You Vape, You Vote. But For Who?
Americans are about to vote in one of the most bitterly contested elections in the nation’s history. On January 20 next year either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump will be sworn in as the 45th president of the United States, and whoever it is, just over half the country is going to be very unhappy.
Plenty of issues have caused controversy during the seemingly endless campaign, from immigration to national security and sexual assault, and among all the heat and light vaping has been pretty hard to notice. It certainly hasn’t been grabbing the national headlines. That might turn out to be short-sighted, though, because this is the first election where vaping could play a major role in how people vote.
The last time Americans went to the polls there were about 3.5 million vapers in the USA, and apart from the FDA’s initial attempts to seize shipments there wasn’t much in the way of political controversy. Now the electoral landscape is very different. The number of vapers has almost trebled since then. The commonly quoted figure is around 9.5 million, but the size of the market suggests it’s at least ten million. On top of that, sustained attacks by state and city governments – plus the huge threat of the FDA Deeming Regulations – have turned vapor products into a political issue. Slogans like “I vape and I vote” can be found on buttons, T-shirts and all over the internet.
In 2012, President Obama won the popular vote by 4,998,296 votes. Just a quarter of vapers changing sides could tip the election. The big question is, how likely is that?
The answer is, it’s complicated. The only openly pro-vaping candidate is Gary Johnson, who as a Libertarian is ideologically opposed to excessive regulations. The problem is the chances of Johnson breaking the two-party mold are right around zero. As for the two who actually have a hope of winning, neither has stated a clear position on vaping. It’s safe to assume Trump would be less pro-regulation than Clinton, and he’s backed by Rep. Duncan Hunter – “the vaping congressman” – so if vaping is the deciding factor he wins by a nose. For many people, though, that’s exactly what they’d have to hold as they voted for him; he inspires strong emotions from both sides.
At the party level the picture isn’t much clearer. While vaping isn’t a strictly partisan issue, and pro- and anti-vaping politicians can be found on both sides of the party divide, Republicans are generally less hostile. Traditionally they have closer links to the tobacco industry, of course, and that could play both ways – some of the tobacco companies have embraced vaping, but others would still be happy to see it go away. The fact that the FDA’s rules will hand them a virtual monopoly on what’s left of the market certainly won’t hurt.
So neither candidates nor parties offer a really clear pro-vaping choice. There will probably still be some vapers who change their vote over the issue, especially if a local or state politician of one party has been particularly obnoxious (or supportive, of course). One thing that might keep that number low is the extraordinary level of loathing almost everyone has for at least one of the leading candidates. Many Clinton supporters hate Trump to such an extent – and vice versa – that it’s hard to believe much could swing their votes. Usually, the level of rivalry is just low enough for a single issue to swing someone’s vote if they feel strongly enough about it, but maybe not this time.
Probably the best way to get a good picture of how vapers will affect this election is to look at the demographics. Vaping isn’t evenly spread by age, gender and income bracket, so we can compare the groups that most vapers come from with how these groups tend to vote (and how they plan to vote this time).
If you listen to the FDA all vapers are high school students, but that’s a long way from the truth. In fact, the average vaper is in their mid to late 30s – older millennials and Generation X, with a growing number of baby boomers switching as well. Online surveys of cloud chasers and hobbyists tend to come up with younger ages, often putting the average in the high 20s. The problem is these miss a lot of people who don’t go to vape shops or hang out in forums, but have just quietly got on with switching from cigarettes to vapor products.
Millennials do make up the most visible group of vapers, and this demographic is solidly against Trump. That’s not to say they’re for Clinton, of course, and many younger voters complain that there’s not a lot of difference between the candidates on many issues. About a third of those who supported Bernie Sanders really don’t want to vote for Hillary – but they don’t like Trump, either. A lot of them will probably stay away from the polls, some will swallow their doubts and vote Clinton, and most of the rest will probably opt for Jill Stein. Overall, support for Clinton among millennials runs at about 44%.
Generation X are more evenly split; they’re more likely to be white, where most of Trump’s support comes from, and many also fit into the financially left behind bracket that’s associated with him – although that association might not be as strong as pollsters thought. Recent surveys suggest that the average Trump supporter earns well above the US average, and so do most vapers. It could be there are quite a few 40-something vapers who quietly plan to vote for the Republican nominee.
Finally, there are the baby boomers. They lean strongly Republican, and for many people party loyalty will overcome their dislike of the actual candidate. There’s also evidence that tech-savvy boomers have a higher opinion of Trump than those who’re less comfortable with gadgets. It doesn’t take much to guess what category vaping boomers fit into.
Back in February Grover Norquist sparked some comments when he predicted vapers could swing the next election. There are certainly enough to do it, by a comfortable margin, but it probably isn’t going to happen this year; there just isn’t enough between the candidates on the issue, and too much between them on almost everything else. It still looks likely that Hillary Clinton will be the winner, despite the Democrats’ generally less friendly stance. The vaping vote could be decisive – and that will become a lot more likely after the Deeming Regs really start to bite – but it probably won’t be in 2016.