After reading a lot of post-election articles, I’m stunned that most analysts have completely missed the main reasons why people voted the way they did. Most Americans are not obsessed with politics; they don’t dig deeply into the candidates’ backgrounds, and often don’t take the time to read and understand the candidates’ positions on the issues (if indeed the candidates even have any—and many don’t).
There were three important dynamics involved the current election:
1) Anti-incumbent fervor.
This election was not a massive victory for the Tea Party candidates, or even for the Republican Party, as exit polls showed. Many voters supported Republican candidates, but when asked if they supported the platforms of the Republican Party, they disagreed with most of its tenets. For example, a majority of Americans are against making changes to Social Security or cuts to Medicare—but both those issues will be major components of any Republican plan to balance the budget. Likewise, most Americans think the Bush era tax cuts shouldn’t be extended for people making more than $250,000, although the Republicans want to extend them for everyone, the rich included.
By and large, the single sentiment that most people expressed was a yearning either for less intrusive government or a desire to “throw the bums out”—possibly reflecting a desire to make politicians understand our high unemployment rate through firsthand experience.
2) Elderly voters.
Midterm elections are usually dominated by older voters (folks who are over 50 and are nearing or in retirement). What exactly is the current situation for older Americans in this lingering recession?
Well, for one thing, the value of their homes has plummeted by as much as 50% in some parts of the county, and it’s not recovering anytime soon. It can be disheartening, to say the least, to work hard most of your life, pay off your home, and then find out it’s worth a lot less than you put into it, especially if you were counting on selling it to help pay for your retirement.
Secondly, most elderly Americans live on a fixed income: Social Security plus whatever savings they’ve accumulated, which is usually invested in very safe, fixed income investments (i.e., cash accounts or bonds). But right now, the policy of The U.S. Treasury and The Federal Reserve is to keep interest rates at or near zero, which means elderly Americans are making no money on their savings during a time when they have to spend a portion of it to pay for living expenses. As a consequence, they’re seeing their retirement funds dwindle at an accelerating rate, and many are having to go back to work or delay their retirement to make ends meet at a time when there’s already a shortage of jobs. And the U.S. government is doing nothing to create jobs.
And, finally, even though inflation is near zero, healthcare costs are still increasing by double digits every year, while the new healthcare reform legislation won’t kick in for a while yet. Elderly and disabled Americans take the brunt of our broken healthcare system, and that’s played a major role in how they voted in this election.
3) Rural vs. urban.
One useful graphic I saw on TV this week was a map of the United States with the areas of the nation that elected Republicans candidates in red and the areas that elected Democrats in blue. The entire center of the country was red, with a thin blue edging on the east and west coasts and a few isolated blue dots corresponding to major Midwest cities. Nothing so clearly shows the rural vs. urban divide in the U.S. electorate.
Why do rural folks vote overwhelmingly for the party that promises a smaller government? It’s because of an enduring perception that government takes more away from them than it gives back—a perception aggravated by the biannual act of paying property taxes. A higher percentage of rural people tend to own land, and own more of it, than city dwellers (more than 50% of urban dwellers in the U.S. are renters). When rural folks open their property tax bills, it sets off strong anti-government feelings.
Yet studies have shown that rural communities benefit more from state and national government services than their local tax base could afford. In short, taxes paid by city dwellers helps to subsidize services provided to the surrounding rural areas: roads, schools, fire departments, police, hospitals and health clinics—you name it. Few of these things would exist in rural areas without state and national government funding.
In addition, many rural people take for granted the federal “entitlement programs” that the Republicans would like to dismantle: Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, Unemployment, Disability, and Welfare. In fact, the term “entitlement program” is meant to make us think that people who receive money from these programs don’t really deserve what they’re getting. But they do, and the fact that these programs are or will be available to all of us if we need them is a form of insurance that underpins a humane, modern, and civilized society.
These programs should be called “the safety net,” because that’s what they are. Yet those of us who are not receiving any direct cash benefit from the safety net often have the suspicion that someone else is, and is taking unfair advantage of it. Why can’t those people just work hard like we do, who are also struggling to get by? This is where rural isolation comes into play. Urban dwellers routinely encounter the poor, disabled, and disadvantaged and can’t deny the need for programs to care for them.
In rural areas, the attitude is often: “give me my guns, my family, and my land, and the rest of you can go to hell!” But a nation—and its economy—can’t survive with that attitude.
Hopefully, the next two years of gridlock in Washington DC will be eye-opening for the American public. I’m hopeful that people will begin to talk more about the issues and less about personalities, and make more effort to become educated about the issues that face us as a nation. As a first step, we should acknowledge the problems I’ve listed above, and try to figure out a way to address them.
Six reasons to get mad about 2010 midterm elections.
1. Big money won big.
This was the first election after the Supreme Court’s landmark Citizens United decision, which opened the floodgates to unlimited corporate spending in our elections. A record $4 billion was spent, far surpassing any previous midterm election. Republican candidates benefited twice as much from the type of election expenditures enabled by Citizens United, and much of that came from undisclosed sources. This was a big factor in Republican electoral gains, and big corporate donations were a deciding factor in many statewide initiatives.
2. Big media won, too.
The major beneficiaries of campaign advertising dollars were the corporate-owned broadcast media, which share similar corporate interests as many of the funders of these ads. These increasingly consolidated corporate media channels (increasingly influenced by FOX News, a right-wing political propaganda machine masquerading as a news organization) are where most citizens get their electoral information.
3. Democracy lost. Again.
The impact of Citizens United, combined with corporate media, combined with the power of corporate lobbyists in our political process that has grown dramatically in recent decades, makes the pretense of “government of the people, by the people, and for the people” a hollow promise. Corporate plutocracy is completely overwhelming democracy, reducing the role of regular citizens to mere consumers choosing between prepackaged & heavily marketed products.
4. Climate crisis remedies are stymied as time is running out.
The federal gridlock ensured by this election will further delay any progress in addressing the climate crisis, which threatens the future of all human and natural systems on the planet. The clock is ticking, and climate scientists tell us that time is running out to prevent various tipping points that will cause irreversible changes. This election virtually ensures that the United States, with its hugely disproportionate role in the problem, will not be part of the solution for at least another two years.
5. Millions will suffer.
Climate crisis is of course not the only urgent national priority that will be stymied by the gridlock just voted in. Millions of people suffering from a broken economy will be unable to get any relief from DC, and people who would have benefited from health care reform will find that the funding to enable those reforms will be cut by a Republican-controlled House.
6. A fake “popular rebellion” gains momentum.
A faux-grassroots movement called the Tea Party, which has been heavily funded by wealthy benefactors and over-hyped by FOX News & other corporate media, took center stage in this election cycle, way out of proportion to the actual numbers involved. Much of it is about manipulating people’s anger & fear to get them to support an agenda directly opposed to their own interests. Ever wonder what a real popular uprising would look like? Wanna find out?
We accidentally omitted a handful of minor ballot measures from our endorsement article, so I’ve added those. For folks who already read or printed out a copy, update your list accordingly!
And…WTF?! The Voters’ Pamphlet I got today along with my ballot lists only local ballot measures and races–not the more important state and federal ones. Monday I’ll call and ask why.
Welcome to the Eat The State! endorsements for the 2010 Washington State, King County, and Seattle general elections. This year’s crop of ballot choices, while otherwise being among the most dreadfully dismal we’ve seen in the 14 years we’ve been picking endorsements, stands out for one crucial reason: Now, more than ever, “It’s all about [...]