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 What I Learned from the Last Election

While I spend most of my time writing about the industry, every four years I write a column entitled “What I Learned from the Last Election.” Thus, that is the subject matter of this piece.

First, without a doubt, this was the most media-driven election that I can ever recall. In fact, the media at times became the issue more than the two candidates. For example, in three or four cases, moderators, all of whom were high-profile journalists, were the lead story, despite being the day after some Republican debates and two of the Presidential sessions. Moderators should at all times avoid appearing favorable to one participant.

One of the contributing factors in this media domination has been the growth of the cable 24/7 newscasts, as well as commentators who, irrespective of their political leanings, were vitriolic and sometimes downright nasty. I for one do believe that they had an active role in characterizing both candidates. I’m a great believer in “freedom of the press,” and while some may think that position lacks sophistication, I believe extreme exaggeration does not serve the public interest. Those exaggerations were never-ending from both sides of aisle. Now let’s discuss the money that was spent by both parties and the “super pacs.”

It has been reported that the candidates and super pacs spent more than two billion dollars during this election. To put this in its proper perspective, in 1964 President Lyndon B. Johnson wanted to enact a tax cut which was one of the deceased President John F. Kennedy’s greatest wishes. The Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee was Senator Harry Byrd of Virginia. He informed President Johnson that he would NOT allow a vote on the bill unless the budget for that fiscal year came in under one billion dollars. A billion dollars to support the entire government for the year. The budget for that year 925 million.

Think about this. In one day there were 1400 television ads in the State of Ohio. How about this—collectively, the candidates and pacs spent $181 million in the same State of Ohio. It makes one wonder what happened to the other 49 states? It makes you ask yourself, “Has the Electoral College seen its best days?” In a recent editorial, the New York Times made the following observation, “The problems with the Electoral College–born to appeasement to slave states–have been on display for two centuries,” this page [meaning the Times editorial page] called it a cumbrous and useless piece of old government machinery . In 1936 Alf Landon won 36 per cent of the popular vote against Franklin Roosevelt but received only 8 of the 538 electoral votes.

But 76 years later, the system continues to calcify American politics. As Adam Liptak of the Times recently wrote, this year’s candidates campaigned in only ten states after the conventions, ignoring the Democrats on the West Coast and in the Northeast and the Republicans in the South and the Plains states. The number of battleground states is shrinking, and turnout in the other states is lower. The undemocratic prospect of a president who loses the popular vote is always present (it’s happened three times), as is the potential horror show of a tie vote that is decided in Congress.

As further proof of how fractured our national elections are becoming, the two candidates campaigned for the most part in only ten out of the 50 states involved. While they both visited New York, California, Illinois and New Jersey, they were one-day money-raising jaunts with extremely wealthy individuals who never numbered more than 100 attendees. If this election had been based on a popular vote, winner take all, I’m sure we would have had a more inclusive campaign. I’m not suggesting that we would have had a different result, but I do believe we might have had greater participation than the reported 63 per cent that did vote. Many of my friends will tell you I have an expression that I use with great frequency and it goes something like this: “IBM, Exxon, Microsoft and Nike have all done well without my advice and so will those who determine how we should elect our presidents, but I do believe there is a better way, both financially and practically, than we are presently doing.”

And that, my friends, is “What I Learned from This Last Election.”

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About the Author
You might say that Fred Sampson was born with food service in his DNA, working at age 12 in his family restaurant in Philadelphia after school and on week-ends, followed by a career that included director of feeding at Temple University’s main campus in Philadelphia, vice president of a regional casual dining chain and finally as President and CEO of the New York State Restaurant Association for 30 years. He is still active as a consultant and writer All of this has enriched his knowledge and love for the industry. He has often said, “I have never considered myself an ‘expert’ on the industry but rather a qualified observer and I write from that perspective.” 

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