Patrick Skarr, Account Supervisor
Republicans – even that rarer breed, Illinois Republicans, woke up on Nov. 6 with a small sense of optimism. The polls and the underlying statistical assumptions offered a beguiling sense of optimism and hope that there was a viable – albeit convoluted path to victory.
Then collectively somewhere between 7:30 and 7:45 p.m. CST, Republicans were hit with a very powerful cudgel – the first results. Not only were things looking like another blowout nationally, in Illinois the opposition party was being bludgeoned into legislative irrelevancy. What are some of the important and immediate lessons to be learned?
The first is to avoid making rash decisions that are overly broad and not supported by the results. Any campaign comes down to a series of assumptions and if enough of your assumptions turn out to be accurate, you win. So the first and painfully necessary step is to go through the data and figure out precisely what happened.
Glen Bolger of Public Opinion Strategies provides a powerful and reasoned must-read that counsels against making quick generalizations about what the 2012 election results were and were not. In short, Bolger and other analysts’ postmortems have focused and highlighted the following themes:
1. The overall result cannot be attributed to Akin and Murdoch. The much-hyped “war on women” didn’t come to fruition at the ballot box, but those two deserve ample credit for their horrific statements that sank their ability to join the Senate. Romney outperformed both Bush and McCain with white female voters; this demographic had less sway as an overall percentage of the voting electorate this year. Strategists should not fall prey to this easy and convenient scapegoat; it simply isn’t true. Romney lost the minority women vote, but that was consistent with overall weakness with minority voters for Republicans. The “war” that never was.
2. A generational shift is taking hold in the voting electorate and Republicans made decent inroads in the younger demographic this cycle. In 2012 voters under the age of 29 made a larger part of the electorate (19 percent) than voters over the age of 65 (16 percent). It’s also important to remember the nature of senior citizen voting block defined by their age cohort continues to change. (Seniors do “age-out” of the voting populous after all.) This will fundamentally alter the efficiency of electoral attacks based on changes to entitlement programs and social safety net programs that have stronger generational ties. Generic Republicans did better with seniors and soon-to-be seniors, even though the House had voted for the budget authored by Rep. Ryan adjusting popular programs for seniors.
3. This year the myth of the independent voters – if they do really exist – ran into a fundamental math problem. Romney won the independent vote and by an impressive margin of five to six percent and he isn’t packing up the family belongings for a move. Enough of the talk of the power, sway and importance of appealing to “independents.” Without crossover party appeal, Republicans have a fundamental math problem. The fallacy of the power of independent voters should come to an end.
4. At this time, there are more Democrats than Republicans in the United States of America. This isn’t opinion or some interpretation of likely voter data; it is a fact and something that needs to be understood and accepted by Republicans, the business community, association and trade groups, etc. Self-identified Democrats are around their 30-year historic average, while Republicans have suffered declines. There are more independents now, but these voters have left the Republican party and prefer to be unaligned in self-reporting surveys. (Republicans have a problem when their aligned voters are so embarrassed that they don’t want to identify with the party, but that’s for another day.)
5. As always, momentum matters. Obama won voters who said they made up their minds at the end of the cycle by seven percentage points. That’s where things went from bad to worse for the unfortunate candidates on the bottom of the ballot. Coattails can be lethal to otherwise deserving candidates.
The 2012 election was also a tale of 2010 and this is where the results require more analysis. President Obama won reelection, the Republican’s bolloxed up their chances at taking the upper chamber, but retained a comfortable majority in the house and state legislatures. The fact that Speaker Boehner retains that office is a testament to the importance of controlling state legislatures when legislative maps are redrawn. The conflicted majorities in congress are nothing compared to the polarization of state assemblies.
In Illinois, of the 177 seats of the General Assembly that were up for election a few weeks ago, a total of five were decided by five percentage points or less. Three of these races were in the House and two were for terms in the Senate.
There were a total of 39 contested elections for spots in the Illinois House and the Democrats won 65 percent of them. Not to be outdone, the Senate Democrats won an impressive 76 percent of the 29 races where there were opponents. Democrats now hold a veto-proof majority in both chambers.
Illinois Republicans had a very bad election, but they can join with opposition parties from 24 other states where one political party has a veto-proof majority. Half of the states in this country are under one-party rule, not counting Nebraska, which has a nonpartisan legislature.
The AP’s David Lieb has an excellent piece on the policy impacts of the befuddling electoral results. The National Conference on State Legislatures has a post full of helpful tables and charts detailing the divisions in the electorate.
What does this all mean? While Republicans have a problem running nationally, they are having unyielding success at the state level. What advice can you give a team that has gone from holding held five veto-proof majorities in 2003, to holding 16 in 2013? Abandon course and order a new offense?
Unfortunately, there are few clear signs out of this election to guide public policy over the next several months. The nation remains divided. I feel sorry for business leaders who operate in more than one state, as they will likely have to live within radically different landscapes for years to come.
Several billion dollars and few hundred million votes later and we’re right where we started, gridlocked over the future of our country.