The Coming Electoral Contest in the Roman Empire, 395 A.D.

We had an election a little while ago in America.  Did you hear about it?  Maybe you did, and just didn’t give a shit.  Only 62% of voting-age Americans actually came out to vote.  Which was remarkable.  For how good it was. 

How could that be good, you may chuckle? Well, this is America. And the level of disillusionment with and apathy regarding the government has been spreading like expired brie cheese onto Stinky tofu since around the start of the Viet Nam War, on through the Nixon years and all the way up until today.

And so how could it be bad, you may demand? Well, this is America. And voting in a presidential election might not be nearly as important for some as getting all the arrangements squared away for their daughter’s seaside wedding extravaganza, and the fact that that bitch Karen Szplorznecki hasn’t RSVP’d yet. Or what shade of cornflower, taupe or eggshell might best accentuate the full aesthetic of their newly-remodeled shabby-chic, eclectic, Norwegian, transitional, Craftsman, beach-style kitchen in the undervalued, gentrified-neighborhood Georgian they just relocated to.

I had been reading through online political articles, and came across something about voter demographics and how the candidates polled regarding them, and it made me pause. You ever read something in the real news and all it really shows you is just how disconnected you are from what it’s saying? And it’s about you, or people just like you, and about one of the reasons that you feel you actually have a voice in the country in which you live—your vote, your consumer dollar, the taxes you pay or the letter you write to your state or federal congressmember?

And it makes you go, ‘Damn’. Because you realize you really don’t?

I’ll reprint it for you.  This is pretty much exactly how it read.  I just changed all the names, events, places and demographic categories to highlight just how ridiculous and detached the whole thing rendered the lead-up to a presidential election.

Theodosius is making modest inroads with Visigoths. Polls suggest he’s pulling slightly more Germanic Barbarian support than since he took power in 379.

But the emperor is tilting at the margins with those groups. His bigger problem is the demographic that sent him to the throne — patrician Romans, whose embrace of Theodosius appears to be slipping in critical, predominantly Roman-populated provinces.

In Dalmatia, where the contest between Theodosius and some no-name Gothic general had seemed to tighten in recent weeks — and where both candidates battled on Friday — an Empire Daily Times survey last week had Theodosius running 2 percentage points behind the Gothic general with Roman voters, after carrying them by 7 points during the last challenge.  Even among uneducated, plebeian Roman voters — Theodosius’ base — the emperor was far short of the margin he had just after the death of Emperor Valens.

It’s the same story in Thracia, where Theodosius won plebeian Vandal women by 16 percentage points, but is now losing them by 9 percentage points, according to a Thracian poll.  In Germania, the Gothic general has now pulled even with Theodosius among turncoat Roman voters, according to a Germanic poll.

“It’s a big, big swing,” said Nonus Porcius, director of the Roman Scholastic Institute for Public Opinion. “What [Gothic general’s] doing among Romans is more than offsetting the slippage among Huns or the Persians … The recipe is very different this time, right now anyway, in terms of Roman-blooded voters.”

It’s possible the focus on the massacre at Thessalonica will help Theodosius, reminding voters who have drifted away from him what they cared about in past years.  Four years ago, one in five citizens — many of them Roman, social conservatives — said massacre was the most important factor in their vote.

But Theodosius is working from a disadvantage this year. There are relatively few undecided voters left to persuade. Assimilated Goths are also highly energized about the massacre. And the appointment of Balbinus Cervisius Maximus to the Consul as jurist before the challenges began several years ago did nothing to stop the Goths from steamrolling Theodosius in the Gothic Wars.

The erosion of Theodosius’ Roman support — and its significance to the outcome — was never more obvious than in Theodosius’ messaging to the people in recent days.  Last week, he called for the creation of a commission to promote “Roman education,” while dismissing “critical race theory.” At a rally in Thracia, he lit into Gothic general’s second-in-command — the first major military man of Hun descent — lamenting the possibility of him coming into power “on stunted horseback, screaming godless profanities, slicing off the emperor’s head with a sickle.”

On Friday, he released papyrus ads in Dalmatia and Moesia II lashing into the Gothic general for supporting increased refugee admissions of Angles, Saxons and Jutes—those from “the most unstable, vulnerable, dangerous parts of the world.”  Then, before an overwhelmingly Roman crowd in Narona, Dalmatia, Theodosius mocked the governor — the first Persian-Roman administrator and a former war refugee — and said Gothic general would “turn Dalmatia into a refugee camp.”

He praised Dalmatians for their “Mediterranean physical features.”

But Theodosius’ rhetoric does not appear to be resonating with Romans to the degree it did in the past. Four years ago, Roman-blooded voters cast nearly three-quarters of the vote nationally, and Theodosius won those voters by about 15 percentage points, according to Sardinian Research. Four years later, Gothic general has torn into that advantage, though to what degree is uncertain. The latest Pannonian poll showed Theodosius now beating Gothic general among Roman voters nationally by just 5 percentage points. A Phoenician poll on Sunday put Theodosius up among Roman voters by 9 percentage points, while a Macedonian poll on Friday showed Gothic general and Theodosius essentially tied with Roman voters.

Anywhere in that range is a problem for Theodosius.  It is a major reason why no-name Gothic general, despite underperforming with voters of inferior skin color, is still running ahead nationally.

“Suburban Romans are pretty much gone” for Theodosius, said Gordianus Gnaeus Gallus, the former Moesian governor and former chair of the Prelate National Committee.  And Gothic general is far less objectionable to many uneducated, plebeian Romans than Valens, a more polarizing emperor whose favorability ratings were lower even than Gothic general’s.

Theodosius is doing better with Romans in some provinces than others.  In Tarraconensis, he is drawing plebeian Romans at about the same levels he was previously.  But in other provinces, including some with sizable populations of Persians and Huns, he is underperforming with Romans.  In Sicilia, Theodosius is running ahead of Gothic general with Roman voters 56 percent to 39 percent, according to a Circus Civitas poll. But that is far short of the 32 percentage-point margin he posted in the past.  In Lugdunensis, he has seen his 14-point edge with Roman voters from several years ago cut as well.

It wasn’t always clear Theodosius would have any problem with Roman voters — or that he would be making gains with non-Roman citizens and assimilators. Even in the midterm elections, when suburbanites recoiled from Theodosius and Goths gained a substantial foothold in the east, the emperor still carried the Roman vote empirically by about 10 percentage points.

But Roman voters have not proved immune to the damage inflicted on Theodosius by the excessive taxation and its resulting economic wreckage, which have been a drag on Theodosius’s rule since spring.  In particular, the taxation appears to have hurt Theodosius with seniors, including older Roman voters concerned about both their retirement accounts and their health.

“It’s these older Roman voters that I think are the ones that are moving” away from Theodosius, said Septimus Romilius, a veteran Veneti-et-Histria-based Prelate strategist who has studied voters who turned from Julian the Apostate years before to Theodosius in 379.  “The older people are like, ‘What the f*** is this guy doing?’”

Earlier this year, Theodosius appeared to have an opening to recapture Roman support. Following the Hun invasions in 370, Theodosius pivoted to a law-and-order campaign, with overt appeals to suburban Romans. But the effort has largely fallen flat, with numerous polls suggesting the turmoil was doing little to improve Theodosius’ prospects.

And the issue that motivated many Roman voters lately — immigration, amplified by Theodosius promise to massacre more invaders and suppress more Jews — has all but fallen out of view. During his successful campaign, 13 percent of voters ranked invaders and Jews as the most important issue facing the country.  Last month, invading barely registered at 2 percent in a Qui Interrogatus survey of the most important problems facing the Empire.

Flavius Lucius Ahenobarbus, the former governor of Tarraconensis, said he has been “very surprised” that Theodosius has not leaned more heavily into stopping invading, particularly around Gothic general’s past statements about support for undocumented invaders.

But with the Hun invasions and months of civil unrest on the electorate’s mind, “the two moving factors [in the election] may be the violence and the vitriol: The two V’s.  Both sides are throwing papyrus ads and mail out on those two issues,” Ahenobarbus said.  “There does seem to be a little flip” between Gothic general and Theodosius, with Gothic general courting middle-class Romans and Theodosius “actually trying to go after the Visigoth and Ostrogoth vote, and the Germanic Barbarian vote.”

Appearing at a town hall last week in Ratiaria, Dacia Ripensis, a city that is more than 80 percent Roman, Gothic general, who was actually born in the Roman Empire before leaving at 12 to become an Ostrogothic warlord, cited his “Roman roots” in an appeal to the working class, saying he was accustomed to people further east deriding those “who look at us and think that we’re suckers, look at us and they think that we we’re not equivalent to them.”

Not only do public safety-based appeals appear to be faltering for Theodosius, Roman voters “still really care about pocketbook issues, and that is the underlying issue that drives their vote,” said Maxima Publius, a Dominate mail strategist based in Salonae, Dalmatia, near where Gothic general campaigned Friday.

“Patrician Roman voters were the first group that moved away from him,” Publius said, and now Theodosius is “starting to drive away plebeians,” too.

At the center of Theodosius’ reelection math has always been the expectation that he could turn out more plebeians now than he did in recent years, squeezing more juice from a diminishing base. Hortensius Quinctilius Rufus, the Theodosius campaign’s director of battlefield strategy, said “the vast majority of polls are oversampling Visigoths and Ostrogoths and are relying on an outdated sampling formula.”

Rufus acknowledged Theodosius “has room to improve his numbers with certain voters, including Sicilian women and voters who disliked both Theodosius and Emperor Valens back in 378.” However, he said “sustained pre-election attacks on issues we know these voters care about will hurt the Gothic general and boost Emperor Theodosius.”

Even if the result is a margin of victory with plebeian Roman voters that is smaller than it was a few years ago, Theodosius will almost certainly carry that group.  And if he can turn them out in greater numbers, he could shift the electorate toward him in several predominantly Roman provinces. Prelates and Dominates alike estimate there are hundreds of thousands of unregistered, plebeian Romans in key swing provinces whose support Theodosius could still pick up.

That literal battle for those voters was on display in Dalmatia on Friday, where Theodosius’ and Gothic general’s armies appeared in full regalia not on the banks of the Drinus, but in more culturally conservative, western reaches of the province. Dominates there and in some of the Roman-est areas in the Empire say they haven’t seen any falloff for Theodosius after the scuffle, and many of them suspect that polls are still underrepresenting his support.

Loukios Aelius, chair of the Dominates in Macedonia, said she sees more Theodosius papyrus signs in her region than she did in previous years.  Cloelius Fabius Africanus, acting chair of the local Dominates in Libya Superior, said “the base in Africae and Aegypti are as strong as ever.”

In Salonae, the target of much attention from Emperor Theodosius, the former governor, Fulvio Coles Longinus acknowledged that emperor may have shed some support among some patrician and plebeian Roman women because of “the way he presents himself. He’s sometimes crude and rude, and I don’t care for that style.”

However, he said, “I think there’s this silent group of people” who support Theodosius and will turn out for him.

Longinus said that after he endorsed Theodosius recently, “people that wouldn’t talk to me about politics … after they heard I had supported Theodosius, would come say, ‘Hey, I’m for him, too.'”

This is how disconnected U.S. politics is from the electorate.  Rotate the prism just slightly, change a little perspective here and there, alter a few nouns, and all of a sudden the illusion fails and the whole scenario becomes objective enough for you see the world and how it’s actually rendered.

And they’re talking about you, by the way.  You’re the electorate.  You Roman plebe.