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!