Bipartisanship: Independents Couldn't Care Less

Writers at The Democratic Strategist have embarked on a breakdown of the composition of the 2010 electorate, questioning the oft-repeated, little supported meme that Democrats lost big on Nov 2 for moving "too far left," against an electorate moving center-right.

Connecting two of the most recent posts on Ruy Teixeira's data crunching conclusions offers a glimpse at the reality slaughtered by what is passing elsewhere for post-election analysis.

First, Andrew Levinson on the shift of "moderates" to "conservative":

During the early, pre-9/11 era, not all of George W Bush's supporters considered themselves conservatives. Many considered themselves moderates. They would express this by saying things like "I usually vote Republican but I consider myself a political moderate and not a hard-core conservative. In 1992 I supported Bush senior, in 1996 I supported Bob Dole and In 2000 I supported George W. Bush because he seemed like a moderate too".

Since Obama's election, however, as the political debate has become deeply polarized with charges of socialism and fascism leveled against Obama, these same people can no longer accurately express their feelings about politics by calling themselves "moderate Republicans". They are now more likely to use the word conservative to describe themselves rather than moderate because the latter term does not adequately convey a clear rejection of Obama's agenda. In actual conversation this "moderate Republican now turned conservative" view is expressed in phrases like "Oh, I'm not a tea party person but I'm really a pretty conservative person in a lot of ways, you know, and I just don't support a lot of those these things Obama's doing."

Second, Ed Kilgore on "true independents":

...true independents tend to vote against the party in power when the economy is bad, regardless of the perceived ideology or partisanship of the party in power. It happened in 2006 and it happened again in 2010. Arguing, as some have done, that the answer for Democrats is to "move to the center" and find some way to work with Republicans makes sense only if such steps contribute to an improvement in the performance of the economy. If they don't, then it's not the right direction to take, particularly if you consider the costs in terms of sacrificing progressive policy goals and making the Democratic elements of the electorate unhappy precisely on the eve of the cycle when they can be expected to return to the polls.

The two takeaways here:

Despite the self applied "moderate" label, these "shifting" voters were just Republicans by another name.  At some point, they simply stopped labeling themselves "moderate."  The change from "middle" to "right" happened in poll responses, not voting habits, and within the confines of Republican voters, not the electorate at large.

Second, "true" independents don't care about bipartisanship, the process, or (surprise!) even intra-party leadership battles.  Many of them fail to even identify policy as Democratic or Republican policies.  They identify policy as effective (something changed for me) or ineffective (nothing changed for me).

Overall ideology hasn't changed much in the past few years, and it's important to understand, especially as a challenge to the idea that the midterms were a warning for Democrats to tack right in response. 

So no evidence of a shift in the electorate, and the swing-voters of 2012 will be just like the swing-voters of every election.  They don't care if the parties work together, and they certainly don't care if the Obama alienates his base in order to prove his commitment to bipartisan policy.  What they care about, as always, are the policies that brought results.

Kilgore quotes The Monkey Cage's John Sides:

Here's a counterfactual to ponder. What if Obama and the Democratic Congress had rammed through a $2 trillion stimulus, failing to garner a single GOP vote, but then the stimulus somehow reduced unemployment to 6%? Do you think independents would be offended by the lack of bipartisanship?

Nope, they'd be singing the Democrats' praises, all the way to the 2012 voting booths.

Tags: Bipartisanship, 2010 midterms, independent voters, obama (all tags)



You are absolutely correct in this matter...

Being bipartisan for bipartisanship's sake is never a good idea when effective policies are being excluded from being implemented.

I never understood the meme that independents were looking for moderation in all things political or governmental. They--like you said--are looking for effectiveness in governance. Whether or not the ideas being implemented are democratic in nature or conservative, the Independents are looking for beneficial results in their pocketbooks.

Democrats should have taken the mandate for leadership when they had the chance to so. However, now, they are laden with the results of moderation or center-right policies at a time when Americans are hungry for more effective policies . Many of these effective policies are progressive in theory and application.


by Check077 2010-11-18 03:03PM | 2 recs
RE: Bipartisanship: Independents Couldn't Care Less

It's like during the Vietnam War when the public cheered peace initiatives and also cheered bombing Hanoi. They didn't have a preference for means. They just wanted the damn war to end.

by antiHyde 2010-11-18 10:17PM | 0 recs
Evidence clear

In 1930 with a stock market crash and rising unemployment, voters punished Hoover and the Republicans by taking away 52 House seats.  Two years later things were much worse and Hoover was booted out and the Republicans lost 97 more House seats.  When the economy improved , Democrats were rearded in 1934 and 1936.  When the balanced budget experiment led to renewed depresssion, Republicans rallied from a pathetic 89 House seats and nearly doubled their numbers.

The same pattern happened in the previous large, sustained slide (5 years of unemployment over 10%) from 1893 to 1898.  In 1894, voters threw out the ruling Democrats in the House.  The losses were an astounding 125 seats in a 357 seat House.  Two years later both the uncumbent Republicans in the House and uncumbent Democrats in the White House were tossed out.  The Democrats went so far as to nominate a virtually unknown 36 year old outsider opposed to both the status quo and the White House.  The establishment Democrats ran their own slate in some states (the Gold Democrats) and even won a few.


Voting for change, any change is an established pattern in times like these.  Too bad we didn't offer the real article when we had the chance.


by David Kowalski 2010-11-18 11:04PM | 0 recs
Yes, but

A two trillion dollar stimulus that reduced unemployment to 6% would certainly have done a lot for Democratic prospects in the 2010 midterms.  But, "Obama and the Democratic Congress" was never a team working together on policy.  I do not think that there were ever enough Democratic senators willing to support a two trillion dollar stimulus.

And even if there had been, and even if unemployment had been reduced to 6%, would the "independents" have bothered to vote in a midterm election?

by James Earl 2010-11-20 03:52PM | 0 recs
RE: Yes, but

Pelosi and Obama had it in their minds that they were going to play power politics.


Everyone who disagreed went on a list to primary with a more liberal candidate.

They were not listening they were telling.

They are still not listening and it won't really be till 2014 that we have a real chance to win.


Yet somehow in their mind its someone else's fault.

by donkeykong 2010-11-20 08:34PM | 0 recs
RE: Yes, but

I am not sure I understand your post, but if you are suggesting that Obama and Pelosi could have muscled Democratic Senators into supporting a $2 trillion stimulus, I am not sure I agree.  I do believe that Obama should have rolled out a much larger stimulus and let the Blue Dogs carve off pieces for themselves, but I have my doubts about the $2 trillion.

I do not think that threatening primaries would work.  The president and the leadership have to be devoted to re-electing incumbents to hold the party together.

I totally agree that the White House is still not listening.  I read something somewhere written by an advertising person who analyzed the midterms.  The verdict was that Obama and the Democrats screwed themselves by alienating their core customers.  Duh!  I know almost nothing and I could have told them that!  The question is, why didn't they know that?  And if they did (I assume that they did), why didn't they care?

by James Earl 2010-11-20 11:37PM | 1 recs
RE: Yes, but

There was a trend prior to Bush where the family size of Republicans is larger than the family size of Democrats.  If that one fact continues to be true the political spectrum will trend right until it reaches the point that the number of Republican children becoming Democrats offsets the demographic edge.


So its important for us to realize that there is a demographic factor moving the political spectrum to the right.  


At the moment our left wing is basking in the power of dailykos and raising lots of money and is blind to how many votes and voters they really posses.  Obama being the first black president and anti Bush voting brought a lot of first time and possibly only time voters to the polls.  The left read that as a fundamental shift in their favor.


Dailykos has created a liberal only site where the left can believe that the right and center are figments of others peoples imaginations.  Unfortunately they didn't understand 2010 and won't get the message will 2012 when there aren't any mid term election excuses.  They will turn on Obama like they have turned on Bill Clinton and all the outcomes will be someone else's fault...

by donkeykong 2010-11-22 05:16AM | 0 recs
The Problem Here...

...isn't the debunking of "the oft-repeated, little supported meme that Democrats lost big on Nov 2 for moving "too far left," against an electorate moving center-right." That's easy to refute (which would be the definition of "little supported"), but the the problem is that continued data crunching doesn't get much in the way of an answer to the question Democrats face - what went wrong, and what can be done to reverse the losses in the future?

The point, I think, is that a lot of this debate over "center right" and "move to the center" is, yes, nonsense. But take away the silly labeling theories, and you still have the grim reality: Democrats lost an enormous number of House seats; the Senate will remain exceptionally polarized and gridlocked. How does the party of the President govern, and how do Democrats create a fresh appeal that will attract the lost voters... who I don't want to label, but who we will need to attract, wherever their supposed political allegiances lie.

This struggle to recover, I think, is the real problem with the data analysis; there's plenty of excuses for why Dems lost - the economy! those "moderates" are really conservative! - but little real hard work in figuring out "what now?" Absent that, what's left is a kind of dopey fatalism - we were doomed, the economy was bad, we should have passed a second stimulus... blah blah blah.

News flash: the economy will not be getting better anytime soon. There won't be another stimulus bill.  So how do Democrats craft a new message that will attract voters?

Again, this is why I harp on the decision to carry over the same losing House leadership team that was in place prior to the election; I don't "hate" Nancy Pelosi, or think she's "too liberal"... I think we've run our course, as Democrats, relying on her strategies for getting and retaining power in DC. We need fresh blood, new voices and a fresh approach. There's really no reason to expect octogenarians and septugenarians who've been in the DC establishment for 15+ years to have the kind of fresh approaches we need. And I admit... I don't know what the next, better message should be. What I do know is that sitting around, waiting for Republicans to fail and gridlock to annoy sing voters... is not a strategy. It's living on the negative hope that, as things get worse, Democrats will look attractive having changed nothing and done little. That, it seems to me, is a recipe for failure... and future disaster. I'm not some angry progressive who's giving up on my left leaning primciples... or the Democratic Party. But, as usual, I'm a lifelong Democrat who, at this late date, has heard all this griping before. Nothing really comes of it. And it's well past the time, I think, to put down the labeling machine and to start figuring out what actions need to be taken to do better next time.

by nycweboy1 2010-11-22 08:27AM | 0 recs


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