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Political Animals

The summer is over and I can't help but notice that everyone is talking about barnstorming, slinging mud, and too-close-to-call dogfights. It's not a fight at a farm or zoo—it's an explosion of animal-related metaphors describing the election. Yep, the general election is here and donkeys and elephants are charging, but eagles (the American Independence Party) and bull moose (Theodore Roosevelt's Progressive Party) are sitting it out.

Horse racing seems to be the number one source of inspiration for political analysis. Just like a day at the horse races, in our first-past-the-post system, whoever comes in first takes it all.

For politicians, it's a long run from exploratory committee to election day. Some candidates can be slow out of the gate and never recover. Others simply don't have the stamina or staying power to remain in the lead.

Just like ponies, some politicians are closers—excellent at sealing the deal in the final days—while other, underrated candidates emerge as, you guessed it, dark horses that threaten to upset the odds-on favorite.

As we head down the home stretch, I'm sure we'll see and hear a flurry of negative ads. And, come November 6, we may see races end in a recount-worthy photo-finish.

So who's up and who's down in the polls? Who is going to cross the finish line first? Regardless of who wins and loses, it's a great time for handicappers, armchair analysts, and even art museums to trot out animal imagery to explain one of the most exciting processes in our democracy.

Image Credits:

Edgar Degas. Horse with Jockey; Horse Galloping, Turning Head to the Right, Feet Not Touching the Ground, modeled mid-1870s (cast before 1951). Bequest of Brooks McCormick.

Édouard Manet. The Races, 1865–72. Through prior bequest of Mr. and Mrs. Martin A. Ryerson Collection.

Jacques Callot. The Horse Race at the Pitti Palace, in Florence, from The Caprices, c. 1622. Mary S. Adams Fund.

Winslow Homer. Our Watering Places—Horse-Racing at Saratoga, published in Harper's Weekly, August 26, 1865. Gift of Arthur and Hilda Wenig.