Sometime over the last couple of days I was talking to a Republican friend who insisted that the American people decided to reject Obama and all his works on Tuesday, that the ideological message was clear and unequivocal.
His view was similar to the one express in this Tweet posted by @SCHotline today:
I, of course, disagreed. I believe that elections seldom express clear messages, for one thing. People have many reasons for voting as they do, and it’s almost impossible to classify or quantify them with any degree of certainty, even with exit polls — which necessarily boil motivations down to explanations that can be quantified. Voters could vote against a guy because, deep down, they don’t like the tie he wears — something a pollster is unlikely to capture.
What happened was that a small proportion of the electorate — a minority of us independents in the middle — voted Democratic in 2006 and 2008, but Republican in 2010. And they are just as likely to vote the other way in two or four years. Believe me; these are my people. I’m one of them. It’s a swing voter thing; someone who calls himself a Republican, or a Democrat — something who really believes all that junk they spout — couldn’t possibly understand.
My friend saw the election, for instance, as a clear, unambiguous rejection of Obamacare. Please. The word may poll well (for Republicans), but most voters couldn’t explain to you what the recent health care legislation actually DOES. Neither can I, unless you give me a couple of days to refresh my memory on it. I don’t even understand how it’s going to affect me, much less the country. If you don’t know what it is, how can you possibly know, clearly and unambiguously, that you are against it?
As a measure of how the country FEELS about the president, sure. But as a measure of a clearly defined ideology, no way. Which is good, since I don’t like ideologies.
Anyway, today my friend sent me this piece from The New Republic (hoping I would consider the source favorably, no doubt), headlined “It’s the Ideology, Stupid.” Well, I was offended at the original version of that phrase when the Clinton people used it; I am no more persuaded by this one.
What I DID like about the piece were the stats provided from exit polls. To begin with, they told me that in 2006, “those who voted were 38 percent Democratic, 36 percent Republican, and 28 percent Independent,” and this year the self-identification was 36/36/28. Well, right there I’m not seeing a big ideological shift. But my favorite stats were here:
We get more significant results when we examine the choices Independents made. Although their share of the electorate was virtually unchanged from 2006, their behavior was very different. In 2006, Democrats received 57 percent of the Independent vote, versus only 39 percent for Republicans. In 2010 this margin was reversed: 55 percent Republican, 39 percent Democratic. If Independents had split their vote between the parties this year the way they did in 2006, the Republicans share would have been 4.7 percent lower—a huge difference.
OK, let’s parse that. Independents are 28 percent of the electorate. In 2006, Dems got 57 percent of that segment, while the GOP got 39 percent. This year, they went 55 percent Republican and 39 percent Democratic. So that means roughly 17 percent of independents switched their preference from Democratic to Republican.
Seventeen percent of 28 percent (the percentage of the electorate that is independent) is 4.76 percent. I make no claims to be a statistician, so y’all check my math there. But I think I’m right.
So… instead of “America” sending a clear message to Democrats, or to anyone for that matter, what we have is 4.76 percent of the electorate voting differently from the way it voted in 2006 — for whatever reason.
“America” doesn’t change that much from election to election, folks. A few people in the middle slosh back and forth. And I think my explanation for why they do is as valid as the grand, oversimplified ideological one: People were dissatisfied in 2006 and 2008, so they elected Democrats to fix the things that were making them dissatisfied. Nothing has yet been fixed (even, for instance, if Obamacare will do the trick — which I doubt — it hasn’t accomplished anything yet), so they’re still dissatisfied, so they’re taking their custom to the other shop.
And that’s what happened.
Oh, by the way — the writer in TNR went on to explain his grand theory that it’s all about ideology in the subsequent paragraphs. I found them unpersuasive. At the very most, he quantifies an “ideological shift” of 11 percent — and I don’t think it’s ideological, I think it’s semantics. I think the word “conservative” feels more comfortable to more people this year. But even if he’s right, that’s an ideological shift of 11 percent. And 11 percent ain’t “America.”
Go read it and see what you think.