Friday, November 05, 2010

Contemplating and interpreting the midterm election results

What did these midterms actually mean? That depends on which data you use, and how you want to spin it.

I want to ponder a few things about the voting results:

The GOP gained 60 seats. Four of them are from Progressive Caucus Democrats, who lost 2% of their (79) members. 28 were Blue Dogs, whose caucus shrank by half. Many of the Blue Dogs were from conservative-leaning districts. And it was the protection of these members' seats that took the progressive teeth out of the health care bill. So we were left with a health bill that few understand, giving the space for Republicans to trump up fear over the bill, and that was less progressive than many Americans wanted. Something to think about...

These midterm results were actually not unusual, as pointed out by Rachel Maddow. In fact, if it is at all unusual, it's because the Democrats didn't lose the Senate too (the House has never flipped parties without the Senate flipping too). Save 3 midterm elections, the president's party has always lost seats in the House during midterm elections going back to the 30s.

The role of the voters:

Independents: Roughly the same percentage of independents voted for Republicans in 2010 as voted for Democrats in 2006 when the House flipped under Bush. But this flip should not be read as support for Republican ideas: only 25% approve of Congress, 53% see the Democrats favorably and 53% see the GOP favorably: no one party is more favorable to the American people than the other right now. And there is no voter consensus on what to do next, either. From Open Left:

Voting Republican was largely a response to being dissatisfied with the economy, regardless of who's actually responsible for the mess or which party is looked at more favorably. Not to mention the White House's awful PR job (what they should have done). (Sidenote: I so miss the teacherly explanations of candidate Obama that seem to have disappeared with President Obama.)

Higher turnout for GOP voters: This is obvious, the “enthusiasm gap,” which I believe resulted from Obama not going far enough on the health and stimulus bills (more than 1/3 of the stimulus was tax cuts, not stimulative spending) and by the aforementioned bad PR by the White House.

Age: NPR Reports: "In 2008, voters under 30 outnumbered, as a percentage of the electorate, voters over 65, 18 percent to 16 percent. Yesterday, only 10 or 11 percent of the electorate was under 30; 25 percent was over 65."

A recent survey shows that only 11% of 18-29 year-olds support the Tea Party. 60% of those over 65 voted Republican.

How the results are being interpreted by the Republicans serves the advancing of their agenda, regardless of what voters actually support. They are presuming that people voted for them and their positions. Republicans took the House but not the Senate, voters have very low approval of Congress, and voters don't favor Republicans over Democrats. Yet Boehner et al. seems to think that voters endorse the Republican platform.

Listening to Boehner's speech election evening was a clear display of hypocrisy. Boehner et al is pledging "no compromise" with Republican beliefs. Yet when Democrats, who in 2008 had in fact been given a mandate, attempted to stick to their beliefs, Democrats were not principled, but were being "partisan." Democrats, were derided for not "compromising" enough (read: caving into GOP demands) and embracing Republican ideas, even though the GOP lost badly in the 2008 election and the Democrats, quite frankly, didn't owe them anything. So with Republicans gaining just the House, we should expect Republicans to use Democratic ideas in the spirit of compromise, right? Not according to Boehner; they will work with the President when he is willing to come over to their side. Otherwise, they will cling to their beliefs, in accordance with what the American people want. That is the argument that is made when elections are misinterpreted.

All the "what the American people want is" talk from Tuesday night reminded me of this gem from The Daily Show last year:

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  • My only quibble with Maddow's argument is, many if not most of those "Blue Dog" seats were in truth Republican seats we had taken in the 2006 and 2008 elections.

    In short, they were growth opportunities. Had the Dems legislated effectively, we would have held onto them and we might actually have made some progress in teaching people that liberals are not the enemy.

    Now we have reinforced the "commie hippie liberal" image. We'll never win a majority like that again, and it will only serve to polarize the nation further.

    By Blogger Carl, at 6:23 AM  

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