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.