Will the three Gs matter in Iowa?

In the first and most important caucus state, the GOP candidates are putting "gays, guns and God" is

Iowa, as one US citizen put it, is a place with pictures of piglets on postcards (PPPP, if you will). In other words, it is representative of rural America; a state in the "American Heartland" that is rich in cornfields and farmers, who receive $5 Billion a year in ethanol subsidies. "Sure, downsize government, but don't think about touching my farm subsidy," is the general feel within the state. It comes as no surprise, then, that the GOP candidates have treaded carefully over the issue of corn subsidies in the first and most important caucus state.

But another acronym may carry weight in the PPPP state- that of the three Gs (gays, guns and God). The acronym was used by Thomas Frank in his book What's the matter with kansas to explain why poor white Americans would vote for the Republican party- one that offers tax cuts for the wealthy and supports cutting government wellfare.

Iowa has always been an important state because of it's first-in-the-nation status, and since the Iowa primaries come earlier, they are litmus test of sorts. Other states resent this status, using the argument that it is too small, too white and too rural to represent the American demos.

But historically, it has always been considered the key to nomination. Out of 16 Iowa winners, 11 have become their party's candidate (six democrats-Carter, Mondale, Clinton, Gore, Kerry and Obama; and five Republicans- Reagan, Bush Senior, Dole, Bush, and Bush).

But will the three Gs hold sway in Iowa in the same way that it has done in the past? In a rural state with a high number of social conservatives, where half of the republican electorate are evangelicals- it would make sense. The Republicans have great pride in having a strong evangelical base. But this year, with unemployment at 9 per cent and ubiquitous house foreclosures, it seems that whether a candidate believes in the same God, or the same religious values, might not be that important as divine intervention in the form of a candidate who will guide the American people through tough economic times.

A recent Gallup poll conducted in early 2011 reported that more than half of Americans believe same-sex marriage should be legal, compared to 27 per cent in 1997. And in Iowa, gay marriage became legal in 2009 through the courts, although a 2010 poll showed that 44 per cent of Iowans were against same-sex marriage- the only state in the US with same-sex marriage in which support was below half. Indeed, in 2010, three Supreme Court justices who ruled homosexuals should be allowed to marry were kicked out of their positions in a historic decision by voters. It was the first time since 1962 that any justices had been brushed off.

And when it comes to guns, President Obama seems to be protecting the right to bear arms enough, with little if no mention of fire-arms and no legislation against it.

Over at the NY Tiimes Opinionator, Timothy Egan argued that the three Gs could do more harm than good to Republican candidates in 2012:

"Conservative orthodoxy is badly out of step with emerging majority support for full citizenship rights of gays. And with religion, some Republicans have already made an issue of Romney's Mormonism, and Gingrich's switch to Roman Catholicism. In Gingrich's case, questions have been raised about how a multiple-married man could win the favor of high-ranking Catholic clerics who usually look askance at people who ditch their wives. Do we dare expect these two fine men to be the ones, at long last, to bring an end to the gays, guns and God wedge issue, even if it's by accident?"

A recent New York TImes/CBS News poll suggests that voter's concerns are mainly about jobs and the economy (40 per cent) and the budget deficit (23 per cent), with only nine per cent saying their concern was social issues.

But Republican candidates seem to be flirting with the three Gs. Rick Perry released an add titled "Strong" about why he is a christian and criticising "Obama's war on religion". And in the December 15 GOP candidates debate in Iowa, there were plenty of questions on morality. Newt Gingrich (who is leading the polls with 26 per cent) was attacked for once suggesting he supported Republicans who support some abortion rights. Romney was attacked by Fox host Chris Wallace, who suggested he Romney shifted positionsguns and gay-related issues since running for for senate 17 years ago. "In 1994 and throughout my career, I've said I oppose same-sex marriage," he shot back.

If the three Gs apply anywhere else, it is in Iowa, where far-right conservatism seems to be a safe bet. But with Americans angrier than ever about the state of the country (a recent CNN poll asked the question: Are you angry about the state of the country, with 74 per cent answering yes) the three Gs and moral issues might not carry the same weight as in the past.

 

 

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Clinton and Trump: do presidential debates really matter?

The ability of the candiates to perform in front of the cameras is unlikely to impact the final result.

The upcoming televised presidential debates between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are undoubtedly the most eagerly anticipated for many years. No doubt there are various surprises in store – this has been, after all, the most surprising of campaigns.

People will be particularly fascinated to see if Trump dials down his bombastic rhetoric and perhaps even adds some substance to the vague policy pronouncements he has made so far. To a lesser extent, many will also be interested in whether Clinton can add the necessary zest to what some consider her lacklustre style, and whether she can prove she’s made a sterling recovery from her recent bout with pneumonia.

It’s possible that some voters may in fact change their minds based on what they see in the two’s only on-camera encounters. And yet, barring a true disaster or devastating triumph, it’s unlikely that anything the candidates say or do will make much difference to the overall result.

This might not seem all that surprising for these two candidates in particular. Leaving aside how long they’ve both been in public life, social media and the 24-hour news cycle have put Clinton and Trump under incredible scrutiny ever since they announced their respective candidacies – and their every sentence and gesture has already been analysed in the greatest detail.

Trump in particular has received more free publicity from the networks and Twitter than even he could afford, and it’s highly unlikely that he will say anything that the US public hasn’t heard before. Similarly, voters’ impressions of Clinton are apparently so deeply entrenched that she probably won’t change many people’s minds.

Yet there are also broader reasons why presidential TV debates are less important than we might imagine.

Looking the part

Even before the media environment became as saturated as it is today, debates were rarely, if ever, decisive in presidential elections. The exception was possibly the very first TV debate in 1960, which pitted the then vice-president, Richard Nixon, against John F. Kennedy.

At the time, the election was so close that the young, relatively inexperienced but highly telegenic Kennedy was able to reap the benefits of putting his case directly to viewers. He was the underdog; a relative unknown in comparison to Nixon and so had more to gain from such national exposure. Nixon, as the establishment figure, had a lot to lose.

In the end, Kennedy’s narrow victory may well have been because of his debate performances. But his success also demonstrated another important feature of television debates: that viewers take more notice of what they see than what they hear.

Notoriously, television viewers responded very favourably to Kennedy’s film-star good looks, but were turned off by Nixon, who refused to wear make-up and looked sweaty and uncomfortable under the studio lights. In contrast, those who listened on the radio believed that Nixon had come out on top. It seems that viewers saw Kennedy as more “presidential” than Nixon, especially given his calmness under pressure. Kennedy did work hard to exploit some of Nixon’s weaknesses on policy, but in the end, that turned out not to be the point.

Kennedy’s success was one of the reasons that neither of his two successors, Lyndon B. Johnson and then a resurgent Nixon, participated in any such events when they were running for the presidency. Although some debates were held in the primaries, there were no face-to-face contests between presidential candidates in 1964, 1968 or 1972.

The next debates were held in 1976, another tight campaign. These yielded a notorious moment in the second encounter between Gerald R Ford and Jimmy Carter, when the incumbent Ford appeared to throw the election away with a poorly judged remark declaring that there was no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe. As myth has it, this gaffe stalled Ford’s polling surge; he ultimately lost the election.

Yet even this was not decisive. Although the comment did the president no favours, it’s highly debatable whether it in fact had an impact on the overall result; Ford actually closed the polling gap with Carter between the debates and the general election. People’s reactions to the debate had less to do with the substance of his remark and much more with the media’s constant replay and analysis of that moment, which continues to mar Ford’s reputation to this day.

Selective memory

This pattern has continued in the election cycles that have followed, as slips and awkward moments rather than substance provide the media with dominant themes. Many people recall vice-presidential candidate Dan Quayle’s cack-handed attempt to compare himself to Kennedy in 1988, or George Bush senior’s ill-judged glance at his watch when listening to a question in 1992; few probably remember much about what policies they discussed, or whether, if they won, they carried them out.

If anything, the shortcomings of the TV debate format have become more pronounced in the current cycle. Although neither of the main candidates in this year’s election wants for national exposure, the primary debates have tended to favour the underdog and those who claim to be outsiders.

On the Republican side, Trump’s various moderate competitors were one by one hobbled and engulfed; Clinton, for her part, spent months slugging it out with her remarkably successful left-wing rival Bernie Sanders, never quite landing a televised knockout punch and ultimately only defeating him properly after six months of primaries.

While credible policy proposals seem to matter less than ever, things that would have once been considered catastrophic gaffes have become par for the course. Indeed, one could argue that Trump’s success so far is because he has built his campaign on half-truths and outright lies without care for the consequences.

So despite all the anticipation, this year’s debates probably won’t tell us very much about what will happen after the president takes office next January; the analysis will almost certainly focus less on what the candidates have to say and more on how they say it. Voters will no doubt tune in in great, possibly record-breaking numbers, but they’ll come away with precious little sense of what’s in store for their country.

Equally, the spectacles we’re about to witness might be pyrotechnic enough, but they’re unlikely to decide the result in November. And in the unlikely event that they do, it won’t be for the right reasons.

Andrew Priest is a lecturer in Modern US History at the University of Essex

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.