Radio 4’s Today programme ran a fascinating piece this morning on how much Barack Obama and Mitt Romney were thought by their electorate to care about the people whose vote they sought. Unsurprisingly Romney came out the worse by a long mile.
While not new in politics, the strength of the notion throughout the Presidential election campaign that politicians should care for the people they represent does, I believe, mark a sea change. The days when US citizens were concerned above all else about American might in the world are being overtaken by the feeling that politicians should care more about their voters as individuals, their daily lives and what matters to them, their families and their communities.
The way women voted is the most obvious example of this trend. Unlike racial groups who tend to vote a particular way, for example Latinos support Obama and in the UK the ethnic minority communities veer towards Labour, women owe no such allegiance. As 50 per cent of the population, women are just about as representative as you can get of the 100 per cent of voters.
The majority of women did not like Romney. They deserted him in droves. The principal reason for this extraordinary phenomenon was that women did not feel Romney cared about them, mainly because the GOP candidate and his Party chose to attack the only thing which makes women different from men – their reproductive capacity. The result was that women felt threatened and uncared for.
It was, in fact, quite a legacy for the Republican Party. In Missouri Todd Akin talked about “legitimate” rape, saying that if this was the case the female body had a way of shutting the whole thing down, Richard Mourdock from Indiana thought babies born as a result of rape were “a gift from God” while in the campaign for the Senate in Pennsylvania Tom Smith compared rape to unwed motherhood. Sadly, there is more. Atlantic Monthly gives a round up well worth a read.
Contraception and abortion were, of course, the other main focus of Republican attitudes to women. Romney himself is against abortion under any circumstances, opposed Roe v Wade and does not agree with insurance funding for contraception. Meanwhile Obama campaigned positively for contraception to be available and for women to have access to safe abortions.
Romney also looked as if he didn’t care about non-whites, highlighted by the phrase “he [Romney] hates Chinese”. Those who are less well-off fared possibly even worse when Romney stated that 47 per cent of Americans do not pay federal taxes.
The caring agenda came through loud and clear during the American Presidential campaign with women at the forefront. Governments and political leaders would do well to think hard about the American lesson. Individuals and their immediate concerns now really count and they want politicians to take note and look after them, taking up matters dear to their hearts rather than political, or in America, religious ideology.