The majority of news media and political pundits have described the midterm election on November 2, 2010 as a large mandate for the Republican Party and as a big loss for the Democrats and Obama. Even the New York Times declared that there was an across “the country shift to the right.” They could not be farther from the truth. Yes, the Republicans did gain a lot of seats. But the victory does not represent a tsunamic reversal of political support for Obama’s policies.
The newsmedia has fallen over itself claiming that the Republicans and the Tea Party Movment won big. But no one discussed what that November 2 vote meant in the context of turnout. Even the New York Times declared
It’s true that they lost control of the House and seats in the Senate. They also lost support from women, young people, white men, seniors, and in the Southern states. But they lost all of that support from THE PEOPLE THAT VOTED. Although, voting turnout was higher in this election than it was in 2006, a 1.1 percent bump upwards, the overall turnout was still only 41.5 percent of all eligible voters. How, in this context, is the slight overall voting majority for Republicans a mandate? At most the Republicans and Tea Party vote on November 2 represented about 30 percent of the population. This is hardly a majority indictment of Obama’s policies. Turnout was higher in places where Tea Party and Republican candidates made gains. But not by much. And where turnout was the highest, Democrats were more successful. For instance, Democrats had plenty of victories in California (Pelosi and Boxer), Nevada (Reid), and Connecticut (Blumenthal). The voter turnout in each of those states were above average at 45.1%, 43.2%, and 46% respectively. Oregon with the highes voter turnout at 56.9% re-elected Democratic Senator Ron Wyden, elected Democrat John Kitzhaber as Governor, as well as the four Democratic members of the House from that state. And Alaska, a state with one of the highest turnouts, at 53.2%, and the home of Tea Party leader Sarah Palin, elected Lisa Murkowski, a Republican running as a write-in candidate for the Senate who was able to defeat the Tea Party and Palin endorsed candidate, Joe Miller.
All in all, the tendency has been to make too much of this election. It does not represent a sea change in the public’s sentiments about Obama and his policies. Yes, Republicans and Tea Party candidates did win a lot of seats. But these voters do not represent a majority of the public. Where voters were energized enough to turn out to vote, Democrats took most of the seats. Clearly, a minority of the population, a very passionate minority, elected Republicans and Tea Party candidates into office on Nov. 2. It is a big mistake for President Obama, the media, the Republicans, and for the general public to believe that the health care reform, consumer finance reform, and economic stimulus policies have little public support. The voter turnout analysis proves this is a lie and public opinion polls show that support for these policies remains solid. Just take a look at the chart below.