A journalist who has lived all over India and is now based in Bangalore
Consider these facts. Over 80 million Americans voted for Biden in the 2020 presidential election. Pets are kept by 85 million families in America (67% of US households), according to the 2019-20 (US ) National Pet Owners Survey conducted by the American Pet Products Association. An estimated 63 million US households own dogs. There were 89.7 million pet dogs in America in 2017-18..
Is there a link between Biden’s victory and the number of pet dogs in the US or the statistical trend of millennials representing the largest share of pet-owners in America? Or is all this just a coincidence? Consider another fact. While Trump grimaced when asked why he did not keep a dog in the White House, Biden was assiduously reaching out to dog-lovers and dog-owners. As far back as October 2019, Biden tweeted, “It’s time we put a pet back in the White House.” In September 2020, a Biden supporter launchd a “Dog Lovers for Joe” campaign, with the slogan “Choose your Humans Wisely.”
And just when the absentee-ballot voting for the 2020 presidential election was at its peak in the second week of October this year, the Biden campaign posted a video on Instagram of him with his arm around his black German Shepherd Major and with the message “No ruff days on the campaign trail when I have some Major motivation”. That post elicited 316,448 `likes’. That was followed by another Instagram post showing Biden with both his German Shepherds, Major and Champ, and the message “Folks, you’re not just voting to put me in the White House. You’re also voting for Champ and Major. Let’s put dogs back in the White House.” .
Could the plethora of psephological studies (national opinion and exit polls, state-wide surveys, et al) on the 2020 US presidential election have overlooked this one specific sector of pet-owners while evaluating the contribution of other segments to the final result?
While surveys have meticulously detailed the voting pattern of different segments (non-college educated whites, college-educated whites, Afro-American men, black women, suburban women, rural voters, Jews, Muslims, Indians, et al), there is the segment of pet-owners which appears to have been overlooked. This is one segment which Trump ignored and which Biden assiduously cultivated.
Given the comparatively narrow margin of victory in the three battleground states which Biden won, this particular segment of pet-owners could have tilted the balance in his favour. The margin of victory for Biden was 10,457 ballots in Arizona (11 Electoral College votes) 12,670 ballots in Georgia (16 Electoral College votes) and 20,600 ballots in Wisconsin (10 Electoral College votes). Had Trump repeated his 2016 performance and won these three states in 2020, his share of the Electoral College would have gone up from 232 to 269 and Biden’s share would have correspondingly dropped from 306 to 269.
That did not happen since Biden won Arizona, Georgia and Wisconsin. That success in Arizona, Georgia and Wisconsin, albeit by a comparatively narrow margin, has been attributed to the voting behaviour of segments like black women, college-educated whites, suburban women, et al.
However, in a recent opinion piece in the Daily Camera, dated November 7, the Washington-based political commentator Fareed Zakaria pointed out the risk of stereotyping voter-response on the basis of race. Zakaria noted that even African Americans varied much more widely on policy than one might imagine. He pointed out that a recent Gallup poll had found that only 19% of Black Americans wanted less police presence in their neighbourhoods, while 61% wanted the same level and 20% actually wanted the level to be enhanced. So, Zakaria added, slogans like `Defund the Police’, pushed by the most woke activists on Twitter, might unwittingly turn off mainstream African Americans. While Zakaria did not say so, this could also have been a response to the rioting and looting which followed in the wake of the systemic gunning down by cops of black suspects.The mainstream Afrian Americans might have felt that the gunning down by crops of black suspects was horrendous but that the subsequent rioting and looting was definitely not justified.
However, while all other segments have been meticulously surveyed, the pet-owner segment has not been analysed in these opinion polls and exit polls. While it cannot be assumed that pet-owners vote differently as a group, there could always be more than one reason in the mind of the individual voter. A candidate’s fondness for pets could establish a bond with a pet-owner voter to an extent where it could, in conjunction with other factors, tilt the balance in a battleground state where the margin of victory is comparatively narrower.
Trump definitely did not come across as a pet-lover. He was asked why he did not keep pets like his predecessors. “How would I look walking a dog on a White House lawn”, grimaced the finicky germaphobe Trump. His first wife Ivana stated categorically that Trump was not a dog fan and that her poodle would keep barking at him. Writing in GQ magazine, Tony Parsons noted that Trump’s highly negative attitude towards dogs was evident in his public comments. When the IS terrorist group’s leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was killed in his hideout in Syria, Trump gloated that “Baghdadi had whimpered, cried and screamed” and “died like a dog”. During the 2016 Republican presidential primary contest, Trump stated that his rival Marco Rbio was “sweating like a dog”. Trump had earlier accused the 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney of “choking like a dog” in the contest against Obama. “Trump’s anti-dog prejudice feels un-American because the pedigree of the FDOTUS (First Dog Of The United States) is as long as American history,” Parsons concluded.
Pets and dogs are an intrinsic part of the American way of life. According to the 2019-20 (US) National Pet Owners Survey conducted by the American Pet Products Association (APPA), 85 million families (that is 67% of US households) owned a pet (up from 56% in 1988, the first year the survey was conducted). The survey estimated that 63 million US households own a dog, 42.7 million a cat, 16 million a horse, 13.1 million own fish, 5.7 million own birds, and 5.4 million own a small animal. According to the 2017-18 survey, there were 89.7million pet dogs in the US, 94.2 million cats, 20.3 million birds, and over 158 million pet fish.
The American pet industry could also have bought into the Biden campaign. The total expenditure for the industry in 2019 was $75.38 billion, covering everything from food supplies, OTC (Over the Counter) medicine, veterinary care, live animal purchases and grooming.
Views expressed above are the author’s own.