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 Monday, December 18 2017 3:07pm Hongkong Time

Obama vs. Romney: Whom to vote for – from a 'no-regret' perspective

Raymond Cheng



Deciding on whom to vote for can be a real headache but definitely not as disappointing as when you have to regret for choosing the wrong guy over the next four years. While there are dozens of online quizzes and calculators [1] [2] that will help people easily make their selections, few seems to view the issue from the angle in retrospect. Think of it this way: People are keep telling you (and the media ads are bombarding you too) as to whom you should vote for but no matter what and how compelling the reason(s) they may give, they seem to care less about what is really going to happen after the election. So come on, be realistic: Do you really think Mitt Romney can make some real changes on day one? I honestly don't believe so. For me, I would like to know what people have really said several years *after* they casted their votes in previous elections. There is just always too much information *before* every election and too few when people eventually find themselves unhappy with their previous decisions. So do people often regret picking the wrong guy? If so, what kind of people regretted and for what and why would they regret? Let's find out.

Some theories first

Brigham Young University Professor Mark Davies maintains a database of contemporary American English (and linguists have a technical name for it called corpus). With over 450 million words, the database is a searchable text collection of newspapers, academic journals, popular magazines, transcripts of unscripted conversation from TV programs and radio shows, etc. all gathered between 1990-2012. By searching through the database and looking at the matched results (in the form of short excerpts), one can have an idea what the media or people have said over the years about certain things. For simplicity reasons I shall skip the rest of the linguistic theories here so if you are interested in the boring theories, please read my other article on "John Sinclair's lexical items – an introduction" or my examples on how to analyze the search findings using the example words: "cause", "reduce", and "credibility".

Let's see some findings

Having searched through Brigham Young's database, I managed to locate all 243 instances of "voted for" (that is, "voted for Clinton", "voted for Bush" and "voted for Obama") that appeared in various newspapers and magazines from after the last five U.S. presidential elections (listed in Table 1) which spanned the last 20 years since 1992.

Order Election Year Winner Other major candidates
52nd 1992 Bill Clinton* (Democrat) - 370 electoral votes George H. W. Bush (Republican) - 168
Ross Perot (no party) - 0
53rd 1996 Bill Clinton* (Democrat) - 379 Bob Dole (Republican) - 159
Ross Perot (Reform) - 0
54th 2000 George W. Bush^ (Republican) - 271 Al Gore (Democrat) - 266
Ralph Nader (Green) - 0
55th 2004 George W. Bush (Republican) - 286 John Kerry (Democrat) - 251
56th 2008 Barack Obama (Democrat) - 365 John McCain (Republican) - 173

Table 1: List of United States presidential elections 1992-2008. Note: * means winner received less than an absolute majority of the popular vote;   ^ means losing candidate received a plurality of the popular vote.

So here are the findings.

While I am neither conducting a country-wide exit poll nor a full-scale post-election research, what I can tell from the 243 excerpts found (all in quotes below) is that Republicans seemed to be more willing to vote for a Democrat candidate without later regretting, especially when they believe that the American people "were mired in a terrible recession" and "the country needed something". Many registered Republicans, who "voted for Clinton and Gore", "voted for Clinton twice". There were even rumors that "President Reagan voted for Clinton". But no matter whom Republicans have voted for, Republicans are still Republicans, just as one who said "he voted for Obama (in 2008), but remains a Republican".

However, this is not quite the same for the Democrats. They seemed to regret more often when they choose to vote for a Republican presidential candidate. One Democrat "who voted for Bush four years ago... (said) (h)e doesn't plan to do so again", and there were some "blue collar Democrats who voted for Bush and (said they) don't want to again".

So what about Democrats for Democrats or Republicans for Republicans? While the excerpts do not reveal much on this, they do provide some hints as in the following two examples: A "Republican who voted for Bush in 1988 ... said he reluctantly would do so again", and, for the "Democrat who voted for Obama in 2008 ... (said he/she) would again".

Similarly, people who voted for a Republican seem to regret more often over their choices too. One (not knowing his political affiliation, presumably a member of the general public) "who voted for Bush ... thinks despair is now at an all-time high" and a medical doctor who also "voted for Bush ... (says) he's unhappy with high taxes and the economy". Interestingly, there is also this "worried Jarvis, who voted for Bush but sympathizes with Gore's position", too. And while some "Americans voted for Bush because he made them feel safe", others said "Americans deserved to be bombed because they had voted for Bush", and that because "you voted for Bush, so you're responsible for this disaster", or "they voted for Bush, (and so) support(ed) the Iraq war".

But is there a reason for this?

People seem to understand that when they vote for a Republican they vote for the American dream and a united America with strong military power whereas when they vote for a Democrat they vote for the charismatic leader as well as a plan, a plan either to help the people or save the country. For instance, one lady who "won't say whether she voted for Obama ... (says) she feels his health plan may be the answer". And another man who "voted for Obama ... said he still believes in this president (as a leader)". There are some others who also said that they either "voted for Obama's big government health care" or "Obama's Wall Street bailout". Such intention to vote for a Democrat candidate's economy plan in the presidential election does not seem to exist with the Republican candidate. Do they not have plans? I remember they did talked about some, e.g. Bush's No Child Left Behind Act, but why aren't those reflected in the excerpts we found from the newspapers and magazines? Could this be the reason why people regretted after they voted for a Republican because they had voted for someone without a plan that would last long enough to be remembered in history?

Excerpts of these newspapers and magazines all seem to point into a same direction: People are more likely to regret over their decisions of choosing a Republican candidate than a Democrat and that whenever a Republican chooses a Democrat, something terribly wrong must have happened in America and they wanted the Democrats to fix it (and that probably explains why President Obama always says he's got a lot of work to do). Whereas whenever a Democrat chooses a Republican, America must have remained relatively stable and prosperous for a period long enough, so long for some politicians to start thinking of going out and kick some ass, like starting a war in Iraq, looking for non-existent WMDs, or sending the American troops to some third-world country, etc. – which, according to these excerpts, they will always either regret four years down the road or simply call in the jackass again to clean up the mess – no wonder now why the Democrats changed their official party logo.

And that's quite obvious, isn't it? America is still halfway through the healing process from the wounds of the 2008 financial tsunami and it obviously takes more than 4 years to complete. If politicians really want to go out and kick some ass, please mark on their diaries (or whatever iPhone or Android smart phones they use) the page of 2016 – it is just not today.

November 4, 2012

ABOUT THE CONTRIBUTOR

Raymond Cheng, PhD DPA FRSA, is the founder and chief editor of Commentary.com. He is an adjunct professor in international business and in marketing, an independent policy analyst as well as a language and cultural briefing consultant.

Email Raymond at raymond {dot} cheng {at} kellogg {dot} oxon {dot} org





Note 1: Some online quizzes and calculators for selecting your presidential candidate: Telegraph Daily's Votematch Quiz, Project Vote Smart's VoteEasy™, SelectSmart.com 2012 Presidential Candidate Selector or VoteHelp Candidate Calculator

Note 2: Other than President Obama (Democrat) and Mitt Romney (Republican), there are other presidential candidates in the 2012 U.S. election, namely, Rocky Anderson (Justice), Virgil Goode (Constitution), Gary Johnson (Libertarian) and Jill Stein (Green), etc.




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