Does the Irish-American vote still have an impact?

Irish-American voters talk Trump, Hillary, and what happens next for the United States

Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton, Irish American,

Image: Image: Former President Bill Clinton speaks at the American Irish Historical Society in support of his wife, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, in New York. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

Nuala Quinn grew up in Shantalla, Co. Galway, close to the beach at Salthill. Today, she’s still close to the beach, but on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean in Osterville, on Massachusetts’ hook-shaped peninsula, Cape Cod.

“I am a registered Republican, since I moved here. Well, actually, that’s not true, since I got married,” she explains.

Her husband, Mike, was a Republican, and while she admits that while she wasn’t hugely political at first, his views matched hers, leading her to make the choice to back the Grand Old Party.

“I listened to him, got my information from the news, and statistically I agreed with it. Republicans always seemed to be for less government, less government agencies and less money going into big government, and I agreed with that.”

For a long time, the Irish-American vote leaned towards the Democrats in almost every election cycle, and there are plenty of iconic Irish American figures on that side of the aisle, from John F. Kennedy to Bill Clinton, to Moneygall’s own Barack O’Bama. However, that is changing, and the famous melting pot is having an effect.

“I don’t think the Irish-American vote is even looked at anymore,” Nuala notes. “We’re a very small minority, and most of us who have been here a long time have been pretty well assimilated.”

Her own family is a fairly clear example of that; she is Republican, as is one of her daughters, while another is a Democrat.

However, in this most recent election, the party that she has supported for nearly 40 years has produced a candidate that has divided many, stupefied others, and remains inexplicable to those who don’t support him. That, Nuala argues, is down mainly to the problems of the GOP.

“In the primaries, when we had all of those Republican candidates up there, I din’t see one of them - not one - that I felt would be a good candidate for President. You need a resume and qualifications to apply for a job, but there seems to be no criteria to list yourself to run for President other than to be born in the United States, and to have money.

“The only one I could vote for was John Kasich. I liked him, but then we got Trump.”

Chris Halmos, a second generation Irish-American also from Massachusetts, similarly saw some appeal in Kasich, one of the few politicians on the Republican side that seemed to get respect when standing on the stage. Although he is now a registered Democrat, he has voted independent in the past, and even worked on Ralph Nader's campaign.

"This cycle, it was a vote through attrition," says Chris. "I backed Bernie because I thought he would bring a recharge to the system for four years, but I never really envisioned him as a two-term President. I have never supported Hillary really, but I am adamantly against a buffoon like Trump. Had it been John Kasich, I might even have voted Republican." 

When it comes to the vote of the Irish, Chris is similarly convinced that any effect it might once have had is fading away. 

"Other than Massachusetts - which has strong Irish links - remaining a blue state due to longstanding and staunch Irish-American support that dates back to the 1940s and '50s, I don't see much evidence that the community is having much of an impact on the vote."

With so many candidates in the field that garnered more enthusiasm than the two people who ended up as the nominees, the trip to the polling booth on Tuesday has been an extremely difficult one to make for most voters.

“There’s a lot of hate, this whole campaign has been so disgusting by both sides,” Nuala explains. “I feel with Hillary Clinton, she’s part of the establishment, the Clintons have been in Washington for a long, long time.

“There are definitely some issues with their foundation, and with the email stuff, I’m just sick listening to it. Again, it’s just another indication that she thinks, because they’re the Clintons, that they can kind of do what they like. The emails keep coming up, and I just have to think that there’s no smoke without fire.

“Still, saying all that, I can’t vote for Donald Trump. Even though I think the country does need a change, it does need to be turned upside-down a little bit, he scares me. I don’t like his whole attitude, I think he’s a bit of a bully. I would be afraid for him to have ‘his finger on the button,’ as they say.”

The sound of a phone ringing in the background interrupts momentarily; her daughter is calling. “She probably wants to talk about the election,” Nuala guesses, and is proved right shortly afterwards when she picks up and asks if she wants to add anything.

“I’m with Her,” her daughter says. “All the way.”

“She is more informed than I am,” she adds as she puts the phone down, “and she has been trying to talk me around to her good points.

“I am probably going to give her the benefit of the doubt  because I can’t vote for him. She looks to be the better option, because she does have the experience. In her early life, I think she was excellent. She’s a strong woman, she’s very intelligent, she’s very capable.”

Despite the polls suggesting that the ‘glass ceiling’ is about to be shattered, there is little enthusiasm for the first female President in the history of the United States, as people begrudgingly accept Hillary, and everything that comes with her - namely an awful lot of emails.

“I would probably be really excited about electing the first woman President, if I felt better about her. But because of who she is, and because of all the baggage, it’s very disappointing that - if she does win - she’s the first woman.

“Across the board, the consensus is that there are two bad candidates. Everybody is just torn. We have a huge country, but we’re left asking where the good people are, why aren’t they running or involved in politics?”

While Nuala has chosen what way she will vote, some of her friends are struggling to pick between the pair. She cites the example of one friend who also supports the GOP, but comes from a very Democratic family, that includes a Massachusetts Senator.

“She says she simply cannot vote for Hillary. She doesn’t like Trump either, and I asked her what she’s going to do. ‘I just won’t know until I walk in there,’ she told me.

“She could go in to the booth on election day and vote for him, and not say anything. That’s one of the issues here, people don’t want to say they’re voting for him because they get tarred with the same brush as him, or the frenzied supporters you see on TV. People will say ‘he’s crazy, so you’re crazy too,’ and they want to avoid that.”

With the finish line in sight, there will be questions for both parties to answer on November 9th and beyond, but the most pressing one will be how the Trump support grew, despite the criticism and controversies that dogged his campaign.

Nuala paused when asked to consider why a figure as divisive as the New York businessman was able to make it to the top of the Republican party rather than the Democrats.

“I don’t think he was somebody they wanted, but he got the votes. I have no idea how that happened," she admitted. "He came out with this message that appealed to certain groups and his whole business is based on his name. He doesn’t really do anything other than puts his name on things. Casinos and hotels, they have this name on them but he doesn’t do anything with them. He’s selling his name, and he ran on his name to the point where he was nominated."

Similarly, Chris believes that those who are supporting him are not really the base of the GOP, or those who would normally be politically active.

"The Republican Party does not truly support him," he adds. "His support base is the white male who wants to stick to their guns and thinks Obama was a terrible President. That second amendment issue appears to be a singular focus for many of them, followed closely by immigration and welfare, not to mention Obamacare."

Nuala believes there is another dimension too: "His supporters are angry, they’re frustrated, they’re listening to what he’s saying about jobs and trade, and he’s feeding them into a frenzy, he’s riling people up.”

Like many from the party she supports, she critical of President Obama’s policies, and sees where the frustration has come from for the diehard Trump loyalists. Draining the swamp, making America great again, whatever way he phrases it, the main message is that something is wrong and needs to be addressed.

“This country needs a change. When you look at Bernie and his following, all of those people supported him through small donations. If he had gotten the nomination, I would have voted for him.

"But whoever is elected needs to bring the country together, they’re being elected by the people for the people, and they need to govern for all the people, not just the Democrats, not just the people who gave them the money to get there, which is the way it has always been.

"If Trump is so close in the polls, then she needs to look at all those people who are willing to vote for him and say we need to bring these people with us, to do some of the things that these people want.

“There needs to be compromise, both parties need to come together across the aisle in Congress and try to find a way that the middle class of this country can get to somewhere where they’re not living pay check to pay check. I don’t know how that’s going to happen, but to me it should be quite simple, it means just communicating. And part of that is to let the people know what they hell they’re doing.”

For Chris, he's hoping for some policies that will tackle the biggest problems facing the nation, not only from the President, but from the local level too. 

"I vote on everything in every election, so will be looking at the down ballot races as well. If the Democrats can retake the Senate and Hillary Clinton wins, that will be a huge step towards moving things forward. 

"We need to look at controlling health care costs, especially the exponential increase in medications here compared to other countries. Overall, I think the physical infrastructure, from roads to bridges, needs a lot of attention too. After that, there's the ongoing problems with Russia and the Middle East, but that is the biggest challenge facing the world as whole, too."

As the media landscape and, seemingly the political landscape, continue to bifurcate, growing further apart with every election cycle, the real frustration for many voters is watching nothing get done for years on end.

Looking at Washington from outside, it appears that the political system has become mired in squabbles and in-fighting, too closely tied to the interests of big donors, and slow going when their are urgent changes needed. That, as much as anything, will be the biggest problem facing the next President. 

“I would like to see both parties coming together to heal all this," Nuala says as she looks beyond Tuesday's result. "They both need to show the American people that we are a great nation. The whole world, in one way or another, depends on the United States, and at this point it’s looking very sorry. As for the GOP, they better just get their asses in gear and give the people what they’re looking for, which is change, and not more of the same.”