25 Percent

Understand that quarters matter.

By Ian Morrison

I was watching Pastor Rick Warren interview Obama and McCain in a conversation that seemed to do more for Rick Warren’s book sales than for the candidates’ prospects.  (McCain did get the better of the encounter as he emerged apparently well-briefed from the non-cone of silence).  As I watched, I remarked to my wife that it seemed interesting that the candidates were put through their paces to answer the questions of social conservatives, who represent (I thought) only about 25% of Americans. I wondered aloud, whether both candidates would also agree to be grilled on an agenda that represented the interests of other 25% slices of America, for example the uninsured and underinsured who together make up a quarter of America, or the just under 25% of Americans who are people of color, or the 25% lowest income, or indeed the 25% of Americans who make more than $100,000 per year.   Then I got it.  These 25% slices are exactly what this election is about, and when I did a little homework 25% is a number that crops up a lot.

First, of all let me say I was wrong about social conservatives making up 25% of the population.   While self described born-again Christians make up 36% of the adult population, social conservatives by some analysis make up only 13% of registered voters.  A recent Pew poll found that on the political identity question 49% describe themselves as conservative (17% as very conservative) and 20% liberal (with only 6% saying they are very liberal).  So on balance America is a moderate to conservative country and much more religious than most.  While more than a third of Americans go to church once a week or more less than 10% of Brits and even less of most Europeans are that pious.

Anyway, I digress, I got fixated on this notion of 25% as a magic number and did a little research on the Electoral College, Stat Abstract, the Harris and Pew Polls, and of course the magic of Google. (Just type in 25 percent and you can share my journey).  Here’s what I found:

On the election

On healthcare:

On other election issues, first, the Economy:

Second, Energy and Environment:

Finally, amuse your friends at cocktail parties with these key facts:

What does it all mean?  This election will be very close.  Given the unpopular  Bush Presidency and the sour economy, it should be a slam dunk for the Democrats but it will be a tough slog to overcome the existing political geography of the US that seems to favor Electoral College dominance by Republican candidates.  The winner will be the person who pieces together the various 25 percents to fashion a majority.  Whoever, is elected will have a very full plate of issues including ongoing commitments in Iraq and Afghanistan that we have not touched on here.

Healthcare is intricately tied to the economic vulnerability of a worried middle class, that was over-leveraged and ill-prepared for a bad economy, declining house values, and rising gas and medical bills, much less the prospect of paying for retirement and post retirement health costs.   This is a healthcare system where many are left behind and even more are worried that the system may not be there for them even if they play by the rules.

The next president will inherit a world more globalized, inter-connected, on-line and wireless, at a time when existing 19th and 20th century infrastructure (including healthcare infrastructure) is in great need of repair, renewal, and replacement.

Bringing healthcare to the front of the national agenda will be a tough sell against a backdrop of national security, economic, energy and budgetary challenges that all scream for attention.  Let us hope that this not another example of the American paradox, namely, the time the middle class feels vulnerable enough to associate itself with the underserved in favor of universal health care is precisely the time we have no money to deal with it.

Ian Morrison is an author, consultant and futurist based in Menlo Park, Calif. He is also a regular contributor to H&HN OnLine.