The United States has a population of around 300 million people. For political candidates, their pollsters and the media, this huge collection of citizens must be categorically jammed into demographic cages for careful observation. It’s always happened, to some degree, but in recent years it’s gotten out of hand, and is bound to get worse.
The demographics used to be easy to follow, because most elections saw only two distinct groups separated by the biggest issue of the day. In the mid 1800s, you were either “for” or “against” slavery. In the 1920s, when prohibition was the issue du jour you were either a “dry” or a “wet.”
Progressively, throughout the mid-20th century, voting blocs were increasingly fragmented and dissected — most likely because it became possible to make a lot of money fragmenting and dissecting voting blocs.
More recent history saw the birth of the “Reagan Democrat” in 1980. This group can best be described as blue-collar folks who traditionally voted for Democrats, but who had their wallets emptied and their eyes opened during the Carter administration.
Reagan Democrats heard confusing and unfamiliar terms, such as “stagflation.” They lost their jobs in droves, had to spend their free time enduring disco, “general malaise” and wives who spent a good deal of the unemployment check to make their hair look like Dorothy Hamill’s. They, understandably, lost their will to support Carter any further and voted for Ronald Reagan — twice.
Some Reagan Democrats may have even turned into “Yuppies” in the mid-’80s, but that voting demographic was short-lived. Junk bonds, “black Monday” and the cancellation of Miami Vice would soon turn many Yuppies into “angry white males.”
In 1994, “angry white male” was an accusatory finger that was wagged at nearly every suburban white man in America except the suburban white men who coined the phrase.
As 1996 approached, it was decided that the angry white men were too dangerous to be courted anymore, so the politicians moved on to their wives — the “soccer moms.” Bill Clinton winked, nodded, blew in a few ears and won this group of female, suburban minivan drivers, with 2.7 kids and 1.4 dogs, hands down, not to mention on.
In the succeeding four years, “waitress moms,” “technician dads” and “minivan moms” filled the gap. During this period, pollsters discouraged waitresses from driving minivans, especially if it carried a technician dad, since it threw the data all off.
When we reached 2000, the “soccer moms” were still there, but thanks to some Florida voters, were being overshadowed by a group that will continue to be a problem — the “stylus challenged.”
Then we got into “NASCAR dads.” Many in this group once fell into the “angry white male” category. For some unexplained reason, they apparently refocused their rage toward auto racing.
Big city politicos, pollsters and the media looked at “NASCAR dads” and saw guys who will wait in line seven hours to meet Sterling Marlin’s brother’s best friend, dream of having their kids baptized in Bobby Labonte’s transmission fluid at Talladega, and will smoke and drink anything advertised on the hood of Rusty Wallace’s Dodge. With the exception of my father-in-law, this assumption is far from the truth.
The supposed opposite of the blue-collar “NASCAR dads” were called “office park dads.” Forget the fact that many of us know office workers who are rabid NASCAR fans. You don’t get to be the most attended sport in the United States on just welders, truck drivers, and line workers alone.
Two thousand four brought us many different demographic segments, perhaps led by the “Hip-hop” bloc, with movements such the one headed by Puffy Combs, called “Vote or Die” (unfortunately for Kerry, most left-of-center young people at whom this was targeted chose the latter).
The fragmenting continues to the point of absurdity. Every whim, hobby, career choice and religious belief is being targeted as a demographic group. What will 2006 and 2008 hold?
It won’t be long before politicians are crowing for the approval of the “uncircumcised uncles,” “equestrian dads” and “husbands beaten by Liza.”
Then the “Zagnut lovers,” “Yahtzee moms,” “irritable bowel dads,” “bowling aunts” and the oft-embarrassed “American Idol siblings” will be courted along with “Michael Moore Republicans” — GOPers who hate the war and love Krispy Kreme.
The only Americans, it seems, who are not stereotyped into some superficial “group” by pollsters, politicians and the media, are pollsters, politicians and the media — which is amazing, since they now seem to outnumber the rest of us.