US elections: Meet the Simpsons from Springfield

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Next week's US mid-term elections will influence how easy it will be for President Barack Obama to govern in the next two years. In the third in her series, looking at the elections through the prism of popular television shows, Rajini Vaidyanathan speaks to a family with one of the most famous surnames in the country.

They're called The Simpsons, and they live in Springfield, Missouri.

Like his animated namesake, this Mr Simpson has three children, one son and two daughters. He's also partial to a chocolate doughnut on occasion, but that's where the similarities with the head of the fictional family end.

"If I had to pick a character I was most like, I'd probably say Bart Simpson," jokes Rick Simpson. "I'm a little mouthy, tend to be adventuresome and can get people riled up."

And today, it's the politicians who are riling him.

"It's hard to find anyone that truly represents us anymore. I'm just frustrated with the whole political process," he says.

Rick's frustration isn't borne out of apathy, but a sense that none of the main political parties in America speaks up for people like him.

He has traditionally been a Republican supporter. In 2008, he voted for John McCain as president - unlike Homer who tried to vote for Barack Obama but had to contend with a faulty voting booth.

Image caption,
The "other" Simpsons

But in the upcoming mid-term elections which will see Americans go to the polls to choose senators, congressmen and governors, Rick isn't sure he'll be sticking with the Republicans.

"I've lost my faith in the Republican party," he explains. "It's like whichever way the wind blows they're liable to change. They're not solid."

As Rick explains his disillusionment with the mainstream political parties, Rick's wife Pam nods her head in agreement. Rick and Pam are part of growing group of people who are part of a new political movement - the Tea Party.

"The Tea Party to me is people saying we're fed up, we're not going to take it anymore," explains Rick. "We're tired of your policies, the unconstitutional things going on in this country."

Much has been said and written about the Tea Party movement which has grown in the past 18 months.

It is a collection of people and groups who are anti-establishment and conservative in their views. It first sprung up at the start of 2009, with members protesting against the use of government money to bail out banks on Wall St.

It is not an official party, and nearly all its candidates are running under the Republican banner. Sarah Palin has appeared at some of its rallies promising, as is one of its mottos, to "Take America Back".

Supporters like Rick and Pam say they want to return the US to its fundamental roots. For them that means lower taxes, lower spending and less interference from the state.

"So many times they paint the Tea Party people as domestic terrorists and that's not what we're about," Rick continues. "We're about bringing America back to the foundation, what made us strong."

"The Tea Party has been local," says Pam, adding to Rick's sentiments. "You know it's just people standing up for what they believe. You know we don't get that option usually."

There are several Tea Party-endorsed candidates on the ballot on 2 November, but none where Rick and Pam live. It remains the unknown quantity in this election, one which is growing in support, and one which the Republican Party is trying to harness.

But in the Simpsons' household not everyone backs them.

"I think it's more of a fad," says 27-year-old Jason, Rick and Pam's son who voted for Barack Obama in 2008. "I think it's always good to have another party in the mix and new ideas, but it's also somewhat of a band wagon. I think a lot of people are just jumping in without knowing that much about the politics and about what's going on."

Naturally, Jason doesn't put his parents into the latter category, and respects their views, saying family discussions never get heated on the rare occasions they discuss politics.

The mix in views in the Simpsons household is reflected across the state of Missouri as a whole. Missouri is a classic swing state - in presidential elections it is often a very close race between candidates. In 2008 John McCain won this state by a very tight margin. It is also a bellwether state - how Missouri thinks is often seen as a good test of how the rest of the country does.

It's unclear which state, if any, the fictional Springfield resides in, but political views there are divided too. Mayor Quimby is a Democrat, and it's thought governor Mary Bailey is too. Krusty the Clown stood for Congress, winning as a Republican candidate, while Mr Burns is chairman of the Springfield Republican party.

Driving through the Springfield in Missouri there are some other real-life similarities - a Grand Mart store minus Apu, a number of elementary schools, a town hall, and a statue of local businessman John Q Hammons, which some residents believe is a parallel with the Jebediah Springfield statue in the cartoon.

There's a watering hole all the locals like to frequent. It's not called Moe's and they don't serve Duff, but it has its own brewery on site, and plenty of locals propping up the bar.

Joshua Taylor works here at the weekends. He says the reason he voted for Barack Obama in 2008 was because he wanted better access to healthcare.

"I'm personally a diabetic, so one of the reasons I voted for Obama was that I work 70 hours a week and have no health insurance.

"I believe we need some kind of socialised health care so people like me don't have to work 80 or 90 hours a week.

"If I don't have my medications, I can't eat. And I can't eat without the medications. So I have to be able to afford both - it's not one or the other."

Listening and shaking his head in disagreement at the other end of the bar is John Waye, who has lived in the area for many years. He disagrees with Joshua's assessment of Barack Obama, dubbing the president's performance so far as "terrible", and criticising his handling of the economy.

"He's doing all the wrong things. You cannot spend yourself out of a recession. It just don't work."