Robert Stein 1924-2014

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Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Deciding Demographic: The Inattentive

Give or take Florida and Michigan, some 35 million American voters have determined that Barack Obama will contest John McCain to become the next president. Now comes the harder part.

Of all the demographic divisions--gender, race, age, economic status, education--Obama faces the most crucial of all, between those who have been paying attention and those who haven't.

With all the new registrations, this year's total of voters is sure to exceed the 122 million of 2004, and the Democratic candidate's challenge will be to make himself known to those like the woman in West Virginia who rejected him saying, "No More Hussein," and millions more who don't know even that much about him.

Presidential campaigns, for better or worse, come down to the perceived character of the candidates, and Obama has come a long way but is still relatively unknown to many, if not most, voters.

In Iowa last night, he asserted that the hard-fought battle for the nomination was good for his party, saying, "Now, some may see the millions upon millions of votes cast for each of us as evidence that our party is divided. But I see it as proof that we have never been more energized and united in our desire to take this country in a new direction."

For the next six months, the Obama campaign will be all about going beyond the energized and united to reach the apathetic, the uninformed and the fearful to persuade them that they and their families will be better off with him in the Oval Office than John McCain.

John F. Kennedy had the same problem in 1960, a young Senator running against a better-known, more experienced political figure, and he overcame it. Eleanor Roosevelt, late in life, compared him to her husband being energized by the campaign crowds of 1932.

In the era of TV and the Internet, Obama is capable of outdoing them both.

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