A tradition in this space, observed again and anew — the voices of the voters on Election Day, 2012. Would that I could flee the office every day and do nothing but listen to them.
A twist this year: I pointedly did not ask directly which presidential candidate a voter chose (several volunteered their decision) nor his or her party affiliation. I did ask some where they placed themselves on my one-to-ten spectrum, the former being redder than red and the latter blue beyond blue. Mostly I asked what was uppermost in their minds as they cast their ballots. They shared their views willingly and candidly, and if an occasional bit of myth or misinformation guided their opinions, well, that made them all the more typical of Arkansas — American — voters. And, if the outcome already has been decided, they are still worth listening to.
President Obama “is good on the issues” for Alicia Johnson, a nursing student. “I believe in what he’s doing,” Johnson said, and cited education, health care and opportunity at the top of her concerns. As a mother of two, one of whom is a special-needs child, “I want to make sure they get the best.”
Marilyn Jones, 64, a part-time clerical worker, was still unsettled after voting. “I’m not feeling good about it,” she said of her ballot. “I was probably more undecided this year than in any previous year.” She was “disappointed” in Mr. Obama’s vice president. Of Mitt Romney: “I don’t think he relates to people, the common person.”
“I don’t mind your saying I voted for Obama,” said Andee Cone, 57, a homemaker who previously had voted for George W. Bush. “If he has another four years he can make some changes.” Unprompted, she mentioned two other concerns: congressional stalemate and Romney’s faith. “(Congressional) gridlock bothers me so bad. They posture and throw barbs at one another continually, paralyzing the president whether he’s Democrat or Republican.” Cone said she did not consider herself an evangelical “and I don’t believe in sectarianism at all; I don’t wrap the flag around the cross.” She also believed it “terrible” for anyone to question Mr. Obama’s professed Christianity. In the same breath: “I’m not a big fan of Mormonism. I don’t understand why we didn’t focus on that because I think they have some really weird beliefs.”
Pat O’Malley, 81, a retired finance executive, “absolutely, completely dissatisfied” with the current state of affairs, voted a straight Republican ticket, acknowledging that he wasn’t certain if there was even a state legislative race on his ballot. (There was). “We haven’t had a (federal) budget since Obama’s been in there. If we get Romney elected there’s a chance we can right the wrongs.” That still left room for bi-partisan blame: “It’s gridlock for the same of gridlock instead of working together to solve problems,” O’Malley said.
Kristy Lowther, 45, a medical sales representative, was another straight-ticket GOP voter, and “I’ve never done that before. We’re headed in the wrong direction and I don’t see it getting better if Obama is re-elected. Earnings and wages are falling. Employers are offering less and you’re having to accept less. I made more money straight out of college selling cell phones than I do now.”
I found a straight-ticket Democrat in Daphine Platt, 70, a retired emergency medical technician. “Romney scares me, just plain scares me. My daughter’s in debt for law school and has lupus and she can’t get insurance without paying double. Obama will change that,” she said.
And that would be daughter Sonya, 44, who voted alongside her mom. She passed the bar exam in spring — Hillary Clinton and the Obamas, attorneys all, were her inspiration — and her legal bill, so to speak, is $150,000. “I’m afraid Romney would call the loans” rather than allow her to pay them as her income permits. “Romney thinks only rich kids ought to grow up and be doctors and lawyers. I don’t think the Romney’s understand what it is to be poor.”
Stan McGill, 72, used the language of his decades as a psychiatric social worker to describe Mr. Obama as “a narcissist. He’s mad at the nation. I don’t think he’s for the country, he’s against the country.” As “basically an independent, a little right of center,” McGill was “very concerned for the nation. I’m so upset it’s keeping me up nights. I’m more concerned with this election than any previous. I’m afraid of Obama.”
Now figure Christina Ramiree, 28, a non-practicing lawyer who owns a design firm. Married and straight, she favors gay marriage (“I wouldn’t deny that right to someone else”) as does Mr. Obama, but is opposed to Obamacare and wants the tax code restructured. It does figure that she “never” votes a straight ticket, and places herself at a six on the 10 scale, or a bit left of center.
Kenneth Lowstetter, 51, retired flight attendant, is a bit bluer, citing, as did Ramiree, gay marriage. “I like Obama’s inclusion of everyone. And he’s fair to women. Romney is weak on women’s issues.” A self-described moderate, “not an atheist” but disdainful of organized religion (“It shouldn’t be a factor in politics”), Lowstetter said he would rather entrust future Supreme Court nominations to Mr. Obama than Romney.
Charles Price, however, believes Romney “has more of a sense of what (the U.S.) could be, and what it’s been in the past; the principles that made this country great.” At 81, retired from communications equipment sales, Price believes Romney “is more of a leader. He’d be a better steward of the Constitution.”
The Constitution — “and God,” said Donald Epperson, 79, a retired engineer. “Romney has more respect for both. Obama killed the National Prayer Day — that’s my understanding — except for the Muslims. And his stand on immigration bothers me; it’s too liberal. And Romney’s the better man on the economy.”
For Sharon Deems, 74, a retired personnel administrator, “It was not an issue — Romney,” she said. “We need new leadership on the economy, on foreign affairs. Obama has spent us into so much debt we can never get out of it.”
If Deems had no qualms, Sue Cooper, 70, a real estate broker, had plenty. “I struggled with the presidential election, really struggled. And even now I don’t have the sense that I’ve made the right choice. I don’t like the Republicans on women’s issues.” Her three adult children, she added, were ferocious in their loyalties; she ordered her two sons, aged 50 and 47, to “tone down” their Facebook rhetoric. “My daughter — I don’t know how she voted.”
Patti Bayliss, 60, also involved in real estate, zeroed in on the “frightening” deficit. “We’ve got to get a handle on it.” For her, too, the “burgeoning feeling of entitl4ement in the country, people expecting the government to do everything for them. I don’t like that Obama gutted the welfare-to-work requirement that Bill Clinton — a Democrat! — put into place.” That said, she fears not the future: “The country and its people are so resilient.”
Arkansas voices, Arkansas voters, on Election Day.
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Steve Barnes, a native of Pine Bluff, is host of Arkansas Week on AETN.