Sunday, November 07, 2010

Nothing New Under The Sun

A goodly numbers of the articles posted at Watching America concerned the American midterm election and the impact it would have on President Obama, the US, and the world. Many of them bought into the hype that it was a stunning defeat for the president and his party and a huge, unprecedented victory for the Republicans and their newest splinter group, the Tea Party. Many, but not all.

This column by Robert Gardner in Canada's National Post argues that the election results are neither astounding nor even all that unusual. In fact, he finds the results to be a reflection of the stability of the US two-party political system and cites some numbers to back his thesis up.

While the rate at which incumbents were re-elected was relatively low, it was still, in absolute terms, astonishingly high: 85.6%. And it was only a little lower than the mid-terms of 1994 and 1982: in both those years, the rate of re-election was 90%.

And notice what hasn’t been mentioned so far: the Senate. Incumbents were re-elected in 84.4% of Senate races, which is actually a little higher than the rate of return for incumbents in the last midterm in 2006.

What’s remarkable about these results, and the results of every congressional election in modern American history, isn’t how much changes. It’s how much doesn’t.

Mr. Gardner also comments on one of the shabbiest numbers from the election: voter turnout. While he doesn't overtly link voter apathy to the unsurprising results, he at least implies a link.

Of course, turnout is always lower in mid-terms. But as we were told for months, this week’s election was fuelled by unprecedented anger and excitement. And so turnout soared all the way from 37.1% in 2006 to … 42%.

If the Apathetics were a political party, they would have swept the Democrats and Republicans from Congress. And pundits would have had something worth shouting about.

That less than half of those eligible to vote turned out on election day is shameful, even if not surprising. I think, however, the reason is more than simple apathy. As angry or excited as one fractional segment of the country was, most Americans doubted that anything they could do or say would make a difference. They and the opinions they hold don't matter to the powers running this country. And, to be honest, they have a point. While many of them lost their jobs and their homes in the ruinous economy, those actively involved in ruining that economy got bailed out and handsomely rewarded.

During his campaign in 2008, Barack Obama went to great lengths to convince people that what they thought and what they wanted did matter. He promised them change, especially in the way government operated. As president, those promises rang hollow and the electorate's cynicism deepened. So they didn't turn out this election, especially for the Democrats and their leader.

So, another one is in the books, fully analyzed and closely parsed. Nothing new here, nothing to see.

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