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According to the most recent Pew Research Center poll, Barack Obama has less support today among Democrats and Independents than John Kerry had four years ago. But at this point in the campaign four years ago, John Kerry trailed George W. Bush by two points. Today Barack Obama leads John McCain by eight points.
This polling anomaly is because Barack Obama has significantly higher support from Republicans than John Kerry had four years ago. Recent press reports have enumerated a surprising number of recognizable Republicans – former U.S. Rep. Jim Leach, former U.S. Sen. Lincoln Chafee, Bush fundraiser Rita Hauser and more – all rallying to support Barack Obama. Even Jenna Bush, President Bush’s daughter, says she’s undecided!
There are many reasons why so many Republicans support Barack Obama. For one thing, he proves that Republicans have been right all along in saying that America is getting better, not worse. And racism is becoming less of a problem, not more of a problem. Barack Obama is the proof.
Republicans like his personal history. Raised by a single mother and his grandparents, Obama became successful by working hard, staying in school and getting a good education. Republicans respect that story. It’s a Republican story.
Republicans who believe in traditional marriage appreciate that, of the two Presidential candidates, Barack Obama is the only one still married to his first and only wife.
Republicans are reassured by Barack Obama’s willingness to compromise on renewal of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, to continue efforts to protect America from terrorism. Republicans appreciate his common sense embrace of faith-based organizations as allies in the effort to transform America. Republicans approve of Obama’s analysis of recent Supreme Court opinions, in which he supported both the 2nd Amendment and the right of states to impose the death penalty for rape of a child.
While the ideologues of the left bemoan the fact that Obama does not predictably take knee-jerk leftist positions, Republicans appreciate that Obama is not an ideologue, that he uses his intelligence and education to think through the issues one at a time, and to seek workable compromises across partisan divides.
Republicans are reassured by the story of Barack Obama’s election as the first African-American president of the Harvard Law Review. Out of an ideologically factionalized editorial board, Obama emerged as the victor when the conservative minority faction on the board decided that though he was not one of them, he was someone who would give them a fair shake, and was therefore the recipient of their votes. By all accounts Obama successfully led a politically divided editorial board through an unusually challenging year.
Like the majority of the American people, increasing numbers of Republicans regard the invasion of Iraq as a U.S. foreign policy disaster, and doubt that even more deregulation and privatization will solve our economic problems. Democratic Party control of Congress has proven inadequate by itself to reverse policies of a Republican President determined to “stay the course” in both Iraq and in the domestic economy. Only the election of a president committed to change can provide the leadership necessary to change policies in Iraq and at home, and to re-focus our military effort on the war we must win in Afghanistan.
In previous Presidential elections, “Reagan Democrats” were the swing voters who decided the outcomes. In 2008, it may be the turn of the “Obama Republicans.”
Jan Ting is a law professor at Temple University.