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Preview: RealClearPolitics - Articles - G. Terry Madonna and Michael Young

RealClearPolitics - Articles - G. Terry Madonna and Michael Young

Last Build Date: Sat, 08 Nov 2008 00:00:00 -0600

Copyright: Copyright 2009

The Political Hat Trick

Sat, 08 Nov 2008 00:00:00 -0600

• Elections are referenda on the past much more than they are forecasts about the future - Both candidates spent substantial time talking about the future - about future problems, future opportunities, and future solutions. But the electorate finally and firmly cared most about the past, both what to make of it and whom to reward or punish for it. The election of Obama and rejection of McCain was ultimately a thumbs down judgment on the Bush administration after eight years of GOP control. In that sense voters looked not prospectively to the future, but retrospectively to the past to make their decision. • Race has been transformed as a factor in American politics - The election of 2008 will have an effect on racial politics similar to the effect Kennedy's 1960 win had on religion. Prior to Kennedy's victory, the "wrong" religion, specifically Catholicism, was assumed to be an insuperable bar to election to the presidency. Religious bigotry didn't disappear after 1960, but it lost its electoral cogency - it no longer determined candidacies nor frightened voters. Similarly, Obama's victory in 2008 will not eradicate race as a factor in American politics, but like religion earlier race will come to be seen as less and less relevant to voting decisions. • Money still matters in American elections - Will Rodgers nailed it years ago when he quipped that politics was so expensive "that it takes a lot of money even to be defeated." John McCain proved that once again this year by raising $350 million and still losing the election. Obama in winning raised even more - an estimated $750 million. McCain may not have lost because he spent less, just as Obama may not have won because he spent more. But neither candidate could have run without the combined millions they raised - mute testimony to the continuing central role of money in American politics. • The best antidote for voter apathy may be voter anxiety - Those who worry about low voter turnout and declining rates of political participation will profitably look to this election for its historic turnout rates. Turnout reached as high as 80% of registered voters in some parts of the country. Nationally the turnout rates compare to the modern high water mark turnouts of 1960 and 1964. The difference this year was that voters cared about the outcome and saw a personal stake in it. A lot of them were also nervous - about the economy, the war, and the country itself. The take away point: voters vote when they perceive that both the election and their vote matters. Both did in this one. • The role of Gender in American politics became a little murkier - Both Democrats and Republicans now find themselves unsure how gender might play out in future politics. Gender issues and personalities were major drivers of the Clinton candidacy in the Democratic Party, yet she lost her race. For Republicans Sarah Palin played a critical role that may have helped her party avoid a popular vote rout. Yet Palin did not win her race, and her future, like Clinton's, is unclear. Nothing in 2008 implies that gender has lost its punch in our politics. Nevertheless, the election has left uncertain just how gender will play out in future elections. • Governing has a cost for the incumbent party - President Bush is hugely unpopular and was a drag on the GOP ticket. Nevertheless the Republican loss after eight years in office follows a pattern well established since the early 20th century. Only rarely does a party hold onto power for more than two consecutive terms. Since Howard Taft in 1908 the incumbent party has won three or more consecutive terms only three times - with the GOP doing it last in 1988. Governing in modern times often brings hard decisions that incur substantial political costs on the majority party. Third terms have become the equivalent of a triple play in baseball: fascinating to watch play out, but few and far between. • VP choices don't help but they can hurt - Finally, 2008 left us with a fresh example of a very old lesson in American politics - above all else pi[...]

Kitchen Table Issues Back on the Table

Tue, 08 Jul 2008 07:30:00 -0600

Good news for McCain? Maybe not! Winning only matters if what you're winning matters too. And in McCain's case, it largely doesn't. In fact as the Franklin & Marshall College Poll also reveals, despite losing on a wide range of usually salient issues, Barack Obama leads John McCain nationally by six percentage points. McCain is winning the issue battles but losing the electoral war, because the issues he is winning are not the issues most voters care about. Family values, immigration, foreign policy, country on the right track, and better off finances--count McCain a winner. But on the issues voters say are most important to their vote choice this year--the economy, Iraq, and health care--McCain is a big loser. Math, not politics, matters here. For example, McCain is winning among voters who say the country is moving in the right direction, but such voters make up a paltry 17% of all voters. Similarly, McCain is winning overwhelmingly among voters who say their own finances are better off this year than last, but that's only 15% of all voters. The results on the issues are similar: foreign policy is a big strength for McCain, but only about five percent of voters rank it most important. Illegal immigration, another strong McCain issue, similarly draws just five percent of voters. Taxes, a perennial GOP winner, is also a winner for McCain, but a scant three percent of voters say it matters most to them. In sharp contrast, the issues McCain is losing, he is losing big: the economy (20 points), Iraq (24 points), and health care (45 points). Worse for him, these three are the critical issues of the campaign--two of every three voters list one of them as the most important issue this year. And McCain is losing all three of them to Obama. In the political algebra of 2008 presidential politics, McCain is winning where it matters least while losing where it matters most. All of this is clear enough in the data. But why is it happening? The clear answer seems to be that the economy has become the dominant issue of the campaign. Not Iraq or immigration or some other issue as once seemed possible, but economic policy increasingly is defining the contours of the race. Not that it is unusual for the economy to emerge as a major issue in presidential contests. Indeed, it would be unusual for it not to be an issue. This year and this contest; however, seem different. The breadth of anguish expressed by the average voter about the troubled economy is striking. In the recent Franklin & Marshall Poll, almost half of all respondents (42%) say their personal finances are worse this year than last. Consistent with these individual economic concerns, voters' worries this year are neither abstract nor ambiguous--not angst about macro issues like inflation or even unemployment--but rather intense personal concern about how they and their families can cope on a daily basis with the economic pressures upon them. Thus emerging into the race are the "kitchen table issues," best defined as the sort of everyday concerns that confront ordinary folks on a daily basis. Traditional economic issues tend to the abstract: inflation rates, unemployment numbers, GDP growth, and the fluctuations of the stock market. But kitchen table issues comprise the concrete: bill paying, food purchases, tuition bills, vacation plans, and family heath care coverage. And it is to these kitchen table issues that the 2008 election is increasingly turning. Just how powerfully the ongoing economic turmoil has walloped family resources can be seen in some very personal information reported in the Franklin & Marshall College Poll. When asked about economic hardships in the last twelve months, one in four voters said they lacked health insurance, one in five had their pay cut, one in five couldn't afford to pay for medical treatment or afford to buy gas, and one in six couldn't afford to buy food. Overall more than half (52%) of respondents reported experiencing at least one significant financial hardship at some point during t[...]