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Wednesday, October 27, 2004


The Heat is ON!


I feel like the home-stretch, the final lap of a long race is underway. Yes, the race for the Presidency of the United States. You know when you watch those long 10,000m races at the Olympics that take about 23-24 minutes to finish you watch the start and then you keep checking back. And then as the final laps approach only a few runners are left in contention. And then the bell rings signalling the final lap. Similarly, this race began a couple of years ago. With almost 10 candidates up for the Democratic nomination. And after a gruelling primary season and rough Presidential campaign we are down to two runners. The electoral bell can now be heard across the land.

For a political junkie like me 2004 has been a great year. Two of the most prominent democracies on the planet are electing their executive and legislators. The Indian experience was exhilarating for the surprise it threw at observers. And now another huge election.

Outside the battleground/swing states there is no place more abuzz then Washington. I am lucky enough to be in the vicinity to absorb all the political talk and analysis. Most of it absurd but then again democracy is a reflection of the prevailing culture so what else can we expect from a culture that thrives on sensationalism. But enough of this abstract unsensational talk. The question is who's going to win?

Beyond the sarcasm that guises my cynicism this election will have a tremendous impact. No matter how superficially the electorate makes the final judgment. In the end I am optimistic that such an important judgment will be well thought out. From an issues perspective we all know what has dominated this campaign - Iraq, Terrorism and the Economy. The question is there going to be one issue that will swing voters one way or the other as they head to the polls.

I feel that voters will vote on general issues as opposed to something specific. And in that regard the 55% of the voting population that feels the country is headed in the wrong direction could mean trouble for the incumbent. But then 9/11 has transformed the political landscape here. People may feel that they are in the middle of a war and even though things are not as good as they could be they are better off weathering this storm in the same ship. Hence, people may vote cast a "gut feeling" vote.

This late in the game I'm not sure if the steady stream of bad news from Iraq is changing any minds. I feel there is an unfortunate sense of immunity from the ground realities there. Something "spectacular" will have to take place to shift the electoral dynamics in any significant way. And this is a sad commentary about modern democracies where violence is easily integrated in the political landscape. The anti-war side is going to protest at this generalization but the majority of the population felt that the war is the right thing to do. So, go figure.

The post 9/11 landscape has made it hard to discern the reasons for the economic downturn. In a non-war time the electorate would place more blame of such a downturn on the incumbent but some confusion exists this time in doing that. That is because people believe that the attacks hit the economy hard. Now other economic data combined with fiscal policy can lead people to feel differently. A tax-cut in time of war is unprecedented but then the incumbent administration comes back with the argument that the economy needed a stimulus. The interesting thing here is that each issue has two-sides but more often than not one analysis is deeper. This analysis is then responded to by rhetoric and not counter-analysis. And that's sad. Bottomline - the voters aren't helped in making up their mind.

There are people hurting all around this country. From families of soldiers on the frontline to single mothers without health insurance to factory workers whose jobs have been shipped away... their problems are real. The battleground states are seeing a battle on these issues. Even though the electoral college has reduced the political size of this country at least the issues being debated are of serious national and international consequence.

Yet after all this talk of issues and consequentiality there is a fundamental obstacle American democracy has to overcome - to conduct a fair election in the 21st century. It is telling when 40% of the population feels that their vote is NOT going to be counted! That is an alarming state of affairs. More on that coming up...

The polls are swinging so wildly that presenting any poll data would not make much sense. But you can check them at our page:

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