So….some reflections from this Tuesday’s elections.
We shouldn’t be surprised that Republicans took the Senate. Most seats up for election were in the reddest of red states, and the Democratic challengers didn’t exactly cover themselves with glory. (Mitch McConnell may be corrupt and despicable, but a candidate who refuses to admit she voted for her party’s nominee for President just turns everyone off. We have to remember that voters don’t get to choose between Candidate X and God. In races like this one, they have to pick between the devil they know and the one to whom they are just being introduced.)
In two years, the election landscape will be considerably different–and as one pundit sourly noted, there won’t be a black guy in the White House to motivate the racist voters.
Turnout was once again embarrassing. Preliminary reports suggested that nationally, approximately 24% of eligible voters went to the polls, giving the winners an average “mandate” from perhaps 13% of the electorate. Most of the low turnout was due to voter apathy, but a not-insignificant part was deliberate: between the millions of dollars spent on negative ads that can be relied upon to depress turnout, to “voter ID” laws intended to suppress the votes of the poor and minority Americans, the message was pretty clear: stay home.
Perhaps the biggest take-away, however, is the troubling picture of American “sorting” that continues to emerge. I’ve written before about Bill Bishop’s book The Big Sort, and the academic research supporting his thesis that Americans are increasingly “voting with our feet”–moving to places we find philosophically and politically compatible. This has been going on for more than a few years, and the electoral result is what has been called an “Urban Archipelago”--bright blue dots in seas of red. We have gerrymandered ourselves into cities that are overwhelmingly Democratic and rural areas that are reliably Republican. We really are “two Americas”–an urban America that is noisy and diverse and young, and a (rapidly dwindling) rural America that is much older, much whiter and frequently much angrier.
Are there exceptions to that picture? Of course. But the overall accuracy of those descriptions is demonstrable.
There are real equal representation issues raised both by partisan gerrymandering and population sorting: in the last general election, for example, Democratic candidates for the House of Representatives received more than a million more votes than Republicans–but because of the way the districts were drawn and populated, the GOP kept control of the House. It’s hard to see how this changes under our current redistricting rules.
The larger issue, of course, is turnout.
When I was a young, active Republican preparing to run for Congress, I remember the County Chairman telling me how grateful he was that “Democrats don’t vote.” Even then, with the vaunted Republican machine firmly in control of Marion County, registered Democrats outnumbered registered Republicans three to two. But Republicans got out their vote; Democrats didn’t.
Now, no one really gets out their vote. And that is a real problem–not just for partisans, but for America–because only the most polarized and ideological “wing nuts” can be counted upon to vote in either party. The result is that both are in thrall to the party “base.” That’s not so bad for the Democrats, although it does hurt at the margins, because the progressive base is anything but monolithic. But it is killing any effort to bring the Republicans back to a sensible middle-right, because the GOP base/TeaParty activists have all the characteristics of a cult. (Joni Ernst? Mike Delph? Ted Cruz?? I rest my case.)
I doubt whether yesterday’s election results were a “last hurrah” for the reactionary right incarnation that is now the GOP, but that last hurrah is close. If demographics are destiny, the Grand Old Party (which is currently the Old Party of Grandparents) cannot survive much longer. Rural areas are hollowing out as younger people opt for city life; survey research shows younger people, Latinos and other minorities rejecting the party by large margins, and the degree of overt racism shown by Republican office-holders to our first African-American President pretty much undercuts any effort to make inroads in the black vote.
The tragedy here is that America desperately needs two responsible, adult political parties. Without an intellectually respectable GOP, there is no pressure on Democrats to bring their A game. We lose all around.
As we did Tuesday.