Published on Mommy Tracked (http://www.mommytracked.com)

Identity Politics.

It’s the presidential election season, which means it’s time for political pundits and media gurus to make assumptions about who they think voters are going to support based on which demographic characteristics they possess. Voters are divided into groups and television’s talking heads then use these artificial divides to make sweeping statements about what they believe the electorate – pesky, unpredictable beings that they are -- will do.


For example, if you’re a woman and are either a Democrat or an Independent living in a state where you can vote in the Democratic primary, these soothsayers assume you’re likely going to vote for Senator Hillary Clinton, particularly after her recent, much-hyped “show of emotion” which the media said helped her win the New Hampshire primary. If you’re African-American, they figure you’re going to vote for Senator Barack Obama. However if you’re an African-American woman, well, that’s a conundrum for the pundits and they have to work a little bit harder to try to prognosticate what they think you’ll do at the polls. They’ll look at your marital status, your household income, whether you’re a mother, and then make a supposition about your candidate of choice as they proceed to muse about the women’s vote overall, using convenient, gimmicky terms like “soccer moms” and “security moms.”


But what if your own idiosyncratic demographic data don’t fit neatly into a single, pre-determined category? And what if you don’t actually cast votes based on your personal demographics? What if the issues on which you’re voting aren’t confined to issues related to your gender or race?


All we’re hearing from the cable TV commentators is that they know what certain groups will do when it’s their turn to cast a ballot in their state’s presidential primary. (And then they get annoyed when we don’t adhere to their playbook.) Yeah, like they knew as early as last year that Hillary Clinton would secure the Democratic [1]nomination in a cakewalk when the junior senator from

New York was practically being anointed [2] as the nominee before a single vote was cast. Like the pundits knew that after Barack Obama won the Iowa caucus that he would go on to crush Clinton by double-digits in the

New Hampshire Democratic primary
[3]. Or . . . not.


The problem with trying to figure out for whom we will vote by examining which demographic group we belong to, is that no one belongs to just one group or can be easily categorized [4]. There are plenty of people who demonstrate solid reasons why these old assumptions about voting behavior no longer work reliably:


The problem with assuming that the overwhelming majority of women support

Clinton ’s campaign can be summed up in two words: Oprah Winfrey [5]. You could also factor in Baltimore Mayor Sheila Dixon [6] and other Democratic women [7] who have said they are voting for someone other than Clinton [8]and that they’re planning to cast votes, not based on their gender or race, as a BlogHer writer said, but on issues [9].


The problem with assuming that the overwhelming majority of African-Americans will vote for Obama? NBA legend Magic Johnson [10], Black Entertainment Television founder Bob Johnson [11], Congressman Charles Rangel [12] and Civil Rights activist now-Congressman John Lewis [13] who have all endorsed Clinton.


Just because you’re a woman doesn’t automatically mean you’re going to vote for a female candidate. Just because you’re African-American doesn’t automatically mean you’re going to vote for an African-American candidate. Just because you’re a mother doesn’t mean you’re going to vote for another mother [13].


Just because you’re from the South doesn’t mean that you’re going to vote for a fellow Southerner, just ask Tennessean Fred Thompson [14] who thought his Southern roots would help him in the South Carolina Republican primary. The former senator came in third [15] and withdrew from the race soon thereafter [16].


Or just look at my college roommate and close friend who, just like me, majored in journalism, worked in the newspaper business, has Irish lineage, has one younger brother, married her college sweetheart, has three children, took time out from her career when her kids were born, lives in

Massachusetts and hails from a community that neighbored my hometown. On paper, we seem like we should be on the same page politically. But we’re not. We don’t agree on most issues, never mind on presidential candidates despite our similar backgrounds and shared affection for the Boston Red Sox, Starbucks and David Sedaris books.


The reality is that it’s unwise to make simplistic generalizations about various segments of the electorate, no matter how sure the pundits seem to be about what they think those groups will do on election day. So please, political commentators, do us a favor, will ya? Stop making broad-brush assumptions about what groups (such as women and African-Americans) are likely to do at the polls, and stick with reporting on the political news of the day. No group of people is monolithic, in case you haven’t received the memo.

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