Wednesday, November 5, 2014

As the Dust Settles. . . the 2014 Midterm Elections

The fight is over!  Let the fight commence!

First things first - the election is over, but there are still processes at work which would make it inaccurate to say that the electoral process is complete.  However that might be, let's run through what we got so far and see what explanations we can make and predictions we can level.

(1) The Senate is Taken by the Republicans

Why? Easy - lots and lots of convergent factors.

First, the president isn't popular right now.  In fact he is really unpopular - nearly as unpopular as our last president (which makes you wonder at how weird democracy is, eh?).  Anyway, because of that a sizable proportion of people who voted in this midterm weren't voting about their actual offices, but about how peeved they are at the man in the Oval Office. Point, Republicans

Secondly, midterm elections almost always result in the party identified with the president losing seats in the Senate - often quite a lot of states.  In fact, this has been the case since the end of the Second World War, and that is a long time - hell, four generations worth (the Second World War Generation, the Baby-Boomers, Gen-X, and the Millennials). Point, Republicans

Thirdly, look at the states that had senators stand for election this year - disproportionately Southern and Midwestern at a historical moment when the last of the conservative Democrats are retiring or simply beginning to lose the last of their long-fought turf battles.  This is a continued erosion of Democratic power in these areas, part of a process going on since the 1960s and the realignment of the major parties.  No big surprise, but also an interesting moment in history.  Look for this process to start getting muddier in the next two decades as Gen-Xers, Millennials, and ethno-national minorities become increasingly dominate in the political processes of these states (the Purpling!).  Point, Republicans

Fourth, this was a midterm election and the math in midterms skews, in the present party alignment, towards the Republicans.  Why?  Well, it is all about who votes in midterms. Consider - men vote at a relatively higher rate than women in midterm elections.  Fair enough.  White voters also vote at a relatively higher rate than non-white voters in midterm elections.  Okay.  Older voters, wealthier voters, and retired voters all make up higher relative rates in midterms than they do in presidential-year elections.  Thus, point Republicans. None of this is entirely surprising, by the way, and I can illustrate why with a conversation I had with the gentleman who delivered me a pizza yesterday so I could stay all but glued to the glowing television screen and monitors.  He handed me my pizza (grilled chicken, green pepper, and mushroom with light sauce on a thin crust - delicious) and I signed the receipt.  Then I asked him:

"So, did you vote today?"

He replied with a sigh, then said, "Nope.  I had to work a double."

I pointed out that he had a legal right to vote and that his boss had to give him a break to do so.

"Yeah, but that'd piss off my boss, and I need this job."

I nodded with empathy, added another buck to his tip and said good-bye.

The moral of this story?  Those who work at salaries, the working-class, are structurally less likely to participate in elections in general.  This same working-class is made up of voters who tend to be younger, made up of ethnic minorities, and poorer - and therefore, unsurprisingly, less formally educated as a rule in the field of politics.  Thus they value midterm elections less and are unwilling, or believe they are unable, to accept the costs and risks of participating in them rather than working - both generally and relative to their own behavior in presidential-election years. And these groups, well, they tend to vote for the Democrats. So it goes!

In other words, the Senate becoming Republican was, more than anything else, about systemic characteristics playing out. Which isn't to say that the Republicans didn't fight tooth and nail, they certainly did, but the bump received from this convergence is nothing to be ignored.

(2) The House of Representatives Becomes More Republican(ish)

Okay, this one is getting way less attention in the mass media than it deserves.  Most of the structural characteristics so important for the Senate races still hold for the House.  But cheese and crackers, the apparent dominance of the House by the Republicans is kinda' epic - they (probably - we'll see after the smoke clears and formal announcements are made in a couple races) gained ten seats in the House.  That is big - it means the Republicans have their largest majority in the House since - yeah, you guessed it, the Second World War.  Fascinating, right?  But ah, time to address that (ish) I put in the subtitle line!

The House Republicans are split between two rather substantially different factions.  On the one hand are the moderates, the Log Cabin Republicans, and the old "party" Republicans who identify with Nixon or Reagan or George H.W. Bush.  On the other hand is the Tea Party faction who, clearly, are as much a source of conflict in that house of Congress as interparty conflict, if not more, given that caucus is somewhat totally opposed to moderation and negotiation.  That conflict isn't going away, and likely will become worse as both sides of the internal war in the Republican party (and deny it all we might, that is essentially what it is, a wrestling match for the destiny of the party) take this election to be a confirmation of their own agendas' moral authority.  We'll see how that plays out, of course, but I think it is likely to at least stay messy.  And don't expect the House to be more, well, functional - even if it is apparently more functional it still may have a hard time playing well with the Senate and still neither body is in the land of veto override magic, so that whole President thing is still relevant - don't expect the massive uprooting of Obama's agenda to be accomplished in the next two years, no matter what crowing you're hearing out of the House.

(3) The States

The Republicans again come out, in part for all the same reasons, in the states looking rosy as well - this may be the most impressive accomplishment for the party, honestly, given it upset a number of the models predicting state outcomes - in fact the about 3/5ths of governors are Republican now and 2/3rds of state houses (bearing in mind that most of the legislatures are bicameral, so a number of states are split, rather than just being Republican only or Democrat only).  In the next few days these are the races I'm going to really look at to see what Republicans won, where they won, and what factions won - should be neat.

So, there it is.  What can we expect?  Well, honestly I'd say that at the state level we will see more scuffling with the Federal government and probably some of the classic post-Republican win scenarios (e.g. taxes get cut too much, debt goes up, then taxes go up again - you know, the Tax Cut Polka).  But at the Federal level, well, I'd expect things to be even more contentious - unless the moderate Republicans come to dominate the party.  If they do, well, there will be compromise and legislation will actually get passed. If they don't, well, the other thing.

I think the other thing is probably what we're going to see.

Television-news-parody shows writers, as well as talk show monologue writers, rejoice.