Why Irish American vote is more important than ever
Irish Times columnist Niall Stanage is dead wrong
Recently in The Irish Times writer Niall Stanage declared the demise of the Irish vote in America.
Stanage, from a Unionist background, may be working with an image of an earlier time, when all Irish American political needs were met by political dynasties, the Kennedys, the O'Neills, the Dodds, and in Chicago, the Daleys.
If that is what he is talking about then he is correct. That era has long since passed and the nature of American politics has changed.
The Irish vote is now part of what politicians and American political parties refer to as the "Catholic vote." This vote is primarily Irish American, with the Italians a close second.
This "Catholic vote" is the single most important vote in deciding American presidential elections. It is the famous swing vote which President Bill Clinton commanded in two elections and was the reason Gore lost Ohio and the presidency.
It is carefully monitored and polled by both political parties, and there are several consultancy agencies in Washington whose sole function is to chart this group of voters.
Why are the Irish crucial in these swing states? What we know is that they have inherited an Irish cultural tradition from the days of the Irish political machine. They vote.
Stanage's claim that the Irish vote "does not matter very much" would come as a surprise to Congressman Joseph Crowley of Queens, New York. He has less than 20% Irish in his district and yet they account for 45% of his vote. The other ethnic groups in his district are reluctant to vote.
With the margins of victory getting narrower, particularly in local elections, the constituent who can be relied on to vote is the one most wooed.
Governor Martin O'Malley was elected mayor of Baltimore which has a 70% black population. These are just two of many congressional members who rely on the Irish vote to provide the winning margin.
Of course, Crowley, O'Malley and Congressman Richard Neal, chairman of the Congressional Friends of Ireland, and the other congressional members who recently returned from a congressional delegation visit to Ireland, would be very surprised to hear that they do not "consciously think of themselves as Irish." They, along with their constituents are involved in more areas of Irish life and culture than can be listed here.
The other inherited characteristic of the Irish American voter is they relish participatory politics. In the 2006 congressional elections, the Democrats gained 31 new seats. Of these, 15 were Irish Americans.
In 2008, the Democrats added another 20 new seats. Of these, nine were Irish Americans.
Irish American Democrats, the group that I founded, gave money and/or organized fundraisers, for each of these newly elected congressional members. We are currently "grooming" 10 aspiring politicians in their twenties to run for congressional seats.
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