George Sarant

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The recent election could have gone either way, based upon shifting polls and momentum. It was probably not the watershed election many now claim it is, nor was it primarily a reflection of demographic trends. It was, rather, simply a case of who actually showed up to vote. How could the predictions of so many conservative-leaning analysts have, for the first time really, been so wrong? There was an assumption that groups voting for Obama would not turn out in the same numbers as they did the last time, which didn’t happen. Furthermore, prior to this election it was almost always the case that many polls chronically undercounted those who wound up voting Republican. This time that didn’t happen, as millions of likely Republican voters did not turn out, and Romney actually wound up winning fewer votes than McCain did last time. For months it seemed as though they were the more energized voters, with more motivation to go out and vote, but in the end that was not the case. Why not? 

These days it is generally understood that, in simple terms, the Democrats overall are the “party of government,” while the Republicans are the opposite. Democrats are far more likely to oppose cuts in public spending and instead advocate increases. It follow that people who are dependent on government, either because it supports them, or they directly or indirectly work for it, are more likely to support Democrats. But it goes deeper than that. They are also more likely to be interested in government and politics as a result.  The Obama campaign “micro-targeted” these voters and successfully aroused the fear that Romney was a threat to them, thus leading to a greater propensity to vote. On the other side, people who get nothing from the state are more likely to be less interested or enthused about the political process. They don’t care as much, which means it takes a lot more effort to persuade them about how it directly affects them, i.e.  in terms of costs, unless there are other issues salient enough to capture their attention.

What is occurring here may well signal the beginning of a new paradigm vis a vis political behavior. It replicates what we have seen for many years in local school board or other district elections. Public employee unions are well-organized and highly motivated to get people to vote their way, which often happens, because turnout is generally sparse in such elections. Even though this often results in tax increases, they have to become especially onerous before people are motivated enough to negatively respond. (This is not intended to be a rap on everyone who works for the government, often in necessary fields, but rather what the unions do with their money). At the national level it may be too simple to view this in terms of“makers and takers,”  but clearly the more people are brought into the government orbit, the more likely they are to vote for more government, and, it now appears, they are also more likely to vote, period. 

 This doesn’t necessarily mean we’ve reached the tipping point in terms of dependency yet, but it does indicate, for the present, that the Republicans have a lot of work to do in terms of organization and bringing out the vote. 


Written by georgesarant

November 10, 2012 at 11:32 PM


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After the expenditure of billions of dollars, endless months of continuous campaigning, and the efforts of so many people, the end result of this election is that things are pretty much where they were before the election. Not much changed. The Democrats continue to occupy the White House and Senate, while the Republicans control the House of Representatives and most of the Governors and legislatures across the country. One thing everyone can agree on is that there has to be a better way, not just in terms of the way we conduct elections, but the voting system, where people needlessly have to stand on line for nearly three hours in cold weather, as we did here. The answer for the election situation is to mandate time-limited campaigns and allow elected public officials the preponderant say in terms of who their party nominates, as I’ve stated many times here.

As far as voting goes, this is a state and local matter, and as with many things, we should see what works best experimentally in different places before changing things wholesale. In this connection, I was happy to see that Colorado and Washington legalized marijuana, and hopefully the feds will not interfere. This gives us an opportunity to see how this works when implemented, what the consequences and results are, and whether it is a viable policy. In my view the “war on drugs” has been a disaster, costing billions of dollars, showing little progress or making things worse, and needlessly incarcerating massive numbers of people for nonviolent offenses. We now have an opportunity to observe what will happen in a controlled experiment and take things from there. There are fifty states and thousands of local governments, any of which can be a laboratory for policy experimentation. The worst thing we can do is adopt policies at the federal level, as often happens, without a clue as to what the consequences will be. In addition, the best decisions are those made closest to home.

Overall this election produced stasis, and possibly continuing gridlock, which sometimes is not a bad thing when it stands of the way of more and more federal control, but not a good thing when serious problems are left unaddressed, especially our precarious finances, which are the result of years and years of borrowing and spending more money than we take in. It is useless to blame one side or the other. What needs to be achieved here is a consensus, which inherently means compromise. Here the onus is on the President to provide leadership, not to insist on having his way, but rather to get involved in the political give and take and nudge things towards a solution. That requires approaching things with a sense of humility, particularly insofar as the election results were far closer than the last time, meaning many more people were dissatisfied with his leadership or policies, like the still unpopular unwieldy health care overhaul, which could and should have been approached incrementally and experimentally as described above.

However, the notion that we are a nation closely divided is far less salient than it seems to be on the surface. This was a very fluid election that could have gone either way. Some will try and assign blame to one thing or another, which usually means hammering something they don’t like and didn’t like before, attributing the loss to that. But it just isn’t that simple, just like the endless shallow “analysis” that incessantly points to the Republicans’ supposed “demographic” problem. I truly loathe the division of the population into identity or interest groups. It is poisonous, but more importantly it is simplistic. The fallacy is that people assigned to these discrete groups vote primarily based upon an identification with that group, when in reality, for most of the population this is not a serious consideration in how they make a political decision. None of this rationalizing would be happening if the presidential election had gone the other way, which could have easily occurred.

Prior to the east coast storm it probably would have gone the other way. At that point Romney had the momentum going into the final days until the storm came and dominated the headlines for several days, after which, for whatever reason, the trajectory of things was reversed. There are always unanticipated events, and clearly if the election had been held on a different day, or during a different week the results would not have been the same. For if the polls were fairly accurate on election day they presumably were accurate on other days predicting different results. That being the case, and given the closeness of the election, there is no room for triumphalism or recrimination, since neither side was able to sway the population decisively.

Then there are intangibles. Ironically, Romney  was actually still favored on the economy and most other issues. He lost on empathy, or the perception of it. There were also some instances of self-inflicted wounds, where Republicans managed to blow the Senate due to incredibly inept candidates, (although the Democrats were able to elect a truly nutty candidate, Elizabeth Warren in Massachusetts, despite having gone through life with a farcical American Indian heritage). Nor does the blame fall on the tea party, which has been almost entirely about financial problems, not the social issues that led to goofy gaffes by these candidates. In short there is no blame to assign anywhere, outside of unanticipated circumstances, and recriminations are pointless.

Written by georgesarant

November 7, 2012 at 6:07 PM

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There is an increasing possibility that Romney may win the popular vote and lose in the electoral college. This is likely to result in calls to abolish the electoral college, as there were after the 2000 election. There are a number of reasons why this would not be a good idea. Given past history and current potential voting patterns the electoral college does not give an advantage to either party. If the election was to be decided by the popular vote, and if that vote was very close, as has happened frequently, it would be far more perilous to recount votes nationally than in a single contentious state. In addition, any attempt to change the electoral college wholesale will fail for the simple reason that smaller states would lose out and get even less attention than they are getting now. Since smaller states outnumber larger states there is no way such a change could get through congress, where a 2/3 majority is required, never mind the states, where a 3/4 majority is mandated, to pass a constitutional amendment. Since an amendment is required to make such a change there is simply no way it would ever pass. In any event, there are always unintended consequences when something is changed at the federal level before it has been tried in the states, which is why the federal government should be doing far less than it does and allow the states to experiment more.

However, incremental changes are possible. According to the constitution “Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors, equal to the whole Number of Senators and Representatives to which the State may be entitled in the Congress….” This means that the state legislature could select the electors in any number of different ways. Nothing binds us to the “winner take all” system that prevails in most states; it is simply convention. 

One suggestion out of California is that state electors be mandated to vote for the winner of the national popular vote. This is ridiculous because it effectively disenfranchises not only the voting minority, but the majority as well, so no one’s vote counts. For example, it is quite possible for one candidate to win the popular vote in that state, but lose the national popular vote, which would then require the electors to vote for a candidate that they, and the majority of the state’s voters, opposed. 

Nevertheless, nothing stops a state from allocating its electoral votes the way they see fit. In a large state those voting for the losing candidate are technically disenfranchised because the winner gets all the state’s electoral votes. But this could easily be changed. For example, there is nothing to stop a state from allocating its votes by congressional districts, giving the electoral vote to the winner in each district. In that case instead of one candidate getting all the state’s electoral votes, they would be apportioned based on who carried each district. This system is actually being used now in Maine and Nebraska. There is nothing to stop other states from doing the same, or for creating electoral districts on some other basis. As indicated in the constitution, the states have a fixed number of electoral votes which their legislatures can apportion in any number of different ways. 

Thus changing the electoral college begins at the state level, as it should. Realistically however, politicians are more likely to consider changes less on the merits than whether or not they get any political advantage from it. Any change is going to produce winners and losers, so the only way that significant changes can be implemented is through consensus, which is as it should be. 


Written by georgesarant

November 3, 2012 at 5:43 PM

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