The Democratic Election that Wasn't - 2014 US Midterm Elections
Synopsis: Patrick R. Romain, editor in chief of The Weekly Leaf, writes on the 2014 US mid-term election results.(1)
Author: The Weekly Leaf Contact: theweeklyleaf.com/author/theweeklyleaf/
Published: 2014-11-18 Updated: 2015-10-05
The following is written by Patrick R. Romain, editor in chief of The Weekly Leaf.
American democracy is predicated on two critical pillars. The selection of political representatives by the majority via the ballot box, and the availability of timely and accurate information that is vital for voters in their assessment of candidates and policies consistent with their self-interest.
The results of the 2014 US mid-term elections, which gave the Republican Party majority control of the Congress, reveal a number of alarming trends that are weakening America's democratic tradition.
- Only one-third of Americans went to the polls to cast their votes, a decline from the 2010 and 2012 participation rates.
- Voters' choices of leaders and ballot initiatives reflect inconsistent and contradictory messages.
- An unprecedented amount of money (approximately $3.7 billion) was spent to sway voters' choices.
- The US national media continues to hype and encourage confrontation and disagreement, at the expense of focus on critical policy issues.
2014 Senate election map Courtesy Wikimedia Commons (The Weekly Leaf)
To make matters worse, the promise of cooperation that was communicated on election night by both President Barack Obama and Senate Majority leader designate Mitch McConnell, was abandoned in less than 24 hours.
In an editorial published on the Wall Street Journal, McConnell and house speaker, John Boehner, communicated their intent to renew a "commitment to repeal Obamacare," which they claimed is both hurting the American health care system and job market.
For his part, president Obama promised to push ahead with an executive order by year-end if Congress failed to introduce immigration reform - an unlikely and unrealistic achievement for lawmakers, given the narrow calendar. Such executive action would be tantamount to "waving a red flag in front of a bull" and would "poison the well," Senator McConnell warned during a post-election press conference.
A Friday lunch hosted by the White House for congressional leaders from both parties was held with the intention to help improve the level of cooperation, but instead was frosty and further reinforced existing divisions. Both sides now appear intent to sustain the climate of polarization, seemingly oblivious to the significant threat that such disunity represents to America's future.
Polarization will likely be aided further by those who see political benefit from the intransigence of both parties, which will likely only increase in the lead-up to the 2016 presidential campaign.
Undemocratic voter turnout
Contrary to consensus, Americans did not elect members of the 114th Congress on Nov. 4. A minority of eligible U.S. voters selected the new legislature and returning members. Most Americans remained on the sidelines, choosing silence over communicating their views and preferences for candidates and policies that arguably have a greater impact on their day-to-day lives, than decisions made by the executive branch.
Why? The disaffection of Americans with their political representatives is well documented. Nearly two-thirds of Americans chose not to vote this past Tuesday, presumably because of frustration, disengagement or a low sense of civic responsibility. Young Americans in particular opted out of the conversation. Voters aged 18-29 represented only 13 percent of total votes cast on Tuesday, according to Edison Research exit polls.
Ironically, it is this level of disengagement that prompts continued polarization and policy gridlock, as conversely, Americans on the extreme sides of the ideological spectrum are uniquely motivated to cast their votes. Nearly 60 percent of consistently liberal Americans and 78 percent of consistently conservatives are more likely to vote, according to Pew research.
The antiquated, short two-year congressional election cycle will continue to help promote these trends, as politicians work toward the next election at the expense of securing long-term solutions to the country's complex challenges.
A disconnected, misinformed and ideological electorate
A majority of Tuesday's voters believe the U.S. is on the wrong track and that the outlook for the economy is poor. But the data and latest trends on the performance and progress of the U.S. economy, in particular since the 2010 midterm elections, shows the opposite of these views.
|US ECONOMIC PERFORMANCE||OCTOBER 2014||OCTOBER 2010|
|Number of long-term unemployed Americans||2.9 million||6.2 million|
|Monthly average non-farm jobs added (prior 12 months)||222,000||45,000|
|Increase/Level of Average hourly earnings||3 cents/$24.57||5 cents/$22.73|
|Consumer confidence Univ of Michigan index||86.9||67.7|
|ISM manufacturing index Report on Business||59%||56.90%|
|Dow Industrial Average (November 4th)||17,383||11,434|
|US Deficit/% of GDP (*CBO estimate FY '14 vs. FY 2010)||$506 billion (2.9%)||$1.3 Trillion (9.3%)|
|CONGRESSIONAL ELECTION EXIT POLLS||NOVEMBER 2014||NOVEMBER 2010|
|% of voters who believe the country is on the wrong track||65%||62%|
|% of voters who view the national economy as Poor or Not Good||70%||89%|
|% of voters casting vote to express opposition to President Obama||33%||37%|
|% of democrat voters casting vote to express opposition to Obama||5%||6%|
|% of republican voters casting vote to express opposition to Obama||92%||93%|
PERCEPTION VS. REALITY DISCONNECT
The performance of the U.S. economy has improved steadily since the financial crisis. America's positive economic narrative in particular stands out when compared to the poor and mediocre performance of most European, Latin American and Asia-Pacific countries that continue to suffer from the debilitating consequences of the 2008-2009 recession.
Concerns over a growing U.S. deficit and the need for job creation dominated the political narrative, most notably during the period leading up to the 2012 presidential elections. But as both indicators improved, many have turned to the anemic improvement in wages as evidence of an under-performing or deteriorating economy, while failing to point out that wage growth usually lags job creation, particularly following periods of severe recession.
The disconnect between voters' perception and economic reality is perhaps not a coincidence. According to a recent survey released by United Kingdom pollster Ipsos Mori, who interviewed 11,527 people on their knowledge of basic facts about their country, Americans received the worst grade, after Italians.
Questions polled by the 14-country Index of Ignorance included questions like: what percentage of your country's population identifies as Muslim (Americans guessed 15 percent compared to the 1 percent correct answer); What percentage of the population do you think are immigrants to your country (Americans assumed 32 percent compared to the actual 13 percent); And do you think the murder rate is rising or declining in your country (70 percent of Americans chose rising, which was incorrect).
That said, rising geopolitical risks including the recently heightened and unrelenting media focus on ISIS and on the Ebola crisis in West Africa have clearly contributed to voters' overall anxiety.
The November midterm votes were not cast because of concerns over the direction of the US economy, nor did they reflect a purposeful choice for divided government. Both are false narratives that are being irresponsibly spread by far too many pundits, politicians and journalists, including business news cable reporters (who presumably should have a more competent understanding of a country's economic dynamics).
On Tuesday, most ideologically inclined Americans voted along party lines, with the intent of voting against the opposing party, as much as for candidates carrying their party banner, and without consideration for the facts. At the end of the night, Republican candidates simply received more votes from their base than Democratic candidates, and easily outnumbered the small group of eligible, independent and less ideologically inclined voters who bothered to show up.
According to the International Institute For Democracy And Electoral Assistance, the average U.S. voter turnout (covering the period 1994-2014) in parliamentary elections was 57 percent, which is lower than the average voter turnouts for comparable Western and established democracies, including the United Kingdom (64 percent), Germany (76 percent), Japan (62 percent), France (60 percent), Canada (62 percent).
By contrast, Belgium, which has a compulsory voting system, had a 90 percent voter turnout. Other countries that require its citizens to vote include Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Mexico, Brazil and Singapore.
Now is perhaps the moment for the U.S. to consider adopting compulsory voting to help reverse the adverse impact of polarized politics and gridlock. Americans currently are required to purchase health care since the introduction of the 2010 Affordable Care Act, and to obey traffic laws.
The additional inconvenience that would accompany compulsory voting is surely an acceptable price to pay to help secure the most essential function of the world's proudest and most successful democracy.
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