The New Normal in American Electoral Politics
It has been interesting to watch the pundits holding court for the last month over why the election turned out the way it did. Did the President and his team have a better message, a better candidate, a better ground game? Was it the Hispanic vote, the women's vote or young people? Was it Hurricane Sandy? Was it voter fraud?
Certainly, historians will dissect this election for years to come, but small business owners and especially convenience store operators would be better off focusing less on what already happened and more on what is about to face them. Besides the tangible impacts from health care, taxes and spending -- and potentially immigration reform -- there are some less obvious election outcomes that may have significant ramifications on small business owners for decades to come.
In 2008, President Barack Obama was able to put together a rather non-traditional coalition that was too overwhelming for the McCain campaign to overcome. Obama over-performed with regard to traditional democratic or democratic-leaning constituencies, such as African-Americans and women, and made gains with Hispanic voters and independents. But he also added an overwhelming majority of young people, especially those new voters participating in the process for the first time. This diverse cross-section of America was drawn to the campaign of a "transformational" candidate with a message of hope and change.
While this coalition came together impressively for one day in November 2008, most Republicans (and likely, very few Democrats) thought they had seen the birth of a new voting bloc that could impact elections for years to come. In fact, the President was barely a year into his term when the headlines became full of stories about the disenchantment of young voters caused by the lingering wars, the failure to break the log jam in Congress and the worsening job picture for recent college graduates. Young people were disappointed, independents were regretting their support and Hispanics were frustrated with the lack of any real progress on immigration. Furthermore, polling in the months leading up to the 2012 election showed Gov. Mitt Romney even, or in some cases, ahead with women and independents, and young people were nowhere to be found.
Alas, on Nov. 6, to the surprise of most pundits, the polling did not materialize into votes for Romney. The same coalition reunited again around the Obama table, stronger than ever. More simply put: Ladies and gentleman of the jury, "African-American/women/Hispanic/youth" is now an official voting bloc in American presidential politics.
Why does this matter to small business operators? Because even as surprised as most Democrats are by this development, perhaps even the President himself, the President’s party will do everything in its power to feed, nurture and cultivate this coalition to ensure it permanently resides in their big blue tent. Formerly throwaway issues like minimum wage and paid sick leave that were half-heartedly advanced to appease the already loyal unions and activist groups will now likely take on newfound importance in order to maintain and grow this new coalition. Giving more serious attention to these core liberal issues will be necessary to hold the more diverse and unwieldy Democratic coalition together so that it maintains its electoral advantage for the foreseeable future.
Making real progress on "social justice" issues such as wages, benefits, immigration policy, workers’ rights and progressive taxation tops the list of issue imperatives for the Democratic machine because they know if they can deliver, they will be in the Electoral College driver's seat for a generation. They have already won five of the last six national popular votes (2004 being the exception). Solidifying this coalition could make that statistic seem small in comparison. Social justice issues used to be about shoring up the base. Now, the focus shifts to long-term electoral dominance.
Congressional Republicans are in an awful spot. If they stand their traditional ground on these issues, they risk political exile. Yet if they capitulate, they risk a revolt within their ranks. House Speaker John Boehner's "permanent tan" has become particularly ashen of late, as he has faced the impossible reality before him.
C-store operators need to understand that the ground beneath them has shifted dramatically and their traditional pro-business allies may be hopelessly compromised. Now is the time to get out from behind the register and get to City Hall, the Statehouse and to Congress and reclaim the narrative on the jobs you create, the career opportunities you offer, and the economic benefit you provide to your communities. If not, this new coalition and their political patrons will be glad to do it for you.
Joe Kefauver is managing partner of Parquet Public Affairs, a national issue management, communications, government relations and reputation assurance firm that specializes in service-sector industries. Parquet's clients include Fortune 500 corporations, trade associations, regional businesses and non-profit organizations. For more information, visit www.ParquetPA.com.
Editor's Note: The opinions expressed in this column are the author's and do not necessarily reflect the views of Convenience Store News.