From peculiar to poignant, Election Day rituals
Happy Election Day! There’s no doubt that this is an important day; a chance for every American to concretely articulate beliefs that were before intangible. For some it’s just another errand to run, for others it’s much more of an event. We decided to take a bit of a departure from our normal posts and look at some of the quirkier superstitions and rituals that revolve around the first Tuesday (after the first Monday) in November.
One of the more bizarre examples has election results hinging on the how well the Washington Redskins perform on the field. Legend has it that if the Redskins win their last home game prior to a presidential election, the incumbent party will stay in office. If they lose, so does the incumbent party. This has held true in every election since 1936, except for 2004.
The 2008 election was rife with superstitions and good luck charms. The manager of Barack Obama’s campaign, Aaron Pickrell, refused to shave his beard or show up to the office without his Columbus Clippers baseball cap. Pickrell started the practice after an upswing in the polls in late September 2008. David Axelrod, then a top advisor on Obama’s campaign, carried a pink quartz heart in his pocket for three weeks after it was given to him by a supporter who “seemed to have an aura about her.”
Even the then-presidential candidate developed his own Election Day ritual: playing basketball. It began when he played before the Iowa caucuses and the South Carolina primary and won both. He neglected to play before the New Hampshire and Nevada primaries and ended up losing those. Though he was not able to play before every primary, he was able to build in time for a game on Election Day 2008.
But President Obama doesn’t hold a candle to his former opponent, John McCain, when it comes to superstitions. Over the course of the campaign, McCain held onto “a lucky compass, a lucky feather, a lucky penny and, at times, a lucky rock.” He insisted that his L.L. Bean shoes brought him good luck. He had an aide carry a lucky pen for him and barbecue was the lucky food for McCain and his staff. Most famously, John McCain usually spends part of Election Day watching a movie before the votes are counted. The Senator even has a lucky friend, Steve Dart, who has been “present with McCain for every Election Day since McCain first won a seat in Congress.”
Election Day superstitions and rituals are certainly not anything new. During Bill Clinton’s 1992 presidential campaign, James Carville was known to wear the same underwear for days at a time when things were going their way.
But not all rituals are quite so contrived. NPR commentator T.R. Reid reads John Greenleaf Whittier’s “The Poor Voter on Election Day,” to his children to impress upon them the privilege of having voting rights. We echo this sentiment and close with an excerpt from Whittier’s poem:
To-day let pomp and vain pretence
My stubborn right abide;
I set a plain man’s common sense
Against the pedant’s pride.
To-day shall simple manhood try
The strength of gold and land
The wide world has not wealth to buy
The power in my right hand!