by Gary Wien
"We're going to listen to what the American People want." Somehow I imagine we are going to hear that a lot in the next few days. Of course, the politicians, pundits, and reporters are once again largely missing the overall message; the truth is that the Republicans won an awful lot of election races yesterday but the only "mandate for change" comes when people make the mistake of treating politics as sports.
Winning election races is obviously the goal, but you can't tell me you're "listening to the voters" when a candidate wins a race say 51% to 49% and you read deeply into the victory. An election that close means nearly half of the people didn't like what the winning candidate was saying. Of course, immediately following the election loss those people no longer matter to anyone much less the pundits or reporters. Pundits want to feel validated and reporters love a juicy story and saying that there is a Republican wave or Democratic wave is certainly a juicier story than saying Candidate X won in a close race over Candidate Y.
But let's try to be honest here... the party that loses the White House virtually always is more energized to vote in mid-term elections. Statistics from the last 50 years back that up. So, if Republicans are far more energized than Democrats and if they are truly riding the extra support of the "Tea Party" shouldn't they have been blowing EVERY race out of the water? I mean, if the country is moving to the right as everyone tells me it is then why are we still seeing the majority of races decided within 5-10 points (and most within fewer than 5 points)?
Doesn't this still mean that the country is basically split? Especially if you consider Republicans WANTED to come out and vote while a lot of the people who voted for "change" (according to exit poll data young people and minorities were far lower numbers than in the last election) in 2008 stayed home. Poll after poll told us that the "enthusiasm gap" between the two parties was tremendously large this year. So why were any of the races close?
The truth appears to be that while the Republicans won race after race, the country is just as divided now as it was two years ago and four years ago and ten years ago. About 40% of the country is Republican, another 40% are Democrat, and 20% are Independents. In this election year, the Republicans came out in force and did far better with the Independents than the Democrats did. Two years ago, it was the opposite.
You may be thinking, "oh no, the Tea Party is the difference this time around, things are not going back to the way they were in the past." But you'd be wrong. Let's not forget how Karl Rove, the "architect" of the George W. Bush election wins thought he had devised a way to have the Republicans in the majority for decades... something that lasted about two years. Bill Clinton's former advisor, James Carville, misread Obama's win and thought we would see a Democrat wave for the next few decades... that lasted about two years. Or how about the "Republican Revolution" in 1994... that election proved the country didn't like Bill Clinton's policies right? Well, not really, after all he was reelected two years later.
In other words, both sides ALWAYS misread the election results. They look at the number of election wins and who controls the House, the Senate, and the White House and they see their team at the top of the standings. Unfortunately by misreading the data, they put themselves in the situation to be voted out in the next election when the losing party gets motivated to take things back.
Maybe, just maybe, if someone (anyone) would start noticing that a losing party that gained 40-49% of the vote was meaningful, we would have true change. The percentage of races won by 75% (or 3 out of 4 voters) is extremely low. Meanwhile, the percentage of races won by less than 5% is pretty high. This tells me that if we truly want "change" in America we need politicians and political parties to wake up and start working together because half of the voters do not agree with the other half.
You're not listening to the voters if you only work for the voters who elected you. You're listening to the voters if you pay attention to the fact that a great number of voters didn't think your ideas were so good. Somewhere in the middle is the answer. It always is.