President George W. Bush attended the Daytona 500, Sunday. This wasn’t just a ceremonial visit. When he spoke the words, “Gentlemen, start your engines!” he was speaking not only to a group of racing fans, but also to a group of voters that have come to be known as the “NASCAR dads.”
NASCAR dads are the new voting bloc that some political scientists and pollsters have come up with to replace the “soccer moms” of the ’90s. These dads, besides being racing fans, are loosely described as white, rural, blue-collar, Southern and conservative on social issues. They also take a strong stance on defense, and, if they aren’t currently attending church, they at least were raised in one.
I’m pretty familiar with this new voting bloc. Most of my seven uncles are in it, and most of the men I know from my church would probably fit in with this group. That’s why it surprises me somewhat that Democrats would even think they have a chance at getting their vote.
As I said, NASCAR dads are, for the most part, cultural and social conservatives. They want a president who is strong on defense, opposes gay marriage and supports the constitutional right to carry a gun — it’s a bonus if he hunts with the gun. They most likely thought Janet Jackson’s Super Bowl stunt was inappropriate and also wouldn’t mind locking her brother Michael up for just the fact that he looks like a pedophile — forget if he actually is one or not.
Despite a noble attempt by our own Democratic Sen. Bob Graham in sponsoring a NASCAR truck during his presidential bid, how Democrats can ever appeal to these dads on a cultural and social level is beyond me. John Kerry has a voting record very close to Ted Kennedy’s, has hurt our weapons and intelligence programs with his votes and supports civil unions. Howard Dean opposed the war in Iraq and signed civil unions into law in Vermont. Democrats in general are more inclined to give control over our defense to the United Nations, support gay marriage, oppose gun rights and support the unrestricted right to have an abortion. All of these stances are in stark contrast to the opinions of NASCAR dads.
The only leverage Democrats may have with these “dads” is through the economic route.
Although many of these dads place social and moral issues over economic issues, some are more concerned with the size of their wallet. These NASCAR dads might also fit under the title “union dads” because, if they are not part of a labor union, they have the same characteristics of most labor union members. They vote based on their economic conditions rather than their moral convictions. As a result, they tend to always vote for the Democratic candidate no matter what his or her views on social and cultural issues may be.
Despite the moral problems I find with those who vote this way, I must admit that they do make up a substantial subgroup of the NASCAR dads. However inaccurate, they view the Democratic Party as the one party that can help them keep their job and benefits. They believe the lie that tax cuts are always for the wealthy and Republicans are all rich fat cats. They are so concerned with keeping their union job that they cast away all of their moral and social convictions.
If the economy continues to improve — particularly in the amount and quality of jobs — President Bush may not have to worry about losing NASCAR dads to the Democrats. If it doesn’t, he will probably lose some of them — at least those of them who love money more than principle.
But in the end, who do you honestly think looks more natural in a stock car, the conservative Texan Bush or the Massachusetts liberal Kerry? Don’t dwell on the mental image of a helmet-clad Kerry in a stock car for too long, or you may start having flashbacks from the late ’80s of a helmet-clad Michael Dukakis in a tank. And if my memory serves me well, that didn’t work out too well for him when he ran against a Bush either.
Adam Fowler is a junior majoring in political science.