“Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities” – Voltaire
I’ve seen several articles discussing the possibility of riots in America if the election goes “the wrong way” on November 7. Most recently (and most pointedly) is a piece over at “Infowars” discussing the prospect of massive riots in America. The article attempts to be evenhanded, considering the deepening political divide and fatalism on both sides (“if so-and-so wins I’ll just …”). While I certainly don’t dismiss the prospect of post-election riots (as we’ll discuss shortly), I hardly suspect the probabilities are equal on both sides of the coin. Or, more to the point, I think there is almost zero chance of riots in the case of an Obama win (almost zero, mind you) – but a Romney win might be a different matter.
The Romney “Coalition” … Not a Rioting Bunch
I propose that the Romney “coalition” – to the extent that there is such a thing – is not the type that will Riot on Wednesday morning if Barack Obama wins the election. First, they’re prepared for the loss. The polls have consistently shown that a majority of voters believe Obama will win the election – even with the recent Romney “surge” in the polls.
Next, the makeup of the coalition itself does not suggest riot. Evangelicals are not rioters by their nature. Neither are “blue-blood” Republicans. There are those who would argue that the Tea Party is a fire-breathing group of radicals, but the evidence is scant at best. Yes, they’d likely be pissed about a second Obama term and more efforts to take their paychecks to fund social largess, but they’re still not the “rioting” type. Now, if you wanted to replace “riot” with “revolt” then you would at least have the right word, but I seriously doubt anybody on the Tea Party right views a second Obama term in the same light as those beautiful words from the Declaration of Independence:
But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.
There’s another thing too. Romney voters are unlikely to riot – because Romney is likely to win. Intrade is calling it about 60-40 (percentage chance of winning) for Obama, and Nate Silver has it a bit more heavy in the president’s favor. They’re all late to the party. With a shade over three weeks to go the president is trailing in the RCP average and is hitting above 47% in any major polls … he’s got a lot of work to do to pull this thing out.
The one counter to this would be the case of highly dubious results and accusations of vote fraud. Then you might actually see those on the right demonstrate, but hardly riot.
Obama Supporters on the other Hand …
Whatever rationale I can give as to why Romney supporters will not riot in the event of an Obama victory, you can just about reverse to understand the propensity of Obama supporters to riot in the event of a Romney victory. Note, I’m not saying it is the most likely outcome if Romney wins, just more likely in the event of a Romney win than an Obama win.
First, they’re not prepared for it. It has hardly dawned on Obama supporters that their guy might actually lose this election. As much as the president has actually tried to convince supporters that they need to amp up their enthusiasm, there is a general sense amongst the Obama backers that they’re in the driver’s seat. The media has done them no favors in this light, weaving a narrative of Obama-the-Great versus Mitt-the-out-of-touch. The loss, if it comes, will be a complete shock.
The shocking loss of a political favorite is hardly reason to riot, and this case would be no different. But the underpinnings of social unrest are already there. While the unemployment rate recently “fell” to 7.8%, the unemployment rate amongst blacks is 13.4%, and goes up to 36.7% for black teens. Let me translate that – a group of ardent Obama supporters, not ready to see their guy lose, are also facing massive unemployment and simmering (boiling?) discontent. I propose that the high unemployment rate is already enough to have caused a riot if Obama were not president. (Of course, unemployment isn’t great for recent college grads either – another pro-Obama demographic … with time on their hands to stage demonstrations.)
Then there is the nature of the coalition itself. When you believe that you sufficiency comes from God (evangelicals) there is little point in pitching a fit to get the attention of government. When you believe that your sufficiency is yourself (blue-bloods) then there is little point to rioting. When you believe that the government is out to get you (Tea Party) then stamping and screaming to get your way is a lost cause up front. BUT, if you happen to believe that government is and should be the source that supplies your needs, the entity that takes care of you (the Obama coalition), then rioting has some logic to it (some, not a lot).
Laying Odds …
So what are the chances, as I see them, of major, disruptive riots across America after the 2012 elections? First, I see Romney as the slight favorite right now, with perhaps a 55% chance of winning. So what are the chances of riots conditioned upon such an outcome? I’d say the answer still depends on “how” it happens.
If Romney wins 54% of the popular vote and 330+ electoral votes, then the odds go down. But if he wins 49%-48.5% and narrowly takes Ohio to squeak out an electoral college majority, then I suspect they go way up and claims of election fraud will run rampant.
The probabilities would also depend on definitions. Angry protests happen after just about every election on some scale, and this one will be no different. But massive protests, riots, and destruction of property … these are more rare.
On the whole, I’d give it a 20% chance if Obama loses (which is, I think a very “doom and gloom” type number). So, 20% conditioned on 55% – that’s an 11% chance of riots in America in mid-November. Pretty significant, but not the most likely outcome by any stretch.
Warning Shots …
I saw Ed Rollins, Reagan’s campaign manager, on TV the other day discussing the election. The most significant thing he said was that if Romney wins the second debate then he’s “on his way” – meaning he’ll likely win the election. I agree with Rollins. It’s pretty late in the game and Obama has some ground to make up – which is very difficult for the incumbent (difficult – not impossible). If Romney manages to stand his ground on the second debate, or even manages a victory with some uncomfortable moments from the president (I’m thinking Libya here), then he’s got things well in hand and only has to hold it steady to win the race.
If that happens, then I suspect you’ll see more “warning shots” fired over the riots issue. There will be more and more reporters and public figures dropping the “if Romney wins there will be riots” narrative. Now, I’m no Romney supporter (and he has very little time to convince me now), but we don’t choose governments based on extortion. We don’t vote for one candidate because we fear what his supporters might do if he loses. If anything we do exactly the opposite. “There might be riots if Romney wins” could stir up more support for Romney, not less.
In the end I still think the dreaded riots won’t happen (89%). But 11% is a big number when talking about an event of this magnitude. Keep your head on a swivel out there, and perhaps offer a prayer for this country.