We do live in interesting times

Rodney D. Coates:

As the political dust begins to settle, there are many who are
already passing the blame and taking credit for what appears to be a major
shift in American politics. The Republicans in a sweeping set of victories
have reclaimed the House of Representatives, while the Democrats only
narrowly held on to the Senate. Already pundits are sifting through the
debris, sorting through the tea leaves, and superficially deconstructing this
most recent of elections. The problem, as with most such analysis, is that
it fails to take into consideration past trends, present situations, and
predictable outcomes of these political events. Consequently such analysis
tends toward specious arguments typically relying upon cursory observations,
kneejerk accusations, and fallacious claims. As a consequence the democratic
losses have been all too quickly, and simplistically, reduced to the failure
of Obama and the Democratic to energize their base, the rejection of Obama
policies (most notice!

ably Health Care Reform and various stimulus plans), or the lackluster
performance of particular candidates, voting blocks, and etc. Alternatively,
the Republican victories have similarly been attributed to such overly
simplistic causes such as their ability to energize their base, the rejection
of Obama and liberal policies, or the overwhelming amounts of corporate money
which bolstered particular candidates , and etc. While each of these
"claims" may have some merit -the reality of the electoral outcomes are much
more nuanced, layered and complex. The first thing that we must clarify is
just when the current political transformations began, and in the process
identify exactly what accounts for these changes. Following this, we may
have a better handle on exactly what accounts for the current apparent shifts
in voter sentiments reflected in the most recent political season.

Since the most significant changes occurred in the House of
Representatives it would seem logical to look at electoral trends over the
past view years. If we look over the past few decades clear house majorities
have been enjoyed by both democrats and republicans. What is also apparent
is that for all of the 60's, 70's, 80's -democrats maintained sizeable
pluralities in the house. It was not until 1992 that republicans won control
of the house. Republicans would hold on to the house for the next 16 years.
In 2006 another massive voter shift can be identified where control of the
house would again go to the democrats. In this election before us we have
once again seen the republicans assume control over the House. Thus, in the
scheme of things, for the past 50 years democrats have controlled the senate
for the majority (34 of the past 50 years). When shifts have occurred they
have tended to be major, with at least 30-50 seats changing political hands.
The real question is what accounts for these major shifts.

In the immortal words of Bill Clinton in the 1992 presidential
campaign "It's the economy, stupid." Economic upheavals, political
uncertainty, international crisis, and domestic ambivalence has historically
fueled the fires of political change throughout our history. The reality of
our political system, dominated by two parties, is that the real action
occurs along the fringes and not at the core. Put simply, the moderates and
swing voters have historically determined the outcomes in what may be called
pivotal elections. Unlike core constituents, such moderates and swing voters
are more likely to either sit out or cast their votes across party lines
during times of extreme uncertainty. In this regard the last election was
not that different from other similar elections.

In these elections particular groups have had a significant impact
upon the electoral outcomes. Such groups as the young, white blue color, the
elderly, and middle class women have been consistently the fulcrums of
whatever political change that has occurred over the past 50 years. These
groups, both individually and at times collectively, have served to either
energize or destabilize political contests. Of interests is that these
groups, while democratically leaning, are also the most likely to bolt party
lines in favor of republicans who talk their language.

The take home points from the last election for these groups are as
follows. The youth were essentially forgotten by both major political
parties. No significant appeal was made to marshal their support, identify
their needs, or motivate them to vote. They consequently stayed home in
droves. Similarly, there was no essential message directed at middle class
women. And unlike the most recent elections, many of them viewed the
election with ambivalent, at best, feelings. They too tended not to maximize
their voting potential. Lastly, there was a deliberate and successful attempt
to mobilize both the elderly and blue collar voters. The campaigns
highlighting the problems the elderly might face under the Health Care
reforms proved most effective. The failure of any significant jobs programs
served to anger an already hostile and politically marginalized group of blue
collar voters. When these are coupled with an ongoing recession, increasing
fears regarding the national deficit, and the perceived failure of incumbents
to effectively deliver the political 'beef' led many more to seek to 'throw
the bums' out. All things considered, the elections were quite predictable.
Short of gridlock, the question before the current Congress and its
leadership, is what if any real changes will come about. What is certain,
and quite predictable, is that if expected changes do not come then a similar
house cleaning will occur in 2012. We do live in interesting times!

for more of my work please go to:

The man who has no imagination has no wings.
Muhammad Ali

Rodney D. Coates

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