Last week was a difficult time for the Democratic Party, which suffered heavy losses in the midterm elections. The Democrats surrendered more seats in the already GOP-held House and ceded control of the Senate to the Republicans. Most notably, Republicans won elections for governors’ offices in a number of states that are typically Democratic-leaning, such as Illinois, Massachusetts and Maryland. Undoubtedly, the Democrats need to come up with a strategy for reclaiming their losses and confronting core issues within the party as the 2016 election draws closer and closer.
So why exactly were the Democrats utterly defeated, and what does that mean for the next round of elections?
For one, the problems that most likely plagued the Democrats were structural. Voter turnout seems to have been a critical issue that hurt the Democratic Party. Midterm elections typically generate a lower turnout, and this year, as well as 2010, was no different. Some of those groups that had helped President Obama — and the class of senators up for reelection this cycle — win in 2008 and again in 2012 turned out in significantly smaller numbers than those who had supported Republicans in the presidential elections. Although younger and middle-aged individuals comprised 46 percent of the electorate and voted for Obama by 60 to 37 percent and 52 to 45 percent, respectively, in 2012, they made up only 32 percent of the electorate in the recent midterm elections. On the other hand, Republican voters aged 45 to 64 and 65 and older made up a whopping 67 percent on Tuesday, though they comprised 54 percent of the electorate in 2012.
It is likely that if the turnout had been similar to that in 2012 or 2008, the Democrats would have done much better. Although in the recent midterm elections the Democrats still preserved their edge among younger voters and ethnic minority groups, those groups simply did not vote in the numbers needed.
It appears that both Republicans and Democrats are disillusioned with President Obama and his policies. Public disapproval of his presidency seems to have rubbed off on some Democrats, who are increasingly frustrated with his inability to facilitate bipartisan collaboration or dispel the polarizing environment in Congress. Additionally, Obama has lost much of his base because he has overpromised and underperformed in issues such as immigration reform and economic opportunities. Overall, although minority groups still strongly prefer Democratic candidates to Republican ones, such disillusionment has factored into an enthusiasm gap between the parties this year, prompting fewer Democrats to vote and more Republicans to go to the polls.
What President Obama should have done in these past elections is, quite simply, be there. He has demonstrated his political acumen and skills in presidential elections but has remained detached in midterm elections, insisting that his policies speak for themselves. However, in doing so, he allows Republicans and other disgruntled individuals to blame him for the swath of issues that are facing our country.
One of the overarching takeaways from this election, is that Democrats have to do better in converting those who have typically flocked to the Republican side: older voters and white, working-class voters. These constituents not only comprise the majority of Republican constituents and voters, but also are perhaps the one slice that is keeping the Republican Party going and triumphant in elections such as last week’s.
Although the Republicans did triumph in just about every battleground race, their victory in 2016 is absolutely not guaranteed. In fact, they could face a steeper climb than usual in two years. Given their track record with and stance on critical women’s issues, such as abortion and contraception, it is no surprise that Republicans are still not earning much of the female vote, despite many of their attempts to modernize their image on such issues. In fact, exit polls demonstrated that Republicans actually got a smaller percentage of the female vote than they did in the 2010 midterms.
As such, the white male vote is central to the Republican Party’s electoral success. Be that as it may, the white male vote itself will likely not enable the Republicans to win a national election. The country is demographically becoming rapidly less white; the Pew Research Center has revealed that in the next three decades, the U.S. in on track to become a majority-minority population, and as voter data shows, ethnic groups tend to vote for Democrats. Thus, in order to recoup its losses from these midterm elections, it is critical that the Democratic Party continues to retain the vote of young and ethnic minority groups, in addition to working on converting white, male, working-class individuals to undermine the Republican Party’s influence and control.
Contact Veronica Anorve at vanorve ‘at’ stanford.edu.
Since the elections of 2006, when Democrats captured both the House and the Senate, the Republican Party has consistently found itself backed into a corner by Harry Reid and other Democratic leaders in D.C., forced to choose to either give in and give up on their principles or become the scapegoats for the problems of business-as-usual politics and Congressional gridlock. But no more.
Thanks to last Tuesday’s elections, the Grand Old Party has regained both the Senate and the ability to actually put important pieces of legislation on the President’s desk for consideration. With Mitch McConnell (presumably) taking the title of Majority Leader from Reid, and with Alaska and Louisiana likely to give Republicans a total of 54 seats, passing key bills through both chambers of Congress will now become comparatively simple and easy for the GOP.
But with that great power must come a great amount of responsibility. Part of that is a purely ethical responsibility — which, honestly, the Republican Party seemed to lack in the twilight days of the last period of Republican majority. In moving forward, we on the right must work to keep officials from becoming the next generation of Abramoffs and DeLays.
More immediately, though, the newly minted GOP majority needs to make sure that this elections marks the end of an error in Washington: the error of Democrats running the show, and the nation, into the ground. Now that we have the power to do so, we should become a proactive force in the Capitol instead of a reactive one; we will serve the people of this country better if we stop solely parrying the thrusts of Obama’s agenda and focus on replying to them instead.
First things first, that means gritting our teeth and bearing with Obamacare for the next two years. Symbolically “repealing” or “defunding” Obamacare in the House worked (debatably) as a strategy when the Republican Party essentially could do nothing else of substance in Washington, but wasting any more time on the issue before Jan. 20, 2017 would be asinine. Boehner and McConnell will only be able to muster up a veto-proof coalition on the issue when we send a flying pig to fetch a snowball from Hell, and we would need that same pig to get Obama to approve anything that would gut his namesake law. The people that Congress represents do not want another two years of political games of chicken.
Beyond that, the Republican Party needs to develop a concrete plan of action. Though this isn’t the 1994 Republican Revolution redux by any stretch of the imagination, the GOP needs to have a list of objectives to work from if we hope to use these next two years to lay the groundwork for the 2016 elections to give the Republicans control at both nodes of Pennsylvania Avenue. Something akin to the Contract With America, touted by Newt Gingrich back when most current students were in diapers, could certainly fit the bill. Taken from President Reagan’s 1985 State of the Union and ideas from the Heritage Foundation, the Contract focused on issues related to economics and government reform that not only made sense as a way to de-bloat the federal government, but that could find the support of about 60 percent of the country. That, by necessity, meant avoiding major promises on social issues.
We, as a country, need that same élan to grip the GOP again. The legislative focus of these next few years should stay on the important fiscal and government issues that face us now as well as on building support for reforms on those issues amongst more than just the party base. Especially now that support for both same-sex marriage and decriminalized marijuana have become the majority opinion across the U.S., focusing on pleasing the base with those issues would not bode well in general — and much less with the Democrats still in control of the bully pulpit of the White House. We must know our limits.
But perhaps most importantly, now that we can be the party of “yes,” we should work to avoid rebranding the Democrats as the new party of “no.” Last Tuesday showed just how much that strategy doesn’t pan out in the long term; if it had, the message that the Republicans have no ideas of their own would still hold sway, and the Democrats would still have control of at least one of the houses of Congress. The combination of that strategy’s failure and the relatively slim majority Republicans now enjoy make it so that keeping at least the few remaining moderate Blue Dog Democrats in the loop essential for the next two years. Of course, GOP legislators shouldn’t bend over backwards in trying to make concessions to the left, but they can now afford to bend a bit more than before without breaking.
For the next two years, the Republican Party has an amazing chance to make government work again. Let’s not bungle it.
Contact Johnathan Bowes at jbowes ‘at’ stanford.edu