by Maddie Aiken 3.24.2020
The 2016 presidential election was the most surprising for lifelong Republican Howard Hill — and it was also the election he was the proudest to vote in.
Hill, who grew up in Arnold, Pennsylvania, is a retired technical sales engineer and graduate of Carnegie Mellon University.
The registered Republican resides in Murrysville, Pennsylvania, with his wife, Pam Hill. The couple has two daughters, two sons-in-law and five grandchildren.
On March 24, the 74-year-old discussed the trends and consistencies of presidential elections during his lifetime.
What was the first presidential election you could vote in?
The first presidential election I could have voted in — at that point in time you had to be 21 to vote. I wasn’t able to vote in the 1960 or 1964 elections, so it was the [Richard] Nixon election in 1968. I voted for Nixon — he was better than a Democrat [Hubert Humphrey].
How have elections changed since the 1960s?
It’s kind of interesting that when [John] Kennedy ran [in 1960], it was a big deal about him being a Catholic — the fact that he was the first non-Protestant who [won]. That was a very big deal.
It was a big deal that [Kennedy] was Catholic, and it was a big deal that his father was a multi-millionaire. It was thought that he went around buying votes. The theory was at that point in time that there was corruption in the election process.
[Additionally,] during the Nixon-Kennedy race, they first started televising debates. Nixon and Kennedy were on stage together. Kennedy was a pretty charismatic guy and he came across really well on TV. And Nixon had the flu, so he was perspiring all over the podium. It was pretty sad, actually.
The televising of the debates is a pretty big change, and the cable news promotion of different candidates is a major change. And the division of the country. Those are the biggest changes I’ve seen.
What issues have been important to the general public when voting? Have those issues changed at all?
Economy. People vote with their paychecks. They vote with how well the economy is doing. That’s one of the reasons Reagan got in, because Jimmy Carter was a disaster. Everything was down, we had to turn our thermostats down to 65 degrees to conserve energy. It was one thing after another, he made a major mess of [the economy]. People felt uncomfortable with their financial situation, and Reagan was a very positive and uplifting type of character and he just made people feel better about the opportunity moving forward.
How have the two major political parties changed over the years?
The Democrats have become almost radically left-leaning, to the point of being headed down the road toward socialistic philosophy. The Republicans have probably been more solidly conservative in general over the years — they’ve maintained their philosophies regarding issues like abortion and smaller government.
There’s been such a divergence in the two parties moving further and further in their philosophy regarding the size of government and social issues.
What is the biggest stand-out moment from an election in your lifetime?
The election of Donald Trump, without a question. After he was elected I was surprised to see how much his philosophy [regarding the economy] hasn’t changed since he was younger, and he’s become more conservative [regarding social issues].
I was ecstatic when he was elected — I could not imagine Hillary [Clinton] as president, it would’ve been, in my opinion, a disaster.
I think that might have been the biggest election of my lifetime.
How have the attitudes of the president and general public toward elections changed?
[Now,] once the president is elected, we’re already in the election cycle for the next four years. It’s politics every day, all day. I don’t recall that in the past. When the president was elected, they served for three and a half years and then started to think about [the election].
In the ‘60s, people were satisfied, the election was over and there wasn’t constant political messaging. [The climate now is] is largely due to the fact that there’s the 24-hour cable news channels. They have to fill their time with something, so they fill it with politics. That’s been a major change. Back in the ‘60s, we had three channels and that was it.
How do you think the internet has changed the way that elections work?
It depends on how old you are, which probably determines how much you use the internet for news. For me, I would say I look at [Fox News online] for a few minutes [every day]. For younger people who are into social media, [the internet] has probably had a major impact — both good and bad.
Trump uses his Twitter account very effectively to communicate with the people, and he doesn’t trust the media to produce an honest representation of what’s happening in the country so he relies on his own communication. If you take a look at the way he’s run his presidency, he’s really bypassed the media to a large extent and gone directly to the people. He’s affected the news cycle through virtue of the fact that he’s throwing out all these messages about this and that so [the media] grabs a hold of it and he becomes the news every day.
What are your predictions for the 2020 election?
I think the Democratic nominee will probably be Joe Biden, but I’m not convinced that’s going to carry through. Biden’s memory problems, which have become pretty apparent, aren’t a good thing. Even if he accumulates all the votes he needs, I’m not so sure he’s going to be the nominee. Someone could fly in to save the party — it could be someone like Hillary Clinton or Governor [Andrew] Cuomo of New York. I think there’s about a 50 percent chance Joe Biden’s going to be the nominee.
Regardless of who the nominee is, I think it’s going to be a very tight election. I think that Trump will probably be reelected. I’m praying that’s the case. I think throughout this virus Trump has proven himself to be a capable leader who is able to pull things together very effectively. If he can get the businesses back open sometime in the near future, I think he’ll win more easily. If not, it’s going to be a tough race.