Pre-Election Jitters

November 01, 2008

I've always been a rather indifferent voter, and, having moved several times in the last decade, I've sometimes been unregistered and unable to vote.  This year is different, however. This year I have been very active in following the campaigns and watching the polls.

My favorite polling site, FiveThirtyEight (so named as that is the total number of votes in the Electoral College), takes a very different approach to reporting polling data.  Its founder is hugely successful at predicting baseball, and he brings the same rigor to examining polling data.  Basically he looks at how successful a given pollster was in the past and weighs their current polls accordingly.  Ever since mid-September FiveThirtyEight has predicted an Obama win, both in popular votes and in the Electoral College. Every other indicator that I've seen supports this.

So why am I nervous?  Why do I have a sense of impending doom?

As an indifferent voter I have voted Republican, Democrat, and Independent.  I'm one of those people who truly does vote for the person and their stated platform and not for the larger party behind them.  I suspect that I am (or was) one of those people who are labeled "undecided" by the press, one of the people who will ultimately vote but are invisible to the predictive polling process because we may or may not have voted in the last election.

Personally I feel that the Presidency is a high-wire juggling act.  Even with a partisan Congress, even with a mandate from the people in the form of a "landslide" popular vote, even with the support and partnership with allies around the world, the President can do little more than nudge the country in the direction s/he feels best.  All president's since Franklin Roosevelt have been judged by their first 100 days, an unfair measure as 1932 was an extraordinary time in America's history with perhaps the most extraordinary President we've ever had.

2009 and beyond will be an extraordinary time in America.  We are in desperate need of extraordinary leadership.  We may yet be the world's only superpower militarily, but I fear our supremacy financial, and morally is lost.  Without careful, thoughtful guidance, without measured and responsible leadership, without a redress of our failings at home and abroad, we risk further erosion of America.

The final weeks of this election have shown the true character, and the true failings, of our candidates.  One has focused on the issues of the day, primarily the financial crisis, while the other has resorted to guilt by association and mud-slinging of the worst sort.  I view the election process as the dates and courtship leading up to a marriage.  Everyone is always on their best behavior on a first date, and that continues throughout the courtship.  Once the marriage is consummated it is unlikely that behaviors will improve.

So if a candidate only talks about fighting and war, if they only try to smear the other candidate with past associations, if they cannot correctly state the Constitutional responsibilities they would possess should their side win, then we are fools to reward their behavior, and worse, we are fools to expect anything more than this "courtship" behavior.

American's, it seems, are conditioned to respond to situation-comedy one-lines and comebacks.  We don't evaluate candidates based on their education or prior accomplishments, instead we are swayed by punchy sound bites and trite phrases.  I am nervous about the outcome on Tuesday night because at some point in the last week or so I've become apathetic about the election.  Two years of hype, two years of increasingly shrill prognostications, two years of campaigning has gotten old.  I want it to be over already.  I am as involved as I have ever been in the Presidential election process and I don't care anymore.  How many other voters feel the same way?  How many others just want this whole mess to go away?  Maybe I am apathetic and not representative of the rest of America.  Certainly turnout for early voting has been huge; maybe apathy in American politics is waning. 

I want America to be about hope again.  I want America to be a power for good in the world again.  I want the next generation to have the same opportunities and options my generation had.  I shudder to think that there are legions of people who respond to and want the kind of angry, spiteful, situation-comedy put-down level of intellect leading America.  I don't want to win at the expense of the other side, neither do I want to lose to the gloats and smirks of the other side.  We've taken the election of the President, which should be about selecting a platform of ideals and moral positions, and reduced it to living with the winner of "Survivor: The White House."

I will continue to read the polls until Tuesday.  Shortly after 6:00 am that day I will cast my vote.  And I'll spend most of the day obsessively refreshing various browser tabs, tracking the pundits and nay-sayers, trying to glean some shred of hope about what Wednesday's dawn will bring.

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Mark H. Nichols

I am a husband, cellist, code prole, nerd, technologist, and all around good guy living and working in fly-over country. You should follow me on Twitter.