With less than a year until the 2016 presidential elections, many are looking ahead to see which issues will be causing the greatest amount of consternation amongst the presidential candidates.
As the US economy appears to be stabilising after nearly a decade of financial turmoil, it looks to be increasingly the case that moral concerns will take centre stage amongst the American public when they vote on November 8 2016.
Although the US is a relatively liberal country, many of the key topics that have caused the most intense amount of discussion have recently tended to be focused upon the so-called vice issues. These have ranged from concerns over the gun laws, to the effects of drug legalisation, and even the debate upon the nation’s gambling habits.
With one of the Democrat front-runners, Hillary Clinton, suggesting that she would implement stricter gun laws if she were elected, many have posited that this could signal the gradual erosion of the freedoms promised by the American Dream.
Whereas with yet another gun incident in American schools causing unwanted headlines, many are stating that the time has come to use government legislation to help protect citizens from themselves.
Gun issues in 2016
Few issues are more emotive in American politics than those surrounding the use of guns. The Second Amendment of the US Constitution ensures that citizens are guaranteed the right to keep and bear arms. As this law is such a pivotal part of the American mindset, it has been unimaginable that there should be any change in the legislation despite the fact that more young people in the US die from guns than cars.
President Obama has repeatedly been frustrated by the NRA in his attempts to curb the use of firearms. And already, 2016’s presidential candidates have been trying to position themselves in line with the mainstream public mood around this divisive issue.
Democratic hopeful Hillary Clinton has called for stricter background checks on those who apply for gun licenses, and also wants to do away with the ‘immunity’ enjoyed by firearms manufacturers and dealers. Such a move positions her even further left than her traditionally socialist competitor Bernie Sanders who faces lobbying from his rural Vermont-based supporters to maintain the current gun controls.
As expected, the Republican candidates are fiercely resistant to any change in gun laws. As Donald Trump is a lifelong member of the NRA, few would be surprised by his pledge to oppose gun control. And similarly, other front-runners such as Jeb Bush have repeatedly reasserted the claim that it’s the already-dangerous elements of society that kill people, rather than the firearms themselves.
Gambling issues in 2016
Although it may not create quite as many headlines as gun laws, the issues around gambling legislation are nearly as powerful when it comes to creating moral panics in the US.
Historically, gambling has been tightly restricted to certain states such as Nevada, and on the whole the activity is something of a grey area that doesn’t run along partisan lines. Hillary Clinton has often showed willingness to work with the industry’s growth, as long as safeguards are in place to protect minors. And similarly this anecdote of Donald Trump unsuccessfully lobbying Jeb Bush in his 1998 attempt to open a casino in Florida adequately sums up the Republican stance.
In fact, the issue of online casinos could prove interesting in 2016 as currently there is strict legislation on which states can operate in the online domain. Despite recent developments that have allowed intra-state gambling, the restrictions are still much tighter than in other areas of the world.
Drugs issues in 2016
One vice issue that has enjoyed a much greater degree of liberalisation in the US in recent years is that of drugs. There are now four states in the US that have legalised the recreational use of marijuana, and whilst it has yet to become accepted in mainstream society, there are growing signs that the political mood is shifting in regards to soft drugs.
Whilst Hillary Clinton has repeatedly stated that the likes of marijuana are ‘gateway drugs’, others in the Democrat Party such as Bernie Sanders have stated that the war on drugs has failed and that a shift needs to be made to provide treatment for drug users, rather than punish them.
Such a view would not fare well in the Republican Party however. Instead, there has been much jostling amongst the presidential hopefuls for who can be most-outspoken in regards to the drug issue. Jeb Bush has repeatedly claimed that he was one of ‘the best drug warriors in town’ during his tenure as the governor of Florida, whilst Ben Carson has called for the war on drugs to be intensified.
Despite the far-ranging views on these controversial issues, if any of these figures were to be elected, they could soon find their hands tied when it comes to making any significant changes to government policy.
President Obama has repeatedly stated that US gun control laws have been the biggest frustration of his presidency, and many would put this down to opposition in the Senate that has quashed any legal shift on this issue.
Similarly, the deeply conservative nature of many Americans’ views surrounding liberalisation around the themes of gambling and drugs means that we’re unlikely to see any dramatic changes despite movement on a state level regarding drugs in Colorado and online gambling in Nevada.
The fact that America is reputedly one of the most liberal countries in the world has helped it become a leading economic powerhouse and a major player on the global political stage. But with the issues of drugs, guns and gambling proving more divisive than ever, it remains to be seen how these concerns will be affect the 2016 presidential election and the development of the country as a whole.