Every election cycle, Americans go to the voting booth with certain issues in mind. Voters survey the candidates and determine who matches up with their views most consistently. While many Americans vote strictly by party, issue voting asserts that constituents often cast their ballots based on the common concerns of that cycle. Over the past decade, the War on Terror and the financial crisis dominated the elections. Republicans in Congress were taken out of power in 2006 due in part to the unpopularity of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Today, the American economy shows signs of recovery and the two wars appear to be coming to a momentary decline. But with the presidential race well underway, economic concerns are being carried over from the past decade along with various issues which will drive the upcoming elections.
In a World Affairs Council of America poll regarding the most important issues to voters in the 2012 elections, the top six responses are as follows: the economic competitiveness of the United States, education, energy, Afghanistan and Pakistan, relations with the Middle East, and China. A US News article by Paul Bedard claims that the top ten issues that will drive the 2012 elections are education, infrastructure, immigration, financial reform, energy, Supreme Court selections, healthcare, Iraq, the killing of Osama Bin Laden, and the ending of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” Both of these lists raise a few points. First of all, the economy will surely still impact how voters act, especially in parts of the country that are still struggling. Also, Americans are very concerned about America’s foreign policy and its power in the world. As the war in Iraq comes to a formal close and a timetable is being set for Afghanistan, increased tensions with Iran, Syria, and Pakistan are sources of concern.
Several mentioned issues in the above lists feed into one category: the economy. Since coming into office, President Obama and his Secretary of Education Arne Duncan have driven home the fact that America’s economic future is directly linked to the success or failure of its present school system. Americans cannot expect to maintain its place in the world economically or politically with a failing school structure. Voters in this nation watch as Taiwanese and Korean students consistently outperform our own and are looking for a solution. Union leaders and corporate bosses alike look at the impact new immigration policies could have on this nation economically. Withdrawing from Iraq and Afghanistan would have major economic impacts on this nation because war expenditures would decrease. Energy reaches the tops of these lists because gas prices are soaring, and with tensions with Iran rising, many Americans are worried about our nation’s currently debilitating reliance on foreign oil. The healthcare debate that went on over the past few years, while concerning principles and constitutional challenges, was primarily driven by economic forces. Democrats wanted to make healthcare more accessible and affordable, while the main argument from Republicans was that this plan was neither cost-effective nor constitutional.
Essentially, most issues do tie back to the economy in some way or another. But this cycle is different for a few reasons. All Americans felt the impact of the 2008 recession either directly or indirectly, and those wounds are still fresh. People are worried about how to feed their children and if they will still have a job in two years with this volatile economic structure. The economy is indeed showing signs of recovery, but many experts still worry about long term growth.
The past decade has also made Americans all too well-aware of the threat from abroad as well. Many Americans may not approve of the handling or Iraq and Afghanistan, but the results of the Arab Spring, despite its inspirational value, makes many wonder what the Middle East will look like in ten years. The influence and impact that Iran’s aggressiveness in the region also grabs the attention of voters.
Voters in this election are turning their attention to a range of topics – yet are very much concerned with America’s viability in the coming years. Economic and academic competitiveness are directly connected to how Americans will vote this cycle. The classic battles over social issues will certainly be there, but voters are more concerned with the survival of the ability to debate those issues in a robustly growing and internationally powerful state.
This article was written by Nicholas Vance in the Spring of 2012.