With the 2012 presidential election less than 18 months away, it’s time for the news media to buckle down and get serious about covering every conceivable aspect of it. Their goal is ambitious. If Election Day arrives and there remains even a single American who is not already sick to death of the political process generally and each candidate specifically, then the news media have not done their job.
In a perfect world, the question of whom to vote for would come down to nothing more than an assessment of which candidate is best qualified for the job and whose positions are closest to the ones you believe a president ought to espouse. In the real world, that is hilarious. In the real world, the choice between Kennedy and Nixon in 1960 basically came down to Nixon being sweaty and Kennedy being handsome. Choosing a president is often expressed in terms of which candidate the average person would rather have a beer with, even though the portion of the Constitution that addresses presidential qualifications makes only passing reference to beer drinking.
Also, let’s be honest, any person rich enough to run for president would never hang out with the likes of you anyway.
So the vote comes down to a lot of factors beyond competence and political philosophies. Some of these factors are more relevant than others. For example, what if one of the candidates was a serial killer? There’s no rule against a serial killer being president as long as he was born in the United States and is at least 35 years old, and most serial killers meet those requirements. But it’s likely that a majority of voters would believe such a person lacked the integrity and discipline necessary to be a good leader, and would not vote for him unless he was really charismatic (or, in Utah, if he was the candidate who wasn’t a Democrat).
The folks at Gallup occasionally conduct surveys about this sort of thing. They’ll ask, “If your party nominated a generally well-qualified person for president who happened to be ______, would you vote for that person?” The most recent survey, released last week, gives us an interesting but incomplete look at the state of the union.
For example, the poll reveals that 5% of American adults would not vote for a black person for president. Think about what that means. It means that 5% of adults not only wouldn’t vote for a black person, but would actually admit to someone taking a survey that they wouldn’t vote for a black person. How racist do you have to be to not even try to hide the fact that you’re a racist? Most racists at least have the common decency to pretend not to be.
I guess the people who comprise this 5% deserve credit for standing up for their beliefs. “A black person?” the respondent might say. “Hmm. Ordinarily, I wouldn’t mind voting for a black person. But I’m a racist, you see. So I’m afraid my hands are tied. I couldn’t in good conscience vote for a black person and still face my fellow racists!” And the person taking the survey would say, “No, of course, I understand.”
Slightly more people, 6%, say they wouldn’t vote for a woman for president. Again, the surprising thing is that so many people would actually say this out loud. “A girl president? Nah, that wouldn’t be right. The president’s wife is called ‘the First Lady,’ and that wouldn’t work if the president has a husband instead of a wife. Besides, if we had a woman president, there’d be three days out of every month when you couldn’t get anything done. On account of her menstruation. Am I right? You fellas know what I’m talkin’ about.”
But blacks and women are way down at the end of the list of groups that people won’t vote for. At the top of the list is atheists. 49% of those surveyed said they would not vote for an atheist for president. The same percentage said they would, and the rest have no opinion, i.e., they are agnostic on the atheist question. While presidents are not Constitutionally required to believe in God, the American people have made it clear that they will not accept a candidate unless he is religious, or unless he at least pretends to be during the campaign to avoid alienating voters who won’t vote for someone who isn’t religious. As long as he pays a lot of lip service to it, that’s generally enough for us.
After the atheists you have the gays: 32% wouldn’t vote for a gay president, even though studies have shown that having one would open the door for a lot of really funny jokes.
After the atheists and the gays come the Mormons. 22% say they wouldn’t vote for a Mormon. That’s more than say they wouldn’t vote for a Hispanic (10%), a Jew (9%), a Baptist (7%), or a Catholic (7%). It’s relevant this year because the current Republican frontrunner is a gentleman who goes by the alias “Mitt” Romney (his real first name is unknown), who is openly Mormon. Just flamboyantly Mormon, all day long. Gallup notes that the percentage of people who won’t vote for a Mormon has been pretty steady for more than 40 years, while the biases against blacks, women, Jews, and Catholics have decreased. What this means, clearly, is that there have not been enough hilarious TV sitcoms about Mormons. And there won’t be, not until we can come up with Mormon jokes that aren’t related to polygamy.
Perceptions can change, of course. In 1959, 25% of Americans said they wouldn’t vote for a Catholic. But the very next year, they amended that to say they wouldn’t vote for a Catholic unless he was handsome and his opponent was sweaty.
These questions are a good start, but I’d like to see Gallup get more specific about what types of people are unelectable. Sure, many of these factors may never come up in a real election, but all the same, I want to know what their chances are.
Assuming the Person is Generally Well-Qualified, Would You Vote for a Presidential Candidate Who:
– is a vegetarian?
– wears an eyepatch?
– is a midget?
– looks like Steve Buscemi?
– smells like fish all the time?
– always wears a sombrero?
– calls everybody “chief”?
– canceled “Arrested Development”?
– wears high heels, but not on his feet?
– has seasonal allergies?
– has a last name that sounds kind of Polish?
– speaks in a fake British accent?
– is Sarah Palin?
– uses that “Hang in there” motivational poster with the kitty cat as his campaign logo?
– has never heard of soup? (Like, a reporter asks him what his favorite kind of soup is, and the candidate says, “Soup? What is that? I don’t know what that is. Is that some kind of ethnic food?”)
– rides a horse everywhere?
– exists only as an Internet avatar?
– is really just one little kid standing on another little kid’s shoulders and wearing an adult’s trench coat?
– can’t say his R’s?
– won’t have a beer with you?