Although Bob Dylan wrote his classic folk song in 1963, it is as appropriate today as it was then. Looking back at the 2012 election results, it was evident that different groups in the nation voted to re-elect Barack Obama, while other groups supported Mitt Romney. These groups reflected gender, age, race and ethnicity, family status, education, financial situation, politics, locality and religion. Many of the issues that mattered most to each group were the focus of both candidates, campaigning across the crucial swing states. Television ads and the debates highlighted some of the sharp differences in their positions on the economy, taxes, the safety net, women’s health and foreign relations. After the president won a decisive 332 electoral votes over 206 votes for the challenger, many analysts saw Obama’s record and positions on issues that attracted specific groups as the key to his victory.
The Gender Gap was one of the most salient factors on each side. Of the total voting population, 53 % were women and 55% of them voted for Obama while 44% voted for Romney– an 11 percent gender gap. In contrast, 47 % of the total voting population were men and 52% of them voted for Romney while 45% voted for Obama – a 7 percent gender gap. Obama had signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay act on his first day in office, giving him a distinct plus with women. Romney, during the debate, did not give the Fair Pay Act his endorsement. Then, two races for the Senate exploded on the subject of rape. In Missouri, a heavily Republican state, Senator Claire McCaskill (Democrat) was fighting to retain her seat against the favored Tea Party challenger Todd Akin. When he said on TV, “ If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut the whole thing down.”, national media coverage went viral and his ratings plummeted. McCaskill would keep her seat in the Senate. Then, the Republican Tea Party candidate in Indiana, Richard Murdoch, in response to a question about rape, said, “ I think that when life begins, even in that horrible situation of rape that God intended it to happen.” TV and newspapers carried his startling remarks nation wide. Romney won Indiana, but Murdoch lost to the Democrat, Joe Donnelly.
With Hillary Clinton running for president on the Democratic ticket, there is no question that the gender gap will continue to be important in 2016. She is not stressing that in her campaign, but millions of women are ready and eager to have her be the first woman president of the United States. She has focused on the economic disparity in our country and programs that address the needs of middle and working class families like paid family leave, raising the minimum wage , pre-K education and a fair tax structure.
Changing Views on Social Issues: The recent Supreme Court decision that made Gay Marriage legal throughout the fifty states reflected the steady success of the marriage equality movement. In 1996, only 27% of respondents in a Pew Research Center poll said they supported same-sex marriage. By 2015, the number had risen to 57%. Although the High Court justices may not refer to changing public views in their decisions, the fact that individual states were moving in that direction could not be ignored. Another indication of change can be seen in attitudes toward equal rights for gay workers in Gallup polls: In l977, 56% of respondents were in favor in contrast to 89% in 2008.
A huge change in attitudes over the years has been toward acceptance of people from different racial and religious groups. In l958, only 4 % of respondents according to Gallup approved of interracial marriage. This was a decade before the Supreme Court declared it to be constitutional in 1968. By 2013, Gallup reported the number who approved had soared to 87 %. Attitudes have also moved steadily upward as to whether men and woman would vote for a Catholic , Jewish, Female or Black president. Here are the Gallup poll results: In l937, 60% Yes for a Catholic, 46% for Jewish and 33% Female. In 2012, 94% Yes for a Catholic, 91 % Jewish and 95% Female. In 1976, 76% would vote for a Black president. By 2012, Gallup reports 96% would vote in favor of a Black president. The numbers of course were reflected in Barack Obama’s strong victory at the polls.
These startling shifts in attitudes did not happen by accident. They are the result of major changes in our society after the Civil Rights Act (1964) and The Voting Rights Act (1965) were passed. They came about because of the work of dedicated men and women who worked, marched and fought for decades during the Civil Rights Movement and the Women’s Movement in the second half of the 20th Century.
There are other social issues where attitudes ebb and flow rather than moving in a steady direction. They include gun rights and laws; abortion; death penalty, legalized marijuana, ban on smoking in public places and lowering crime. Here are some contrasting poll results: Gun laws; In 1990, 95% wanted laws more strict, 2014, down to 85%. Abortion; l975 ( After “Roe v. Wade High Court decision made abortion legal)75% thought it should be legal. 2015, 80% thought it should be legal. Death Penalty; In 1936, 59% in favor for murder; In 2014, 63% in favor. Legalized marijuana: ABC News/Washington Post poll: In l985, reported 26% support. In 2014, 49% supported. Ban on smoking in public: Gallup, 2001 , 39% support. 2014, 56% Finally, Lowering the crime rate: Gallup– Support for resources going to social problems rather than more law enforcement –61% agreed. 2010 –64 % agreed.
Each of us is more interested and committed to different social causes. The importance of these statistics is that our American society, the most diverse in the entire world, is also one that has changed markedly and continues to change. Our country and society today are vastly different from that of our parents and grand parents in myriad ways. Many traditions remain, but we constantly see how a dramatic event can uproot tradition as in the aftermath of the Charleston Massacre. Confederate battle flags and statues are coming down across the states of the South. Not everyone in those states agrees, but the force of the tragedy and the “Amazing Grace” of the survivors has brought consensus that this should happen. It has been a unique American moment in ‘The Times They Are a’ Changin.”