TJ | 26th Nov, 2014

The First Thanksgiving

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Lincoln and his Generals after Antietam

It is important to remember the circumstances surrounding the real first Thanksgiving. The real first Thanksgiving did not occur at Plymouth, but across America in cities, villages and isolated farms whose families had endured the grim news coming from the battlefields of the Civil War.  That war signified America’s inability to hold itself together in the face of partisan quarrels that dated back to the Constitutional Convention. By 1860 those quarrels, one of which resulted in Preston Brooks beating Charles Sumner senseless with a cane in the halls of Congress, had hardened until, as Lincoln said, America became a “house divided against itself.”

In 1863 Americans who had fought for over half a century with words were now slaughtering each other in unspeakable numbers.  The year before Lincoln issued his proclamation marked the bloodiest day in American history– the Battle of Antietam where there were 6,000 casualties in a single morning. It takes a voice from the past to remind us of the horrors of the Civil War and why Lincoln issued his proclamation. The description is grim, and I hesitated printing it, but we need to see battles like Antietam through the eyes of those who fought there in the worst battle in our nation’s history.  The worst casualties took place at they called the Bloody Angle where soldiers who only a few years before may have greeted one another on a street corner fought hand-to-hand:

Many of the bodies have turned black, the stench is terrible, and the sight shocking beyond description. I saw several wounded men in the breastworks buried under their dead, just  move a hand a little as it stuck up through the interstices above the dead bodies that buried the live ones otherwise completely from sight. Imagine such a sight if one can! It is indescribable! It was sickening, distressing and shocking to look upon!… Could anything in  Hades be any worse?…It seems like a horrible nightmare! [From Lemuel Abijah Abbott, Personal Recollections and Civil War Diary, 1864,  (New York: Free Press, 1908), pp. 58-59.]

When Abraham Lincoln wrote his Thanksgiving Day Proclamation, he wasn’t thinking about Pilgrims and turkeys; he was thinking about sights like those above which her personally witnessed when he traveled to Antietam to assess the battle.  He desperately wanted to heal  a divided and wounded country.

Lincoln’s interest in Thanksgiving is said to have been urged on him by Sarah Josepha Hale, the editor of the popular Godey’s Lady’s Book, who had promoted the idea in editorials. Hale also did not mention Pilgrims and turkeys. In one editorial she wrote:

Let us consecrate the day to benevolence of action, by sending good gifts to the poor, and doing those deeds of charity that will, for one day, make every American home the place of plenty and of rejoicing. These seasons of refreshing are of inestimable advantage to the popular heart; and if rightly managed, will greatly aid and strengthen public harmony of feeling.

In these days of partisan rancor we would do well to note some of Hale’s words and the motive behind them. Hale saw Thanksgiving as a way of strengthening what she termed “public harmony of feeling.” In other words, she envisioned a country where people worked together for the common good instead of digging their heels in and saying “my way or the highway.”

Hale had a different idea about this country than the one voiced by current Congressional zealots ready to shut down the government to get their way. She believed that harmony would come from “benevolence of action,” “sending good gifts to the poor, ” and doing “deeds of charity.”  In Hale’s words lies the belief that this country functions best with a level playing field that extends a hand to those less fortunate.

Hale wrote to Lincoln to convince him to set aside a day of Thanksgiving in the midst of the Civil War.

And would it not be fitting and patriotic for him to appeal to the Governors of all the States, inviting and commending these to unite in issuing proclamations for the last Thursday in November as the Day of Thanksgiving for the people of each State? Thus the great Union Festival of America would be established.

While Hale’s letter may have piqued Lincoln’s interest, it served only as a catalyst that brought forth his own beliefs about what he felt the nation needed. As he often did during that terrible period, Lincoln put words on paper that were spinning in the heads of Americans, captured their conflicting feelings and, most of all, read the needs lying in the those guarded places where not even the images of Matthew Brady’s photographs could penetrate.

Lincoln knew the nation deserved a day to pause and reflect, to inhale the fresh air of freedom amidst the dark smoke of war. There are so many other things he could have said, so many different words he could have used, so many feelings he could have vented, but he chose to ignore them. Somehow in the midst of the killing and the hatred he found something positive and enduring, just as he would at Gettysburg.

While his Thanksgiving Proclamation has neither the philosophical profundity nor the rhetorical precision of what he said at Gettysburg it has something else: a faith in what he termed “one heart and voice by the whole American people.” Abraham Lincoln had the ability to foresee a day when all Americans gathered with friends and family to enjoy each others’ company and give simple thanks for their blessings.

In Lincoln’s words, Thanksgiving becomes the most American of holidays–even more than the Fourth of July and all the rest–a national day of unity when all the disparate strands of this diverse nation join together not to celebrate, but to simply be thankful. The President did not call for revenge or hatred, but instead turned us towards what he termed the “better angels of our nature” and called for us to pause, look around and think about our lives.

Edmund Ruffin

When Edmund Ruffin, whose broad-brimmed hat and shoulder-length silver hair personified another world, walked to a cannon and lit the fuse that fired the first shot of the Civil War no one could have imagined the Bloody Angle.  That is why Lincoln’s proclamation of the First Thanksgiving speaks more powerfully to this nation than turkeys and Pilgrims. In countless speeches he gave through the Civil War one theme rings as clear as a church bell: it was the union that mattered and in order to have a “more perfect union” all Americans needed to value the nation as a whole over their petty personal and partisan agendas and grievances.

For Lincoln the Union could only survive if we worked together toward a common vision where no one was better than anyone else, regardless of how much they owned or how many degrees they had or the color of their skin or the accent of their voice. No one had a monopoly on dictating the meaning of the Constitution and the Declaration.

One part of Lincoln’s life that is not often mentioned is that at no time did he ever presume to be the major authority on the Constitution or American government. Raised in beginnings so humble that he once lived in the equivalent of a lean to, Lincoln, unlike the record number of millionaires in the present Congress, knew what it was like to be so hungry you would eat anything. That always left him with the humility that comes from having been, in the words of the blues, “so down you don’t know where up is.”

Thanksgiving had profound meaning to a man whose thin figure metaphorically reflected the near starvation he endured as a child. The reason we have family and friends around the table is to share whatever we have with those we love. If we cannot share it with them, regardless of their political beliefs, their personal quirks and bad luck stories, who can we share it with?

So before the you dig in for that Thanksgiving meal, say a few words or have a moment of reflection for the hope that the spirit of Thanksgiving imagined by Hale and Lincoln might infect this nation. Then end with a personal pledge, a kind of Thanksgiving Resolution, as Hale recommended, to honor this holiday with an act of charity.

Proclamation Establishing Thanksgiving Day

October 3, 1863

The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God. In the midst of a civil war of unequalled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union. Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defence, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle, or the ship; the axe had enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years, with large increase of freedom.

No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy.

It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and voice by the whole American people. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to his tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union.

In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand, and caused the seal of the United States to be affixed.

Done at the city of Washington, this third day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the independence of the United States the eighty-eighth.

A. Lincoln

BONUS: Can you identify George Custer in the picture? Send me a comment about what his posture and dress might signify.

May all of you enjoy this Thanksgiving!

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Robert and Ethel Kennedy listen to a recording of JFK’s Civil Rights Speech on a trip to South Africa

George Corley Wallace surely stands as one of the twentieth century’s most pivotal and enigmatic figures. While arguments still rage about Wallace’s true nature, most historians would agree that the former Alabama Governor and presidential candidate was an astute and clever political operator. After James Meredith integrated the University of Mississippi under the protection of United States marshals, Wallace knew it would not be long before a similar attempt would be made at the last segregated state university–the University of Alabama.

When a federal court ordered Alabama to admit two African American students in the spring of 1963, Wallace probably replayed the Meredith admission in his mind. The situation in Mississippi had spiraled out of control in a wave of violence. A reporter and a local resident were shot to death, two hundred federal marshals and National Guard troops were injured, vehicles and buildings were burned, and a stolen fire engine and a bulldozer tried to force their way into the administration building. (See Ted Sorenson, Kennedy, p. 486) Mississippi Governor Ross Barnett had earned the enmity of the nation for his intransigence while at the same time doing little to appease his segregationist base.

Meanwhile, the Kennedy Administration was also planning for the inevitable confrontation at Alabama. In Mississippi, the Administration had relied on Barnett’s state police to keep order, but before the riot they disappeared without notice. Kennedy was not about to let the situation get out of hand again, initiating contacts with Alabama educators, editors, clergy, and business leaders. When the court issued its order, the President ordered troops at Fort Benning onboard helicopters so they could be flown to campus at the first sign of trouble.

Wallace needed a way to save face; Kennedy needed to prevent the violence. After a series of negotiations in which even Bobby Kennedy tried to reason with Wallace, the two sides had written the script for one of America’s most memorable pieces of political theater. Wallace would stand in the “schoolhouse door” symbolically blocking integration, delivering a typical Wallace in-your-face defiant torrent of words. Across from him, Assistant Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach would read the court order. Offstage, the students would register.

Katzenbach even arranged to place a podium opposite Wallace that he would use to deliver his speech. The podium showed how little the administration understood what they were up against, for it symbolized the federal government’s imperiousness, with the short, feisty Wallace taking on the role of the rebellious student or defiant defendant every classroom secretly admires and every courtroom drama places in a starring role.

Shortly after the little drama had played out, the two students were taken to their dormitories without incident. Kennedy then federalized the National Guard and three hours later the two students registered. George Corley Wallace got exactly what he wanted out of the confrontation. Historian Taylor Branch in his monumental Parting the Waters believes the confrontation:

Helped elevate Wallace from the marginal stature of a Ross Barnett to a Presidential candidate. His stand against Washington and do-gooder bureaucrats planted a conservative standard which, further rinsed of its racial content, came to dominate American politics for more than a generation. (p. 822)

That night, after both Wallace and Katzenbach had delivered Academy Award-level performances, John Fitzgerald Kennedy decided to appear on national television to address the American people about Civil Rights against the objections of some of his advisors. According to Branch, Burke Marshall remembered Robert Kennedy alone supported the idea. At six o’clock Kennedy ordered network time and gave speech writer Ted Sorenson some ideas. But that left little time to prepare one of the more important addresses of the Kennedy presidency. In his book on Kennedy, Sorenson writes:

Having assumed that the tranquil resolution at Tuscaloosa that afternoon made a speech unnecessary, I did not start a first draft until late in the afternoon or complete it until five minutes before he went on the air. There was no time for a redraft. “For the first time,” the President told me in my office afterward, “I thought I was going to have to go off the cuff.” He did, in fact, extemporize a heart felt conclusion. (p. 495)

Sorenson notes that in actuality the speech had been three years in the making, drawing on meetings with Civil Rights leaders, members of Congress and discussions in the administration. Sorenson writes of Kennedy’s evolution over this time, observing:

His assumption of the powers of the Presidency accelerated the change in his outlook. As a strong President, he had no intention of permitting Southern Governors and others to defy the courts and his office…

Above all he was motivated by a deep sense of justice and fair play. “I do not say that all men are equal in their ability, their character, or their motivation,” he declared more than once, “but I say they should be equal in their chance to develop their character, their motivation, and their ability. They should be given a fair chance to develop all the talents they have.” (p. 472)

When the camera lights turned on the night of June 11, 1963, they not only illuminated the President’s speech, but shone brightly on a problem that had been too long neglected. Those lights would reach into the back roads of Mississippi, the streets of Birmingham and into every American home.

Although Kennedy’s speech was not as dramatically extemporaneous as Harry Truman’s St. Louis speech, it was far from being a tightly prepared oration, which made it both more personal and more powerful. The President begins with a review of the day’s events. From this he quickly moves to a historical section, which ends with one of the sentences that many Americans can still recite from memory:

This Nation was founded by men of many nations and backgrounds. It was founded on the principle that all men are created equal, and that the rights of every man are diminished when the rights of one man are threatened.

In his Let the Trumpet Sound, Stephen Oates points out that the phrase echoes one King often used “a threat to justice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” In the research I was able to do, I found no answer to the question of whether Kennedy consciously chose to echo King. King’s phrase was well-known at the time, which leads me to speculate that he and/or Sorenson intended it to resonate with King.

Kennedy reminds Americans that the nation is in the midst of a struggle to “promote and protect the rights of all who wish to be free.” This leads him into a paragraph that uses the word “oughta” over and over again, to paint a picture of a truly free America. The word choice is interesting in that its informality helps reinforce that Kennedy speaks from the heart and also helps him connect with his listeners using a more conversational tone. Had he used the more formal “ought” it would have made the speech sound like he was lecturing the American people.

What strikes me as remarkable about this passage is how it evokes three cornerstones of Liberal America: social and economic justice, educational equity, and voting rights.

It oughta be possible, therefore, for American students of any color to attend any public institution they select without having to be backed up by troops. It oughta to be possible for American consumers of any color to receive equal service in places of public accommodation, such as hotels and restaurants and theaters and retail stores, without being forced to resort to demonstrations in the street, and it oughta be possible for American citizens of any color to register and to vote in a free election without interference or fear of reprisal. It oughta to be possible, in short, for every American to enjoy the privileges of being American without regard to his race or his color.

According to Sorenson, the paragraph which follows was used by Kennedy in the television debates with Richard Nixon. It consists of facts about the realities of life in America for a “Negro Baby,” statistics that came to Kennedy from Civil Rights leaders. That Sorenson would borrow this passage for a speech made on short notice would not be unusual, but the interesting part about it is that three years after Kennedy first uttered its phrases, little had changed: the chances of completing college, of becoming unemployed, of life expectancy and lifetime earnings. More important, this marks the first time an American president would tell the American people the facts about racial inequality.

It seems fitting that these statistics should be followed by the most important and quoted section of the speech. Today the beginning of this section might seem tame, but in 1963, most Americans still regarded racial injustice as a “Southern problem.” It would have been easy for the President to take a similar perspective but instead he reminds those watching on television that “this is not a sectional issue.”

Nor is this a partisan issue. In a time of domestic crisis men of good will and generosity should be able to unite regardless of party or politics. This is not even a legal or legislative issue alone. It is better to settle these matters in the courts than on the streets, and new laws are needed at every level, but law alone cannot make men see right. We are confronted primarily with a moral issue. It is as old as the Scriptures and is as clear as the American Constitution.

The status of John F. Kennedy has diminished since Sorenson wrote his laudatory biography while the memory of Camelot was still fresh. Yet this paragraph certainly ranks among the great pieces of rhetoric uttered by any American president. If we remember the moment, and how little time Kennedy had to prepare the speech, those words speak not merely of memorable rhetoric but of the moral values that drove it. “We are confronted primarily with a moral issue.” Even in these days when the media tell us “moral values” were the voters’ concern in 2004, what politician has sought to frame equality as a moral issue?

Kennedy also is not content to frame Civil Rights as a moral issue, he asks each American to imagine what life would be like should the color of their skin suddenly change from white to black.

Who among us would be content to have the color of his skin changed and stand in his place? Who among us would then be content with the counsels of patience and delay? One hundred years of delay have passed since President Lincoln freed the slaves, yet their heirs, their grandsons, are not fully free. They are not yet freed from the bonds of injustice. They are not yet freed from social and economic oppression. And this Nation, for all its hopes and all its boasts, will not be fully free until all its citizens are free.

Having framed the issue, Kennedy offers his solutions, first in general terms and then specifically outlining the provisions of the Civil Rights Bill his speech was designed to showcase.

We face, therefore, a moral crisis as a country and a people. It cannot be met by repressive police action. It cannot be left to increased demonstrations in the streets. It cannot be quieted by token moves or talk. It is a time to act in the Congress, in your State and local legislative body and, above all, in all of our daily lives.

The original provisions of that bill included the right to be served in all public facilities, an end to segregation in public education, and greater protection for the right to vote.

The ending to the speech begins with a summons to American greatness not unlike that in Kennedy’s Inaugural Address.

This is one country. It has become one country because all of us and all the people who came here had an equal chance to develop their talents. We cannot say to ten percent of the population that you can’t have that right; that your children cannot have the chance to develop whatever talents they have; that the only way that they are going to get their rights is to go in the street and demonstrate. I think we owe them and we owe ourselves a better country than that.

After the speech Martin Luther King sent the President a telegram:


The segregationists would answer in their own way. The day after the speech Medgar Evers was returning home from his voter registration work for the NAACP. The web site Africa Within describes what happened next:

As he left his car with a handful of t-shirts that read “Jim Crow Must Go,” he was shot in the back. His wife and children, who had been waiting up for him, found him bleeding to death on the doorstep. “I opened the door, and there was Medgar at the steps, face down in blood,” Myrlie Evers remembered in People magazine. “The children ran out and were shouting, `Daddy, get up!'”

Civil Rights worker Fannie Lou Hamer was in jail when Kennedy delivered his speech and Medgar Evers was murdered, recovering from a brutal beating she had received in a Mississippi jail. In the 1964 credentials fight over the Mississippi delegation she would tell her story on national television. It would rivet the nation.

By then John Kennedy was dead. It would take until 1965 for all the proposals he had made in his Civil Rights speech to become law. Shortly after Kennedy’s death Martin Luther King said that in some ways it was a blessing for Civil Rights.

I’m convinced had he lived, there would have been continued delays and attempts to evade it at every point and water down every point. But I think his memory and the fact he stood up for this civil rights bill will cause many people to see the necessity for working passionately. (Branch, p. 922)

King did not know when he said this that his phone conversations were being wire-tapped. Taylor Branch believes:

The reaction to Kennedy’s assassination pushed deep enough and wide enough in the high ground of political emotion to enable the movement to institutionalize its major gains before receding. (p. 922)

Branch’s assessment of Kennedy’s assassination also might apply to principles that run through Democratic Party leaders from William Jennings Bryan to Woodrow Wilson to Franklin Roosevelt to Harry Truman. John Kennedy’s Civil Rights speech aimed to fill in the one gaping and inexcusable hole in Bryan, Wilson, Roosevelt and Truman: their ignoring–even disdain for–Civil Rights for people of color. Yet as King rightly pointed out (and Sorenson indirectly confirms), the Kennedy administration’s support remained lukewarm.

Since 1963, the legacy of Bryan, Wilson, Roosevelt and Truman has had a diminishing influence on the Party. In the years following the passage of the Civil Rights legislation, virtually no Democratic nominee or president has seen fit to uphold the legacy of the four Democratic Party leaders and fewer still have directly invoked their names or words. Now “triangulation” dominates the Democrats and triangulation is something John F. Kennedy pioneered.

The speech itself, as King recognized, deserves its place in history. The picture at the head of this post symbolizes that importance. Robert and Ethel Kennedy listen to a recording of his brother’s Civil Rights speech during a visit to South Africa in June 1966. Kennedy and a South African tribal leader lean over a record player, listening intently.

In the end JFK stands as an important transition from the Democratic legacy to the New Democrats, from ideology to triangulation. That the four leaders who best personified the legacy all used triangulation as a strategy goes without saying, but it did not rise to the level of a political philosophy as it has today.

Meanwhile the necessity for working passionately continues. Last summer, Republicans in Congress– most of them Southerners–tried to block an attempt to renew the Voting Rights Act. That four score and three years after John Fitzgerald Kennedy made his Civil Rights speech, Republicans would brazenly move to gut it says all you need to know about why I term the present philosophy of the Republican Party the Counterrevolution.

The renewal of the Voting Rights Act was named after Coretta Scott King, Rosa Parks and Fannie Lou Hamer. Yet Fannie Lou Hamer died poor and largely forgotten in 1977. The words on her tombstone still reverberate almost half a century after John Kennedy proclaimed equal rights a “moral issue.”

I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired.

NOTE: You should also listen to and view Kennedy’s speech.

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Eleanor Roosevelt Voting

Predicting the Presidential election winner will be the name of the game tomorrow night and every network, blog, and tweat will be competing to be the first to name the winner.  The networks and the pundits make it sound like it takes a supercomputer with some magic formula to do the job.

While there is no denying the ability of such tools to predict down to the precinct level and the strength of their prediction models, it is possible for viewers to make their own predictions while watching the election returns and come pretty close to matching those multimillion dollar machines. If you are having a party that night you can even match predictions with friends.

If you have ever sat in on a campaign headquarters on election night, this is exactly what they do. Most candidates know if they have won or lost before the networks “call” the election because they know which precincts they have to win and by what margin and what the margin needs to be in the precincts they will probably lose. In more sophisticated campaigns they do their own polling right along with the networks.

The Real Focus: Turnout

This site contains no big bucks from advertisers and no black box formulas, just information so you can make your own prediction.  If nothing else the analysis sheets should help liven up the evening for they provide a perspective you will not hear from the networks. Hopefully they also will spark some good conversation. In fact the sheets should help you make a better pundit than a fair number who will be taking up air time Tuesday night.

For all the smoke and mirrors consultants and pundits are throwing up around election results, the key to predicting elections is quite simple and has been since someone put them down on papyrus: the candidate who turns out more of his or her people wins. Based on results from the primaries, polling and other data we know which groups tend to lean towards Obama and which lean towards Romney. So predicting each state is a matter of seeing which voters from each of the candidate’s main support groups turn out in higher numbers. For six years this methodology has scooped the networks on every election except one. It produced THE most accurate prediction of the Iowa primary.

The Format

The charts for you to use are all in an attached Word or PDF file you can download and print them out. That way if you don’t want to read all of this essay, you can just print the sheets. You can jot your own comments on the back. Hopefully they will liven up your evening.

The spreadsheets are in one file with separate pages for each swing state.  That way you do not have to download and print separate files for each state.

The States

By now all of you know the election has come down to several swing states. There is some disagreement about some of these, so my choices are based on today’s polling data. These polling data come from RealClearPolitics which maintains a composite of all the major polls. Right now RCP has the following states as swing states: Ohio, Virginia, Colorado, North Carolina, Nevada, Florida, New Hampshire, Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Iowa.

According to RCP, Obama currently has 201 electoral votes from states that are solidly in his column while Romney has 191. The final 146 are either leaning towards one of the candidates or are one of the above swing states.  Add in the leaning votes (states where either candidate has at least a 5% advantage) and Obama has 219 electoral votes and Romney 202.

To make things easier, my definition of a swing state is any state in which the polling margin is basically zero–that is either candidate has a three percent lead or less since three percent is the usual statistical margin of error in political polls. That eliminates Wisconsin (4.2% for Obama), Pennsylvania (4.1% for Obama), North Carolina (3.8% for Romney) and Michigan (3.8% for Obama).  Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Michigan have gone Democratic in every election since 2000.  The one wild card is VP Candidate Ryan who is from Wisconsin. Obama squeaked out a slim victory in North Carolina, which previously had gone for Bush, largely on the strength of the African American vote.

Admittedly this is cutting things pretty fine, but it leaves us with Ohio, Virginia, Colorado, Nevada, Florida, New Hampshire, and Iowa. We might call these the Big Four and the Little Three in that the combined electoral votes of  Nevada, New Hampshire, and Iowa are 16, less than Ohio and Florida and three more than Virginia.

Given the closeness of the race the winner cannot lose both Florida and Ohio with their 47 electoral votes.  If Obama wins them both he is within four electoral votes of the needed 270.  Romney would be within 20.  A combination of three out of the Big Four would put either candidate in the White House.

With that in mind, this Predict the Winner analysis will focus on those four states.

The Sheets

On each sheet you will find a series of columns across the top for various demographic groups. The first set of numbers below these groups are the most current data. For example, swing state “A” contains 12% African Americans. A few explanations are needed for some of the symbols and abbreviations used in each column to make the charts more readable and able to fit on one page. AA is for African American. Young is voters under 34. Old is voters over 62. ED is voters without a college degree. POV is the percentage with family incomes below the poverty line. UNION is the percentage of union members.

Census data are from the Census Bureau. Union membership comes from the AFL-CIO.

The open spaces below are for you to fill in the actual turnout data as you find it either from the networks or more likely on the Internet. CNN still maintains the most complete database, but to their credit they tend to release it late. So you will need to do a bit of detective work to find the early data.

A note here about the network data and that of the Associated Press: their exit polling is conducted by one organization, Edison Research. Edison’s methods leave me a bit uneasy since their pollsters often are hired just for this event and receive questionable training (some is via videotape). Several elections ago the networks and AP all pooled their resources and hired Edison, so when you hear Fox or CBS talk about their polling; they really are talking about the same poll and the same data–Edison’s.

This practice of using the same data to call election winners bothers me. Essentially the election is in Edison’s hands since their exit polling data declares the winner long before all the ballots are counted.  Most states have their own independent pollsters, who often are more accurate than Edison. So a good place to start is the major paper in your state.

The Colors

The red-colored numbers indicate increases from the 2008 Presidential election.  The most notable–and most commented on–is the increase in Latino voters.  In the four states it totals about 7%.  Given polls show those voters are leaning towards Obama that gives him that many more votes over what he had in 2008.

The other increase is even more interesting.  Reports about the death of the union movement are exaggerated for in three of the four states union membership INCREASED since 2008. With the GOP pushing right-to-work measures this should bring out union voters who have increased 3.7% in the four states. This alone would be enough to swing those states to Obama.

The blue colored numbers represent the 2008 percentage turnout for that particular group. It is important to remember that this DOES NOT represent the percentages in that group voting for Obama. For example Obama won 95% of all African Americans nationally and 56% of women.  If his support among African Americans falls to the low nineties of below ninety he is going to have a tough time winning.  These turnout percentages are useful to compare to this year’s results. Should Obama’s core voters turn out in smaller percentages than 2008 he will be in trouble.

The States

If you would rather not read the BS below, click below for the Word or PDF file.

2012 prediction sheets (Word)


The left hand column headed “Time” identifies the time of the sample. “Pre” means pre-election. “2008” are data taken from the CNN exit polls for the last Presidential election. “2nd data” and “3rd data” are for you to fill in data as you find it or to just make a prediction.  For example, you could use 2nd Data to predict and 3rd data for the first real data. “Final” is for the actual results. It can be compared with 2008 and the Census data to create your own analysis of what happened and maybe spark a few early morning conversations or arguments at work the next day.

Have fun. I will be adding my own, only I will not start making predictions after the polls close.


Obama won Colorado handily in 2008, in part on the gender gap with 56% of women voting for him. He also won every age group except those over 65 along with 62% of the Latino vote.

The fact that Colorado is a tighter race this year may have to do with a falling off among these groups.  If the turnout by women is low along with that of Latinos, he will have a tough time winning this state.


In 2008 Obama had a lead of 4.2% in Florida on the eve of the election. This year Romney has a lead of 1.4% and is expected to win the state. At one point there was talk of Obama not even contesting Florida.

Florida is a strange state in that the combined percentage of Latino and African American voters is 39.4%.  That should be more than enough to swing the state Democratic in every election, but that has not happened. One explanation is that the Latino vote is a wild card since Florida’s large Cuban-American population has tended to vote Republican. But that has changed in recent years so it does not sufficiently explain Florida’s results.

If you remember back to the Bush-Gore Supreme Court case some explanation can be found in evidence and testimony suggesting African Americans were discouraged from voting or had problems voting.  Pay careful attention to the vote from Dade County, which was at the center of Bush v. Gore.  If the turnout is high there, Romney may be in trouble. Results from Dade County tend to come in late, so if Florida is close and we don’t yet have the results from Dade we could be in for a long night and perhaps even another court case.


In 2008 the polls showed Obama with a 4.2% lead.  Now it is 2.8%.  The economy is a huge issue here with a high foreclosure rate, fear over potential plant shutdowns and the financial crisis.  There also is union anger at the right-to-work initiative. Blue collar voters are a key swing vote in this state and if they go heavily for Obama, as they seem to be trending towards, then that lead could widen.

If African American support falls below 2008 that means that the enthusiastic support for the President that characterized the African American vote in 2008 has waned. If you wonder why you are seeing the Colin Powell ad so many times this is why.

Like Florida, Ohio has a history of election shenanigans almost as bad as Florida. It is an inside joke that both campaigns already have more lawyers there than campaign staff. If this one goes early for Obama it could signal a big night for him.


So we come to the last toss-up state. You need only look at the demographics to see why. First, it is one of the few states where younger voters outnumber older. Second, among the swing states it has one of the highest percentages of people with a college degree. Third African American and Hispanic voters make up almost a third of the electorate.

The state has been trending Democratic and a solid vote for Obama could solidify that. This will be a state where the African American and Latino turnouts will decide the winner.


A key group will be low income voters. No Democrat has won without them.  The GOP has been running ads blaming Obama for an increase in the poverty rate.  It will be interesting to see which party these voters blame for their situation.

While it is doubtful these voters will swing Republican they have a recent history of staying away from the polls, with one of the lowest voting rates of any group. If they vote significantly below their demographic percentage it means Obama has lost the confidence of this group that he can handle the economy.  If that occurs expect for Obama to have a long night.

Although much of this analysis is predicated on polls showing older voters trending for Romney, I think they are the demographic to watch in this election.  Older voters used to be a Democratic-leaning group.  The question will be whether recent moves by Republican radicals to privatize Social Security and Medicare have scared these voters back into the Democratic column.  If these voters record high numbers for Obama, especially in the two Southern states, Florida and Virginia, it is all over for Romney.

Finally, the combined Latino and African American vote, which in my book has been the swing vote in every election for at least half a century, reached its maturity in 2008. The victory of an African  American whose margin of victory was due in large part to people of color signaled the beginning of a major transition period in American politics.  The big question is whether the economy has thrown a wrench into this.

If he loses, Barack Obama will be the first Democrat since Grover Cleveland to campaign for a second term with questions being raised about a major economic crisis. Jimmy Carter’s was minor compared to the Great Recession. Most people believed FDR’s New Deal was working. Cleveland faced the Panic of 1893 and lost the support of his own party for failing to take on Wall Street, intervening in the Pullman Strike against the unions, having to borrow money from J.P. Morgan to prevent the collapse of the Treasury and failing to aid starving farmers.

While not as ineffective as Cleveland, Obama’s policies echo Cleveland’s refusal to take on Wall Street. For example,  Obama has failed to prosecute three banks for violation of the Riegle-Neal Act. Most people have never heard of Riegle-Neal, but there is the feeling Obama has gone soft on Wall Street, in part because that is the stance of his chief campaigner Bill Clinton and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner. [More on that after the election.]

The Wild Cards

This will be the first Presidential election to take place in the era of social media. If you followed coverage of the debates, you heard a lot of pseudo-analysis coming from network pundits generalizing about Twitter and Facebook postings. Expect that to continue.

Both sides will make huge efforts to get control of the social media early in the day. This will turn into a deluge after the first poll closings. There will be some crude attempts to sway voters in states where the polls have not yet closed by claiming that their candidate is ahead and posting rumors of election irregularities.  Twitter and Facebook are under no rules to not broadcast exit polling.  It is going to be tough to keep the lid on this and to separate the noise and BS from what is real.

The other wild card is Sandy. It devastated New Jersey where Obama currently holds an eleven percent lead.  Reports stress low income people suffered disproportionally from the hurricane with many of them still without power and shelter and some scrambling just to find something to eat. There is no question turnout will be lower because of Sandy and that it will hit Obama voters more heavily.  If New Jersey becomes close Obama could have a tough hill to climb.

Expect some law suits to come from attempts to allow people to vote away from the polls. The GOP has no choice but to file these suits since its strategy has been to discourage alternative voting. If alternative voting works in the wake of Sandy it will give a big boost to those who are pushing to do away with voting practices that have not changed much since the nineteenth century.

See you on election eve.

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