Voters feel that by empowering candidates other than the usual suspects, they might put the power, truly, into the hands of the people. PHOTO: REUTERS
On November 6, Barack Obama made it into the history books one more time. He has been re-elected as president of the United States for a second term despite high unemployment numbers, at a time when the majority of Americans are very uncertain about their futures.
The last time re-election in the face of such dismal unemployment rates was accomplished in 1936, when Franklin Roosevelt took the presidency for the second time.
America is increasingly becoming multicultural and ethnically diverse. In 2008, Hispanics, African-Americans and other minorities turned the tide for democrats in most states, showing overwhelming support for the first black president. The number and, thus, the impact of minority voters is steadily increasing.
Since left-leaning policies are more sympathetic towards immigrants and minorities, democrats have become more competitive in presidential elections. Minority voters have more than doubled, from 12% to 26 %, since Bill Clinton won the elections. They are becoming increasingly enthusiastic about the electoral process and are proud to exercise their right to vote.
Muslim Americans are considered a minority too small to account for much in the elections. But this outlook changes when we see that about 78% of them live in just 10 states, including two swing states, Virginia and Florida. This makes them a demographic worthy of courtship. Historically, American Muslims voted republican as they leaned towards the party’s policies of social conservativeness. Almost 80% of the Muslim vote went to for George W Bush and not to Al Gore in 2000. The actions of the government during the Bush era, specifically the invasions of Iran and Afghanistan shifted the Muslim vote from republican to democrat.
There are endless discussions in forums, both public and private, about candidates and policies. Earnest political discussions, heavily woven with emotions, dominate most conversations as elections draw close. People choose their candidates and make them their own. Among Muslim Americans, topics like Syria, Iran and drone attacks are discussed along with the economy and unemployment. The common belief is that if an unfavourable policy is supported by the president, a change in leadership will bring about a change in the decisions the government makes about these issues.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t work like that.
The American government, as any government in the world, is a behemoth with its own power source. If anyone actually believes that policies are made or abandoned on the whims and fancies of a president, their naiveté is commendable. The machine of governance has been chugging along for centuries. The laws and policies governing the country (and by some extent, the world) are made in annals much higher and people much more powerful than the President of the United States.
Take Obama’s rhetoric on Guantanamo Bay for example. This was one of the main points of his campaign when he ran for office for the first time in 2008. Being a master orator, he spoke and adoring throngs believed. He would be the knight in shining armour who would stride out to Guantanamo Bay and personally put a lock on the doors of the detention facility. He signed an executive order that the facility be closed within the year. This was done shortly after he was sworn in. He even had plans to move detainees to a prison in Illinois. He even mentioned his promise to close Guantanamo as he accepted his Nobel Award for peace.
Four years later, we are exactly where we started.
Eventually, after years of broken promises, people became disillusioned and allegiances started to shift. They start to think that maybe if the president was republican, these aggressive foreign policies would be discarded.
For American Pakistanis, geographically specific policies are more sharply in focus. The drones, raining indiscriminate death from the skies, are cause for great dismay for people of Pakistan. The current government’s policy “counts all military-age males in a strike zone as combatants”. This is a huge cause for concern, not only for those in the deadly sights of the drones but to humanitarians globally.
Voters start to think that maybe, just maybe, a change in leadership would bring about an end to the drone attacks, among other changes, in foreign policies. But, one of the surprises during the Obama-Romney presidential debates was their allied stance on foreign affairs. To have presidential candidates almost finishing each others’ sentences on matters of foreign policy was astounding. This was more concerning as bi-partisan sentiment is all but non-existent within the American government at this time in history.
This is one of the reasons why people are increasingly feeling the futility of the power of their vote. It seems that no matter which way they turn, they keep ending up in the same place. Young voters are especially disillusioned. An increasing number of Americans decided to vote for candidates other than the republicans and democrats.
According to the Federal Election Commission (FEC), any party receiving 5% or more votes in a general election qualifies for federal funds for the next elections. Voters feel that by empowering candidates other than the usual suspects, they might put the power, truly, into the hands of the people.