Yesterday’s election today

      3 Comments on Yesterday’s election today

So, what I’ve been thinking this morning about yesterday’s election—wait, let me start by saying that this isn’t an analysis, properly speaking, and I haven’t done a ton of research. I’m not telling you What Happened, other than reminding you that the Story of What Happened is more important than What Actually Happened, even when (as happened yesterday) What Actually Happened is really, really important. Anyway, I’m just talking about my reaction, a sort of emotional-intellectual reaction rather than an analysis.

And this is half of it: looking from a national point of view, this was a very, very… normal mid-term election. The President lost the House majority—three of the last four Presidents have lost the House majority at their first midterm, and the fourth lost the House majority at his second midterm. It is unusual for the out-Party to lose seats in the Senate at a midterm, but mostly (so far) it looks like that’s a result of Obama’s coattails in 2012 and the Wave in 2006. My Party didn’t lose any seats in states that we would be expected to regularly win elections—specifically, the seats that flipped D to R were all in states where the other Senator is an R already.

And even more than those national results, what strikes me as so normal about this election is that (like in 2012) Republicans pretty much voted Republican, and Democrats pretty much voted Democrat. It feels to me like the parties are radically changing, and that doesn’t seem to have much effect on how people are voting. In the end, the Russian meddling, the prosecutions, the resignations, the behavior of Our Only President and his advisors, the border separations, the demolition of our international status, the Kavanagh hearings, the random lies and insults, the rest of it… seems to have made very little difference so far. This is an outcome that could have been expected or explained without referring to any of that stuff.

And here’s the other half: looking at it from a smaller point of view, looking at people rather than parties, this was a very unusual election—the number of women, people of color and LGBT+ folk who were elected to public office yesterday is unprecedented. More than half of the new Democratic US Representatives are women; that has never happened before. At least eight openly LGBT candidates will be in the federal legislature (Representative-elects Craig, Davids, Hill, Maloney, Pappas and possibly Ortiz Jones join Reps Cicilline Takano and Pocan in the House and it’s still possible that Tammy Baldwin, who won re-election yesterday, will be joined by Kristen Sinema in the upper chamber) and there are at least 32 new LGBT state legislators as well, and yes, there will be T and B legislators as well as G and L. There are a ton of new officeholders at the state and local and federal levels that aren’t white, aren’t men, aren’t Christian, aren’t straight, and/or aren’t cisgender. There are far more people elected than ever before who are in multiple categories that are historically underrepresented, and that makes a big difference, too.

There were a lot of new voters, too, and new organizers and new volunteers. Turnout was quite high (something close to 47%, probably, which is much higher than any recent midterm and second-highest in the post-19th-Amendment era). In fact, we had something like twenty million more voters than we might have expected, going by the average of the last two midterms. Textbanking connected individual volunteers to voters across the country, making personal (if formal) contact in a virtual version of retail politicking. The amount of money donated was immense, too, totally not on the charts with previous midterms. And, of course, Our Only President behaved in a different way than other Presidents have, campaigning and lying in ways both quantitatively and qualitatively outside all previous norms.

It felt very different, to me and to a lot of other people. And the outcome at the national level, from a Party point of view, was… not very different.

Which, of course, reminded me of Ecclesiastes, who writes:

[One] generation passeth away, and [another] generation cometh: but the earth abideth for ever. The sun also ariseth, and the sun goeth down, and hasteth to his place where he arose. The wind goeth toward the south, and turneth about unto the north; it whirleth about continually, and the wind returneth again according to his circuits. All the rivers run into the sea; yet the sea [is] not full; unto the place from whence the rivers come, thither they return again. [Ecc 1:3-7 KJV]

Those two reactions—how everything is different and how things remain fundamentally the same—are what’s overwhelming to me about the election yesterday. Along with the policy implications, yes, and the confirmations, and the potential effects on the investigations into Our Only President and the people he surrounds himself with, and the international implications, and everything else.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

3 thoughts on “Yesterday’s election today

  1. Chris Cobb

    What this election’s outcomes have driven home to me is the yawning divide between elections that are about people and elections that are about policies. It looks like that, when elections are about people, voters are profoundly, almost unshakably tribal. As you say, Republicans voted for Republicans, and Democrats for Democrats. People’s political identities do change, of course, but when a person has identified with a party, that’s mostly how they will vote.

    On policy, however, wow! Voters in Idaho put into office Republicans who had opposed Medicaid expansion in their state, but they voted overwhelmingly for Medicaid expansion! Voters in Missouri voted out their moderate Democratic Senator, but they voted strongly in favor of a substantial minimum-wage hike. Floridians went for the dumb-as-a-post racist-white-guy Republican over the smart, charismatic inclusive-black-guy Democrat (by, let it be said, a very very narrow margin that was achieved partly by means of voter suppression) but overwhelmingly voted to restore voting rights to 1.4 million ex-felons, many of whom are black.

    Seeing these actual results helps me to understand better the meaning of polls that show that substantial majorities support progressive policies that can’t be implemented because the politicians elected by the people won’t implement such policies. It looks like people really do want the policies and when they can get them directly by voting for the policy, they do so without hesitation. But when people are on the ballot instead of policies, they vote their identity, even if that means they don’t end up getting the policies they want.

    I’m inclined to say that this phenomenon is more intense on the conservative side of the spectrum, since it has been so widely and successfully exploited by the owners of the Republican party to prosecute class warfare, but it does appear that voting for identity also positively motivates some liberal voters who wouldn’t otherwise turn out to vote. These voters don’t actively vote against their own policy preferences the way some Republicans do in order to affirm their identity, but they aren’t motivated to vote on the basis of policy preferences alone: it’s the identity connection that gets them to the polls.

    I’ve never observed these features of our political situation play out so clearly in an election cycle. There appear to be a number of areas of broad agreement among U.S. voters about what they want that are being concealed rather than revealed by the actual dynamics of person-and-party-linked electoral politics.

    1. Vardibidian Post author

      So, this is an excellent response, and I have three different and contradictory responses to it.

      First, of course—you’re right! I completely agree with you! Many people support progressive policies and vote Republican. Many progressive policies are quite popular among the populace at large, and are stymied by the election of Conservatives that are elected on identity politics. Many people do sort out their voting preferences for representatives in ways that seem to run counter to their policy preferences. This is in part why, for our youths, it was possible to pass compromise legislation, where a legislator could vote for something that was popular enough on policy grounds to be defensible, and even if the Party didn’t like it, there were few primary challenges in those days and it certainly didn’t hurt in the general. And yes, there are a bunch of things on the left where individuals vote for representatives who are against one or another policy preference—the death penalty was at one point very popular, for instance, while the Party opposed it, and I’m sure I could think of some others.

      But second—I think it’s important not to overstate how many people support both Republican candidates and liberal policies. Of the 2,420,829 voters in Missouri this year, there were 1,488,368 for the increased minimum wage and only 1,101,377 for the Democratic incumbent Senator. That means that 386,991 probably voted for the minimum wage increase and not the D—actually, let’s take out the Green Party votes (I’m going to assume the Greens all support the minimum wage increase and the Libertarians all oppose it, but the numbers aren’t high enough to make much difference) to make it 382,807 crossing the Party line. That’s a lot, but clearly most of the Republican voters in Missouri—seventy percent—oppose the minimum wage or have no preference. And the crossover part is about 16% of the total vote, which is only a little higher than my rule-of-thumb estimate of true swing voters, that is, people who genuinely have no consistent party or policy preference but vote anyway. And I think that in general, the popular liberal policies enjoy around 2/3 support, meaning that most Republicans do not support them. Many do! But not most. There are a handful of exceptions, policy positions with really high support (I think universal background checks for firearm purchases is one) but most of the popular progressive policies aren’t at that level.

      And third, contradicting both of those… I grow less and less convinced that many of us really have ex ante policy opinions at all. I don’t know, I certainly think that many of my opinions on policy matters are based on principles and pragmatics, but more likely many of them are justified after the fact by those things, and are arrived out through some combination of group identifications and personal experience. I voted the other way than my Party supported last week on a ballot measure, because I feel that it unnecessarily limited the options of future legislatures, despite supporting the use of money that it mandated. I voted for state legislators that supported the ballot measure that I opposed, too. I think my stance on such measures is principled, and that I oppose my Party on this one because of actual conviction, but honestly it’s hard to believe that I have somehow come up with the only proper ranking of policy, procedural niceties and politics. I dunno. I feel much more comfortable and confident voting for the people than the policies. There may be others among the voters for Conservative candidates and liberal policies that are voting their ‘real’ (vaddevah dat means) preference for a Conservative, and only voting a tentative and uncertain policy preference that didn’t exist before the voter was pressed into expressing it.

      To sum up: We are really enormously tribal, identifying with people who seem to be like us in unclearly defined ways, and many of our policy positions aren’t strongly held outside those muddled identifications, and so there are occasions where some of us (but not that many in any given election) vote for policies and people that are at odds with each other. Our capability for participatory self-government remains… subject to improvement. I hope.


      1. Chris Cobb

        Thanks for checking the numbers in Missouri! Having more exact grasp of the numbers is very valuable.

        I’d agree that 16% of the voters splitting their votes between progressive policy and reactionary candidate is not very large: you are right that most Republicans surely opposed the minimum wage initiative and that the group that split their votes is likely more swingy in general. That said, the split is still a large enough number to swing the vast majority of seriously contested elections in the U.S.; figuring out how to negotiate that disconnect with more consistent success would have significant political ramifications.

        In thinking over the implications of this disconnect, I am very curious about the comparative success of various progressive ballot measures around the country that can reveal more about how such splits are produced. Minimum wage and Medicaid expansion succeeded handily in states that elected Republicans; measures to address carbon pollution an environmental harms had several notable failures in states that elected Democrats, although there were also a couple of successes. I know that the opposition to the environmental ballot initiatives was tremendously well funded and relentless, but I don’t know whether Medicaid and minimum wage initiatives were opposed with similar strenuousness. To what extent do the nature of the campaigns run on both sides contribute to the production and reduction of issue/candidate splits in these instances?

        It’s complicated.


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