WHY WE VOTE
Reflections on the Elections
[Note: This essay is one in a continuing series by ICCFA executive director Bob Fells focusing on various issues in our federal government. Although the subjects are political in nature, the approach is bipartisan in outlook, at least so far as that is humanly possible. The goal of each essay is not to persuade the reader to adopt a particular political viewpoint or party, but to illustrate why an understanding of the system is important to protect our businesses, our homes, and our families.]
Just one month ago today, approximately 128 million Americans went to the polls and voted. There have been countless analyses in print, online, and via broadcast since then. If there is one thing about the elections that’s clear it is, as I suggested in an earlier column, that Americans voted for Big Government. Another explanation is also possible: maybe a majority of voters only chose the party they felt would deliver on its promises. The 112th Congress is roaring its way into the history books as its time dwindles down to expiration on December 31st. At this writing, the all-consuming issue is the “fiscal cliff” and whether Bush-era tax cuts will be extended beyond year’s end. The 113th Congress is set to convene on January 3, and like actors waiting nervously in the wings to go onstage, they are told that titanic issues are going to be decided there. Perhaps it’s a sign of the anxiety level on Capitol Hill that a Missouri member of Congress who successfully won re-election has just announced her retirement. NOW she tells us!
Humans constantly seek to make order out of disorder, sense out of nonsense, so a careful shifting of data has yielded some signposts that may or may not be the proverbial handwriting on the wall. At least we can try. Everybody knows that the House of Representatives will remain under Republican control for the next two years, and the Senate will remain under the control of the Democrats. Less obvious is the fact that the Republicans (henceforth known as “the Rs”) lost seats in both houses and the Democrats (henceforth “the Ds”) gained seats. Currently, the House has 241 Rs and 192 Ds. On January 3, the new House will have 233 Rs and 200 Ds. Of course, the Rs will retain control of the committee chairmanships and of the legislative agenda, but party-line voting will be trickier because fewer Rs are needed to “cross over” and vote with the other party for the Ds to prevail even though technically in the minority.
The current party makeup in the Senate is 51 Ds and 47 Rs, and 2 Independents. The new Senate will have 53 Ds and 45 Rs (and still 2 Independents) giving the Ds a larger working majority than today. Partisan politics aside, the Ds have gained ground in both houses while the Rs have lost it. Some individual elections were only decided in the last couple of weeks because the voting was so close. I believe the outcome in each district was a win for the Ds. But former Congresswoman Shelley Berkley (D-NV), who has been a friend to the ICCFA, decided to seek a Senate seat in Nevada, and the ICCFA PAC supported her bid. She narrowly lost 46% to 45% but the very next day after the elections she send me an email saying that she would be back. Too bad she just can’t take the seat of the gal in Missouri who is resigning. I know – it doesn’t work that way.
NBC News conducted exit polling that produced some interesting results. For example, more women than men say they are Ds, 55% to 44% respectively, while a majority of men in just about the same percentages say they are Rs. Most young people, ages 18 to 29, voted for the Ds, and most older folks, ages 45 to 64, voted for the Rs. This older age group also made up the largest voting block at 38% of the voters. Forty percent of all voters consider themselves political moderates, the so-called “swing votes” that really decide our elections. Of those who claim they are liberals, 86% are Ds while 12% are Rs. Eighty-two percent of Rs describe themselves as conservative, 16% of Ds say they are conservative.
I’d say the data above shows what most of us already suspected – that we are a politically divided nation in two distinct camps. The divide continues when we turn to specific issues: more Rs are worried about taxes, 66% to 32, but more Ds are concerned about the housing market, 63% to 31. Regarding the new health care law that the President himself is pleased to call Obamacare, 88% of Ds want it expanded and 92% of Rs want it repealed.
One more factoid is worth mentioning and that’s the role of the federal government in our lives. Seventy-nine percent of Ds said that the government should do more to solve problems, compared to 18% of the Rs. Seventy-five percent of Rs felt that the government is doing too many things better left to businesses and individuals, with 23% of the Ds also feeling that way. This polling data almost sounds like each party’s platform positions. Less documented is the public’s perception of which party is more likely to deliver what it promises when in the majority. Between the beginning of 2003 through the end of 2006, the Rs had majorities in both houses and, of course, in the White House. Beginning in 2007 it was the Ds turn to be a two-house majority. The D’s lost the House at the end of 2008 but still retain a majority in the Senate.
Does this version of musical chairs tell us why the 2012 elections turned out the way they did? You may not agree with this statement but it may be argued that when elected to the majority the Ds tend to keep their promises, and the Rs don’t. By that I mean that Ds have proven reliable in living up to their promises of expanding government assistance programs and related spending. The Rs maintain that this approach is financially unsustainable and must be reduced to avoid future economic disaster - and a lot of people agree with that. But during those years the Rs controlled both houses of Congress and the White House, 2003 through 2006, they really blew it. You may remember Dennis Hastert who was Speaker of the House during those four years of Republican control. For a party that got elected on a policy of reducing the size of the government and cutting spending, the Rs during the Hastert years spent money like drunken sailors – even the Ds complained! The bottom line is that the Republican Party suffers from a "credibility gap" where even voters who agree with its goals doubt the party has the resolve to follow through. In a two-party system, all Americans lose when only one party functions effectively and the system of checks and balances are out of whack.