Politics is filled with what are commonly referred to as “big tents.” That is, various groups of people who are passionate about different, sometimes seemingly contradictory, issues, become allies of convenience in support of a political party or candidate. While they have always played a role, the cruciality is increased in this election due to the exceptionally negative nature of the campaign. Both candidates have found themselves in the place of showing, essentially, why their opponent is a worse choice-“It’s either me or that guy.”
Mitt Romney is appealing to a coalition that has largely been in vogue in the Republican Party since the Reagan days: fiscal conservatives/Tea Partiers (due to anger towards the increase of spending and the national debt under Obama, and possible tax increases), social/religious conservatives (fear that Obama is expanding abortion and gay rights, as well as threatening religious liberty through the contraception mandate), and to a lesser extent, the “national security conservatives”, who support hardline stances against America’s perceived enemies, in the tradition of John McCain, Rudy Giuliani, George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, etc. Romney’s past issues with the former two largely explains his choice of Paul Ryan as his running mate.
Barack Obama, on the other hand, is fostering a coalition that is in some ways the foil to Romney’s coalition. His coalition includes an alliance of women (through utilizing his “war on women” rhetoric, the foil to the social conservatives in Romney’s camp), minorities (better designated as those who fear they would be hurt by Romney’s economic/fiscal policy, these include blacks, Hispanics, seniors, the poor, unemployed, and arguably students/recent graduates), and a small but influential intellectual faction (those of the belief that the GOP has descended to an ant-intellectual, Bible-thumping, warmongering, and bigoted mentality that would reinstate all the worst elements of the 1950s).
If either candidate hopes to win, he must foster these coalitions, and unfortunately, rather than highlight his own strengths, and instead focus on his opponent’s weaknesses. Because while talking about voting for “the lesser of two evils” is an age-old quip in American politics, it is more pronounced in 2012, as both are perceived as incredibly weak on economics, as well as on certain social issues. As of now, based on polls and convention reception, it appears the Obama is the more effective “coalition fosterer.”