For Americans, the stakes in this election have never been higher. But polling shows that only 55 percent of union members support Democrat Barack Obama, compared with 65 percent in 2004 for Sen. John Kerry, rising to 70 percent by that November. The union vote represents 25 percent of all votes cast, and that percentage is even higher in the key states of Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania. If Obama receives the same percentage of union votes as Kerry did in 2004, this election is ours.
Why then is it close? Many people, including me, think race is a factor. Studies have shown that some Americans, while viewing themselves as fair-minded, will subconsciously transfer unresolved issues about race into more comfortable zones like patriotism, experience or values. Yet when confronted with obvious or subtle racial undertones of the arguments against Obama, many people recognize the rhetoric of hate and move to consider the real issues.
This election is too important to be decided by leftover biases. A local union president told this to her members considering voting based on race: "No health care reform, no trade policy reform, just the same anti-worker administration we have now, but you can be proud and tell your kids you kept a black man out of the White House."
It is incumbent upon federal workers, as well as other union members, to help crack through racial barriers within our families, friends and neighborhoods. As president, Obama will be an advocate for good government and will appoint people who believe in the mission of our agencies. He will restore employee rights and support adequate funding for government agencies. We will have a president who respects our work, appreciates us as individuals and stands beside our union.
There are 100 good reasons to vote for Barack Obama and one really bad reason to vote against him. I know that you will have the courage to make change happen.
John Gage is president of the American Federation of Government Employees. Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.