiving federal funding. In Houston’s case it was the Goodwill Industries
programs to help veterans and their families.
Her tour came as the Labor Department released numbers showing the nation’s first-time unemployment claims
fell by 23,000 the previous week, the second drop in the last month.
The nation’s unemployment rate also is down. At 7.8 percent, it is at the lowest level in at least eight months. That translates to 12.1 million unemployed Americans of voting age. Having been part of that group, let me say spouses, domestic partners, or dependents are the uncounted collateral damage. These people share in the economic or psychological suffering, or both.
That’s 24 million Americans of voting age who look at their lives and see they are not better off than they were yesterday, last month, or last year. To that group add another 2.5 million Americans of voting age the Labor Department classifies as “marginally attached to the labor force”, a number the government says is unchanged from last year.
Who are these “marginally attached” individuals? They are American workers of voting age no longer in the labor force, good people who want to work and are available for work. These people looked for a job sometime in the previous 12 months, but Uncle Sam does not count them because they gave up the search in the four weeks before the survey.
Again, doubling the number of the “marginally attached” adds another 5 million hurting and discouraged Americans of voting age who may go to their polling places and cast their votes, not with their heads or their hearts, but with their anger and their frustration. That could be as many as 30 million angry, frustrated, unemployed, under-employed, and marginally attached Americans of voting age. Keep in mind that around 132 million people turned out four years ago with more than half voting for hope and change.
The political smart money says Ohio is the state to watch, and a lot of that smart money is betting Buckeye voters stick with the president. Ohio’s unemployment rate
is down to 7 percent, but that means Ohio still has 405,000 people of voting age looking for work, not counting the marginally attached. And if we double that number, the possibility exists that more than 800,000 frustrated and angry Ohio voters will hit the polls on or before Election Day.
Barack Obama carried Ohio by fewer than 259,000 votes in 2008
The Bradley Effect
is the second front of this political perfect storm. It is a controversial theory, to be sure, but here is how it goes: Tom Bradley was the popular Los Angeles mayor back in the ‘70s and ‘80s who looked like a sure bet to win the California governor’s race. He lost even though the polls had him leading going into the election. The Bradley Effect says white voters gave inaccurate responses out of fear they would be considered racist, thereby skewing the poll results. It’s a phenomenon also found in exit polls when the pollster is of a different race from those polled.
The third front in this political perfect storm relates directly to The Bradley Effect. It’s the Spiral of Silence
theory that says an opinion appears to be favored by the majority of individuals because those who disagree are afraid to speak up for fear of isolation or retribution. Proponents say the Spiral of Silence results in inaccurate public opinion poll data that the media pick up and report, thereby driving the majority into further silence.
We find real examples of this every day in the comments section after online news stories or at the end of blogs. Ugly, nasty, vile attacks from the fringes overshadow thoughtful attempts at discussion and eventually silence these voices into isolation.
So, given the possibility that a sizable percent of Americans of voting age will cast their ballots out of anger and frustration, and that many of them may have kept silent for fear of losing friendships or community standing, there is good reason to believe a political perfect storm will deliver a November surprise.
(John David Powell writes his Lone Star Award-winning columns from ShadeyHill Ranch in Texas.)