By: Brian Bohnert
Largely buried in the furor of the historic nature of the presidential election, our old electoral friend “the wedge issue” has not disappeared completely. Used to great effect in the 2000, and 2004 elections by Rove and the RNC to get voters to the polls (although, it should be noted that there is not much statistical evidence for the actual success of said strategy), wedge issues have worked their way onto ballots around the country for the 2008 election. What exactly defines a wedge issue in terms of ballot politics? From the name, we can assume that these are issues designed to create division within the electorate and to play upon fears – many times unfounded. Almost exclusively social issues, these debates many times turn irrational and play to the lowest common denominator of humanity. This video explains further:
However, these are not necessarily issues that should be taken lightly or brushed aside by political observers as they have the potential to mobilize large numbers of voters to volunteer in campaigns and to get to the polls on election day. While Colorado has its fair share of wedge issues on the ballot (48, 46), lets take a look at some of the other issues that are showing up on the ballot for voters do decide on tomorrow.
Wedge issue #1) – Same sex marriage – a question pertaining to this shows up on ballots in Arizona (Prop. 102) Arkansas (Initiative 1), California (Prop. 8) and Florida (Am. 2). Each one of these addresses a different facet of the the same sex debate that is taking place in states across the country. The Arizona measure is similar to one that failed in 2006 that would make it constitutionally illegal for gay couples to marry. It is already illegal by way of statute, which is why this failed in 2006 and will most likely again fail in 2008. The Arkansas measure makes it illegal for “cohabiting couples outside of a valid marriage” to adopt kids (because I suppose an overcrowded orphanage is much better for their overall psychological development), the Florida question bans same-sex marriage, and California’s measure seeks to reverse a Supreme Court decision last year that struck down a ban on same-sex marriage. – something that had Ellen dancing, and Bill O pontificating.
While each of these scream “GET TO THE POLLS YOU EVANGELICAL CHRISTIANS!!!” it is clear that this voting block does not hold the sway it once did a few short years ago. While this continues to be at the top of the list for James Dobson and his loyal followers, America as a whole has largely moved on from the issue to more pressing things, like real issues that actually matter.
Wedge Issue #2 – Abortion – This issue shows up on the Colorado ballot (Am 48 – definition of personhood), the South Dakota ballot (Init. 11) and the California ballot (Prop 4 – parental notification). The most aggressive attack on reproductive rights comes from the South Dakota measure that would ban all abortions except in the case of rape and health of the mother, put doctors in jail and is clearly desinged to overturn Roe v. Wade. While the voters of SD have previously voted to turn down such restrictive laws, all eyes will be focused on the outcome of this election as polling predicts that it has a good chance of passing. This of course, makes the presidential election all that more important as the next commander-in-chief will determine the make up of the Supreme Court for the foreseeable future.
Wedge Issues # 3-7 – immigration, stem cell research, affirmative action, marijuana, assisted suicide – While the bulk of the ballot debate has focused on abortion and same-sex marriage, other states will be deciding about these other popular wedge issues. Arizona makes it illegal to hire immigrants that are undocumented, Michigan voters will decide if stem cell research is allowed and if marijuana can be legal for medicinal use, and Washington state will continue its battle over doctor assisted suicide or “right to die” debate that has been going on for the past eight years.
While each one of these alone does not determine national policy, the test cases that each of these represent have broader implications for future laws. While most political pundits have large Democratic wins across the nation, one can wonder if that will translate into decisive victories on these ballot initiatives as well (you can track the results here). If the original intention was to get these on the ballot so conservative voters will come to the polls, it might have backfired. In other words, what would be more debilitating to “pro-life” advocates if Am 48 in Colorado and Initiative 11 in South Dakota lose by substantial margins? What if Democratic voters come out in droves to vote for Barack Obama and while in the booth vote to keep gay marriage legal in California and allow gay couples to adopt in Arkansas? Whatever the results, wedge issues will never completely disappear, but hopefully using them solely for political gain at the polls will be a thing of the past.