Southern Electioneering

The other day, I mentioned how few bumper stickers I’ve seen this election season. That observation has held as we have driven south, through Kentucky, Tennessee, and the Carolinas.

As every academic knows, you can’t draw valid conclusions from an inadequate sample. But a couple of the things I have seen are consistent with a theory–espoused by several pundits and even by John Boehner–that this election is all about Obama. (Boehner, you may recall, was asked by a voter for a reason to like Mitt Romney. Boehner basically responded that it wasn’t’ necessary to like Romney–it was enough to loathe Obama.)

On our drive, we’ve seen signs for a Congressional candidate promising to “Stop Obama Now.” And we’ve seen a couple of “NoBama” bumper stickers. That’s it. Not a single pro-Romney sign or sticker, and very few pro-Obama ones.

To some extent, of course, every election featuring an incumbent is a referendum on that incumbent, but in this election, that truism is super-charged by the incumbent’s complexion. I was stunned by the intense hatred of Obama that emerged the day after the election–well before he was inaugurated, before he had done anything. The emergence of the “birthers,” the crazies who insist he was really born in Kenya, that he’s really a Muslim (with a radical Christian pastor!)–all efforts to avoid using the “n” word–are hard to miss. But it isn’t only the obvious racists. There are a lot of people who are simply uncomfortable with a black President.

Is it possible to simply disagree with Obama’s policy choices? Of course. Will many people vote for Romney because they are good Republicans, because they don’t like the direction the President wants to take the country? Of course. To suggest that all or even most opposition to the President is racist would be ridiculous–just as denying the substantial racism that does exist would be ridiculous.

One way or the other, the “referendum effect” will be particularly potent this year, because as John Boehner conceded, it’s hard to actually like Mitt Romney.


  1. The language the “R” people use tells us much:
    They keep saying that “WE need to take ‘OUR’ country back from ‘THEM'”. Similarly, I
    received an Email from a female cousin (Using the computers at the Catholic church in California where she works). It showed several pictures of President Obama with his feet up on this or that piece of furniture. The message (Not implied but boldly declared) was
    “GET YOUR FEET OFF OF ‘OUR’ FURNITURE” . I think it is fair to say that the “R”
    response to President Obama is plain and simple racism. It just sticks in their craw that
    the BLACK guy is sitting in the big chair. It eats at them day and night. They HATE it
    and they HATE him. That is stoked by all the “dog Whistle” prompting from the drug
    addict draft dodger who is the Grand Wizard of talk radio as well as the Tea Party folks in
    Washington and elsewhere. There MAY be some Republican activists who are not
    overtly racist, but I think it more than fair to call this for what it is. They just HATE that
    black guy. They will be fierce in this campaign. It is a visceral hatred. Good Luck to
    President Obama. This is going to be a tough fight.

  2. This has been a long process, but racism has a place in it. In 1980, Reagan won the election. While he still accepted compromise, many of his supporters felt that they had finally “turned the nation around” and were marching Forward to the Past. Soon the New Deal would be repealed and we could go back to the “good old days”. Some of this was discomfort with the speed and process of change, and some was Reagan’s nod and wink that Philadelphia, MS, site of the murder of civil rights workers, was OK and “welfare queens” were responsible for all bad things.

    When Clinton was elected, many of these people felt betrayed. The country was supposed to be moving in only one direction — theirs. Clinton was accused of all sorts of things from financial crimes to murder. The Gingrich revolution reassured his supporters that the permanent Republican majority (and their brand of Republican) was here. Bush’s election proved it.
    And then, not only was a Democrat elected, but he was BLACK!

    Much racism, but much ideological. Meanwhile, many Republicans were driven from their party leaving it in the hands that those we now see in charge.

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