What went wrong in the mid-term election, why, and what we can expect now.

What went wrong in the mid-term election, why, and what we can expect now.


Editor's note: This was posted as a comment and we felt it deserved to be a full article.  //  

    It's hard to know how the voters responded when all you're looking at is a room with about 150 people in it, all of whom look pretty much the same and don't look like random crowds you see anywhere else.

The Democrats underestimated the backlash, didn't understand that they needed to hold together the coalition from 2008, and suffered from the usual division between grassroots and the labor machine.

In simple terms, the turnout shifted from the last presidential election, and the Democrats, nationally and locally, had no plan and no counter to the Republican's well-funded and highly organized comeback operation.

The handwriting was on the wall a year ago when the Tea Party, an astroturf operation that developed its own legs, thrashed the Dems in town hall meetings over health care.  The deal was sealed when the persistent refrain was that the Tea Party was too extreme for Americans and would fragment the Republican party.  That was nonsense then and it should be pretty obvious now.  The Tea Party demonstrations were turning out several thousand people along the Guide Meridian.  Interpreting that as a weakness was exactly the same self-delusion as underestimating the convergence of the far-right after Clinton's election.

This was mostly a rerun of the backlash we saw in the 1993 (local) and 1994 (national) elections.  The Democrats got blindsided there also, but this time history repeated itself and they don't have the excuse that they didn't see it coming.  They saw the light of the onrushing train and declared it the end of the tunnel.

We've been sorting through the mass of political mailings and one fact is salient: most of the money was spent through state or national parties or influence groups.  Not much was controlled locally.  So this was a campaign where most of the mailings came from outside the area.

I may be blowing pickle-smoke here, but the test is simple: once the precinct returns are complete, look carefully at the demographics of the voting.  I'll wager drinks (in a quiet bar where you can get service and be heard without hurting your throat) that a review of the polling stats will show:

* The turnout shifted the geographic center of voting to the northeast of Bellingham.  This is typical of older turnouts and also of elections where infrequent voters turn out.  I'll bet the turnout in places like Kendall and Ferndale was up and places like the area around the center of Bellingham was down.

* The turnout was depressed among young voters and increased among older voters.

* The turnout among 1 of 4 voters (occasional voters who turn out for 1 of 4 elections) was up or equal to 2008, and turnout among 4/4 and 3/4 voters (frequent voters) was down.

This is information that rarely gets made public unless public interest groups report it. The information is being avidly gathered privately, as you may have noted the very high level of "polling" calls asking: a) how are you going to vote? and, b) how did you vote?  These private polls are expensive and not something you are going to read about in the papers.  They are going to be used in future elections to influence and manipulate the vote.

Given the deflationary nature of the current recession, the conservative prescription of budget and tax cutting will do about as much good as reviving the Smoot-Hawley Tariffs (protectionism for American industry that killed trade,) though that probably will look attractive to Glen Beck's fan club.  We can count on the stalemate in Congress to get worse and federal intervention to reboot the economy not happening. So we can look forward to dysfunctional economic policy for another couple of years, with probably another backlash election in 2012.

We'll see how it goes in next year's local elections, but I'm predicting more of the same, not less.

About Paul deArmond

Closed Account • Member since May 29, 2009

Paul de Armond was a writer, reporter and research analyst. He is the recipient of the Whatcom Human Rights Task Force 2001 Human Rights Award. In the 1990s, he and Jay [...]

Comments by Readers

Ryan M. Ferris

Nov 05, 2010

Total turnout will be at least 87,000 and they are still receiving ballots. Some factors that have devastated working and middle class participation this year:

high rates of bankruptcies
high rates of foreclosues
spiritual depression from economic loss

Let’s face it. We have all been walking around in economic shock.  A therapist told me to too stop worrying about politics, that I would be happier if I just quit participating.  I managed to comply for about a year and I was happier. And then the city cut seven library workers and I lapsed…

Seriously, the amount of economic and spiritual damage that has
been done to our working and middle classes has been searing anThis downturn continues to waterboard almost all of us. How do stolid members of the middle class psychologically survive losing their home without losing their desire to participate? Economic shock is a tried and true strategy for effective political change, just ask Naomi Klein.

Katrina vanden Heuvel has an opinion piece in WSJ that says quite a bit(1).  If the Democrats want to become the party of the people again, they are going to have to re-mobilize their base. They are going to have to be unafraid to represent the needs of the working and middle classes versus the needs of the capitalist class. Otherwise, the capitalist class is going to clean their clock. And the working classes will be mobilized by someone else less afraid of ‘Tea Partiers’. Perhaps we need to ask ourselves, what would Che do?

(1) http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703506904575592900976030696.html


David MacLeod

Nov 08, 2010

Excellent analysis, Paul! Especially the last two paragraphs.

My take:
The Tea Party folks are mad as hell, and they’re not going to take it anymore - and for good reason. How the Bush administration responded to the housing and credit crisis played a role in turning the tide toward the Democrats and helped Obama get elected in 2008. Obama’s response with regulatory reform and economic stimulus have been at least as unpopular - to both sides of the aisle for different reasons.

In the movie “Network” when the people were mad as hell, the top executive of the TV network tried to enlist Howard Beale to   manipulate the TV audience into redirecting that anger in ways that served the goals of corporate business, and to adopt the view that “the world is a college of corporations, inexorably determined by the immutable bylaws of business.” Sound familiar?

4 billion dollars were spent on this election. The Right is very well organized and spent a lot of money on persuasion, and have distributed their finely honed message through their vast networks. By hiring and effectively using services such as those offered by Qualitative Research Consultants, they have effectively redirected the legitimate anger of citizens to be in service to corporate interests, with the emphasis on private property rights, free enterprise, and capitalism as the answer to today’s problems.

We do have some very real problems, and they’re not going away. There are two huge problems that I don’t think our current politicians (from either the right or the left) are capable of solving. As a result, I don’t expect to see another president to serve two terms again in my lifetime. I expect to see a lot of bouncing back and forth between Democrats and Republicans unless by some miracle we can find ourselves another Abraham Lincoln.

I should say we have two huge predicaments rather than problems. Problems have solutions; predicaments are just situations you have to deal with.

Predicament #1: The financial crisis, public and private debt, and what Kevin Phillips calls the deeper problem - “the ascendancy of finance in national policymaking (as well as in the gross domestic product), and the complicity of politicians who really don’t want to talk about it.” 

Predicament #2   The peaking of world oil production and the ties between the American dollar and oil.

The two predicaments are directly related. Bubble economics are made possible ultimately by leveraging real assets…or at least phantom assets. When it is realized that assets are in decline, the bubble must at some point burst. After U.S. domestic oil production peaked in 1971, we had a period of stagflation before figuring out how to deal with those who had the oil, and how to leverage those assets. 

Eventually we came to the point where debt became one of the nation’s largest and fastest growing businesses and the financial services sector became the largest single sector of the U.S. economy.

True wealth, however, depends ultimately on natural resources. The natural resource that has become the lifeblood of our civilization is oil.  The world has been in an oil production plateau since 2005, and many believe production will very soon go into decline. We then have a choice between paying ever higher prices, or drastically restricting its use. Either way, we are not prepared for this new reality. As the economy recovers, more oil is demanded. New demand increases price; high prices lead to economic downturn; the cycle continues…

To complicate matters, in 1974, the U.S. dollar became tied to oil - OPEC agreed to sell oil in dollars, and much of that money was recycled back to the U.S. invested in treasury debt. One example of what’s been going on more recently: In 2004, OPEC reduced their foreign currency reserves in U.S. dollars from 75% down to 61%, and then let the price of oil climb. Our actual costs for imported oil skyrocketed, and the value of the dollar against other currencies fell.

As the oil crisis worsens, the above may turn out to be the least of our concerns. It’s understandable why politicians don’t want to actually deal with these predicaments proactively, but by delaying action a lot more people are being put in harms way. The current financial predicament will serve either to mask the reality of peak oil, or will speed up the associated consequences.


David Onkels

Nov 16, 2010

I’m trying to figure out what all the hand-wringing is about here.

Patty Murray and Rick Larsen both won. In those races, Tea Party influence was pretty ineffective, don’t you think?
Precinct returns show that both lost in the county (basically, the 42nd legislative district) and won in Bellingham (the 40th LD.)

In the 42nd District, Republican candidates won, apparently including Vince Buys. Mr. de Armond claims that the turnout moved to the northeast of Bellingham, and that may be true, but Vince got killed out there. That shift doesn’t explain the results.

In the 40th, Republicans got crushed. the 40th includes Bellingham, which might as well be California.

So: I don’t think the local election was at all reflective of national trends, or of the effect of the Tea Party

Locally, the big outlying result was Tony Larson over Jean Melious.  I confess that I was surprised by the size of the win, but, if you’ve spent any time in the county, as opposed to in Bellingham, you wouldn’t be surprised that he won.

I’m sorry I missed you in Lynden.

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