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Observations on Tuesday’s votes

Some quick observations about the results of the various elections that took place on Tuesday:

  • Neither party can be said to have come out of it better than the other. The Democrats’ victory in John Murtha’s old House seat in western Pennsylvania, in particular, showed that it wasn’t an entirely Republican day, as some had anticipated
  • The victory by Rand Paul, son of Ron, in the Kentucky Republican primary, was said to show the revitalization of the party. But given that Paul was opposed by Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell and the Republican establishment, it would appear more of a rebuke of the party, a sign that the party apparatus isn’t needed. Likewise, Joe Sestak won the Democratic Senate primary in Pennsylvania, over the Obama-backed Arlen Specter (the former Republican who switched sides). Who needs party support these days? 
  • Rand Paul’s win is also being seen as an indication of the growth of the Tea Party’s influence. But Paul’s big margin of support can’t be explained by the relatively small Tea Party. As Joshua Green noted, Kentucky wasn’t really paying all that much attention, and “the Rand Paul rallies I attended in mid-sized cities like Paducah and Bowling Green drew crowds of only 100 or so.” It’s noticeable how Republican politicians are finding it so easy to wrap themselves in the Tea Party flag. Because the Tea Party has no structure – there is really no “party” - anyone can call themselves a Tea Party guy or gal. And if they win, then the Tea Party is endowed with special powers.
  • Anti-incumbent? Anti-Democrat? Anti-Obama? Many are trying to say that one of these factors, not the others, explains the voting pattern. But why does it have to be just one? There are signs that are all three are in play – different ones in different election races. There’s no clear, single, overriding narrative that applies in all situations. And all of the focus on these "anti" explanations miss an important point: that no one’s saying that voting patterns can be explained by “pro” -anything tendencies.
  • With all of the attention on “which party won?”, hardly anything was said about issues. We heard from those rejecting Obama’s healthcare plan, and other administration initiatives. But there wasn’t really a positive alternative vision put forward. And any attachment to stands on certain issues seems arbitrary and unrelated to party or ideology. Mark Critz’s win in Murtha’s former seat in Pennsylvania was hailed as a great victory for Democrats, but he campaigned on an anti-Obamacare, pro-life and pro-gun platform.

Some recent polling data can provide an added perspective. Gallup polls in recent weeks find that:

  • Only 23% of Americans are satisfied with the way things are going in the United States – which is well below the 40% historical average since 1979
  • The current Congress (Democrats and Republicans together) is held in low regard: 21% approve of the way Congress is handling its job
  • The two major political parties are essentially tied in the congressional voting preferences (46% Republican, 45% Democrat)
  • A record-low percentage of US voters, 28%, say most members of Congress deserve to be re-elected

 On this basis, many people might opt for “the best of a bad lot” or “none of the above” in November's mid-term elections.

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