aNewDomain commentary — Trying to wrap your head around the 2014 midterm election results? Our Ted Rall says it’s about the economy and the two-party system, stupid. Analysis. Understanding the 2014 Midterm Election Results: It’s the Economy and the Two-Party System, Stupid
Wednesday morning quarterbacking yesterday’s midterm election results is bringing out a lot of the usual claims that everything is changed, nothing has changed and anyway, what does it all mean for the 2016 presidential race.
I’ll leave the partisan politics to the Democratic and Republican surrogates and paid pollsters whose job it is to, respectively, make their side look less bad or better than it deserves. My interest is the big picture, so that’s what you’re going to get here.
Exit polls – considered highly reliable indicators of voters’ mindsets because they are conducted right outside polling stations – found that, hands down, the economy was what was on people’s minds when they cast their ballots.
From NBCNews.com: “Asked to select the most important of four issues – the economy, health care, illegal immigration and foreign policy – 44 percent pointed to the nation’s economy.”
The reason that that is so interesting is that neither party made jobs or the economy the centerpieces of their campaigns in this year’s congressional or gubernatorial races. This was a year of record spending on ferocious attack ads centered on allegations of local corruption and, when national issues came up, the candidates ties to or opposition to President Barack Obama and his policies – such as the Affordable Care Act, the federal government’s response to ISIS and the Ebola outbreak in West Africa.
Even more interesting is the vast chasm between the relentless media drumbeat, which declared economic recovery back in 2010 and hasn’t let up ever since, and a public that believes overwhelmingly that the economy is either exactly as bad as it was back then or is actually getting worse: “About a third – 34 percent – said they believe the economy is getting better, while a majority – 58 percent – said that the economy is either poor and staying the same (27 percent) or getting worse (31 percent.)”
Republicans took back control of the U.S. Senate and picked up gubernatorial seats across the nation, including some that were anything but a shoo-in, so it isn’t surprising that so many pundits are succumbing to the temptation to declare this some sort of mandate for the GOP or a mass repudiation of Democratic policies like Obamacare.
Not that Democrats should take comfort in what I am about to say, but I don’t think that is what’s really going on.
Bear in mind, approval rating of the United States Congress was at a rock-bottom 14% going into the elections. Contempt for both parties is and has been bipartisan: Americans believe both parties are failing to take action on the issues they care about most.
In other words: jobs. Good jobs with high salaries.
Namely, the lack thereof.
Particularly since the 2008-2009 economic meltdown, the middle class has been hurting badly. Millions of people have permanently dropped out of the workforce. Real raises – double-digit raises that exceed inflation – seem to be ancient history for the foreseeable future. And this follows four decades of increasing income inequality, stagnating or shrinking real wages, and a brutal boom-bust cycle of capitalism in which people spend their relatively prosperous years paying off the debt they built up during increasingly numerous, deeper, longer recessions.
President Obama’s 2008 hope and change campaign built up high expectations for what might be possible, the so-called “audacity of hope.” But that soaring optimism was dashed on the rocks of, depending on where you stand, Republican obstructionism, Democratic cowardice or institutional corruption. Whatever the cause, Congress and the president have never focused on direct government involvement in creating jobs or stimulating the economy in a meaningful way.
When voters see the political class ignore the things that they care about most, the pocketbook issues that affect them every day, they want to vote the bastards out and put someone who might do better in. But that’s not an option in a two-party system. There are Democrats, Republicans, and third-party candidates who, due to a variety of reasons that begin with the collusion of the two major parties, don’t stand a chance.
One way that voters can express their anger is to stay home on election day. The problem with that is, the media and political pundits conflate disgust with apathy and laziness. That leaves one other option: voting against incumbents.
This is a cycle we’ve seen a lot over recent decades, especially during midterm elections. It’s an attempt to get the attention of the politicians, to say look at us, we are angry, why don’t you do anything about the issues we care about?
Last night’s results don’t tell us much about the relative standing of the Democratic and Republican parties. They do, however tell us a lot about the state of mind of the American people.
They’re mad as hell – but for the time being, they’re going to keep taking it.
Cartoon: Ted Rall