Under the radar: Issues that matter at the margins of U.S. politics
Published Monday, November 5, 2012 9:16AM EST
Last Updated Monday, November 5, 2012 10:01AM EST
As the U.S. election campaign comes down to the wire, here's a look at some issues that have not had much impact on the campaign trail, but are likely to shape America’s political landscape in the years ahead.
Both Barack Obama and Mitt Romney are striking a similar tone in the final hours of their race for the White House, predicting they're going to win the vote Tuesday.
It's a typical last-minute bid to create a bandwagon effect as voters prepare to head to the polls, given particular weight this year as pollsters say the race for the popular vote is neck-and-neck.
But in the U.S. election system, the president isn't decided by the popular vote. Instead, the winner is decided based on the number of electoral votes won on a state-by-state basis.
That's why the campaign has boiled down to a battle for the few "battleground" states where voters are known to vary their support between the Democratic and Republican parties.
And so, beyond the one defining issue of this campaign -- the handling of America's slow-growth economy and its more than 23 million unemployed -- it seems the only other issues on the political radar are those that matter to voters in swing states like Iowa, Wisconsin and Ohio in the Midwest, or the famously contentious southern state of Florida.
In most other states, however, voters are so firmly decided in favour of either the Democrats or Republicans that the national campaigns made little attempt to sway them.
Watching from Washington, D.C., political analyst Solon Simmons says the effect is really one of disenfranchising the majority of Americans.
"I live in a swing state ... so I feel like I'm empowered in this instance, but so many people have basically been left out of this. Their votes simply don't matter and therefore their issues don't play an important role, especially down this stretch," Simmons told CTV's Canada AM Monday. "And that's an issue for democracy."
But Simmons notes that grassroots democracy is nevertheless playing out in this election, through ballot initiatives, referenda and recalls at the state level.
Their aim, Simmons explained, is to "deal with those kind of issues that the national candidates simply do not, because we have only a two-party system and therefore so many of the other cross-cutting cleavages -- those kinds of special issues that might mobilize a particular group of people -- are left out."
Of the more than 170 extra questions on ballots in 38 states Tuesday, ones to watch include:
- Abortion: parental notification in Montana; ending state funding, with certain exceptions, in Florida.
- Climate change: committing to 25 per cent of electricity from renewable sources by 2025 in Michigan.
- Death penalty: eliminating capital punishment in favour of life sentences without parole in that state with the most inmates on death row, California.
- Marijuana: legalizing its sale and recreational use in Colorado, Oregon and Washington.
- Same-sex marriage: introducing legalized unions in Maine; upholding the state law in Maryland and Washington; enshrining a ban in the constitution of Minnesota.
Simmons said the common thread these issues raise is one of what role government should play in citizens' private lives.
In America, where there's always been a strong opposition to undue government interference, that poses a bigger political challenge than charting a broad economic strategy, for instance.
Now, after years of the Democratic party navigating the tension between its social and economic policies, Simmons says the Republican Party has a particularly hard time striking the right balance.
"Issues of sexuality, for example, how to regulate it and what kind of role the government ought to be playing in your life on issues of moral and cultural issues, that's what's difficult for the Republican Party," Simmons said.
They may not have played out on the national campaign trail, Simmons added, but their influence will be felt beyond election day.
"Those aren't the kind of issues that dominate. They're not the economy, or foreign policy, but they still matter to the people and they can matter on the margins down the road."