There's nothing to fear but the next 12 months itself, by John McGauley

There is so much news about the presidential election — we hear of little else — that it’s understandable citizens might think it’s just around the corner.

It’s a full year away! A. Full. Year.

My prediction is that during this next year very few will change their minds about who they’re going to vote for — it’s that polarized. I don’t believe independents who say they’re on the fence really are; instead they’re just reluctant to say who they favor in order not to alienate friends and relatives.

Polls are meaningless, as I’ve written before; they’re used now only as headline-grabbers.

The key to victory for either party will be turnout, the number of voters who show up at the polls.

I did a little research, and found some fascinating statistics. Since 1932, the largest ever percentage turnout of voters for a presidential election was the John F. Kennedy/Richard Nixon race of 1960, when 62.8 percent of eligible voters showed up. I don’t know why that would be the high-water mark in all those years, except maybe it was the first match-up in the age of television.

In 1996, when Bill Clinton defeated Robert Dole, only 49 percent of those eligible to vote did so, the lowest percentage turnout since 1932. Dole, although likeable and a World War II hero, was an unexciting candidate who Clinton easily defeated.

Averaging all presidential elections, 55.9 percent of voters show up in any given presidential election — dating back to 1932.

OK, let’s make the assumption that this presidential election will be the biggest barn-burner of our modern age, outstripping even the Kennedy/Nixon race.

Let’s set that at 64 percent of the electorate, with 36 percent of voters staying home.

That means that 85 million Americans will stay home! Can you imagine that, in a presidential election many claim is the most important in American history, or at least since the Civil War?

Try as I might, there didn’t appear in my research to be any characteristics that profiled the typical nonvoter, they cross all spectra of income, race, geographical locations, education and gender. For each generalization cited, there is another survey that refutes it. One says Midwesterners tend to vote in greater numbers, but that may be true for only a couple of presidential elections. Some elections, more women than men vote, by a very negligible number; but the next election reverses that.

There is so much coverage about how groups vote — African Americans, Hispanic Americans, whites, Asian Americans. Catholics, Protestants, Jews and those Americans with no religious affiliation.

Although we have a propensity to want to categorize groups, statistics show that never do those “groups” vote in lockstep. For instance, pollsters and the media have placed people into so many subgroups that they’re essentially meaningless.

For example, “soccer moms.” That’s a proxy for suburban white women. “Working” white men. What’s that even mean? Is it code?

Gay men; lesbians; rural vs. urban; millennials; baby boomers; Southerners; Midwesterners; old, white people; American-born Hispanics vs. recent immigrant Hispanics; East Coast vs. West Coast voters; union members; government employees. The media likes to slice and dice the electorate so finely that it eventually becomes mush.

I don’t think, either, that it matters who becomes the Democratic nominee for president. The political environment is so divided that those opposed to Trump will vote for any Democrat, no matter who it turns out to be. Who will that be? No one knows, maybe not even until the Democratic convention in mid-July of next year. (Again: next year!)

So, the experts on both sides — Trump’s campaign people and those of the Democrat candidates — have to figure out how to motivate a portion of 84 million Americans to vote.

Complicating this is that those who don’t vote aren’t always the same people each election cycle, many cast a ballot in one presidential election, but not the next. So, it’s a moving demographic target.

How do you get more Americans to vote?

There’s one way that works.

Scare them into voting.

Actually, frightening voters has a long, long tradition in American history, used in every election, really, and by both sides almost equally.

Quoting FDR’s famous statement:

“So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is … fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance. In every dark hour of our national life a leadership of frankness and of vigor has met with that understanding and support of the people themselves which is essential in victory. And I am convinced that you will again give that support to leadership in these critical days.”

Those are lofty, noble words, but you have to understand that Roosevelt said this on his inauguration day on Jan. 20, 1933, after he had used fear pretty effectively in his landslide victory over hapless incumbent Herbert Hoover. Of course, fear was pretty much the coin of the realm in 1932 with unemployment at a whopping 25 percent, a worldwide depression and following a 75 percent drop in the stock market.

One year until election day. It’s hard to imagine how much more strident, upsetting and divisive it will become. But it will.

Fasten your seat belts. As the meme says “Keep Calm and Carry On.”

John McGauley, author and local radio talk-show host, writes from Keene. He can be reached at mcgauleyink@gmail.com

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