November 4 2010

Swinging Independents

Charlotte Hays

William Galston of the Brookings Institution is one of those liberals conservatives love-not because he's a squish. He's not. Galston is a dyed in the wool liberal. But he doesn't let his views get in the way of analysis. Therefore, I was particularly interested in Galston's take on the stunning results of the midterm elections.

First, Galston examines the role of independent voters (who, as was indicated by the Independent Voice's poll on independent voters, would play a big part and would lean towards the GOP):

We get more significant results when we examine the choices Independents made. Although their share of the electorate was virtually unchanged from 2006, their behavior was very different. In 2006, Democrats received 57 percent of the Independent vote, versus only 39 percent for Republicans. In 2010 this margin was reversed: 55 percent Republican, 39 percent Democratic. If Independents had split their vote between the parties this year the way they did in 2006, the Republicans share would have been 4.7 percent lower-a huge difference.

But why did they change? Here we reach the nub of the matter: The ideological composition of the electorate shifted dramatically. In 2006, those who voted were 32 percent conservative, 47 percent moderate, and 20 percent liberal. In 2010, by contrast, conservatives had risen to 41 percent of the total and moderates declined to 39 percent, while liberals remained constant at 20 percent. And because, in today's polarized politics, liberals vote almost exclusively for Democrats and conservatives for Republicans, the ideological shift matters a lot.

Examining polls, Galston concludes that the midterms were a mere harbinger of what could come to pass:

If the 2010 electorate had perfectly reflected the voting-age population, it would actually have been a bit more conservative and less moderate than was the population that showed up at the polls. Unless the long-term decline of moderates and rise of conservatives is reversed during the next two years, the ideological balance of the electorate in 2012 could look a lot like it did this year.

This is not what we expected two years ago when President Obama took office amid much rejoicing. Matthew Continetti notes:

Two years ago, everyone expected that the financial crisis and Great Recession would make Americans more liberal, i.e., more receptive to big government. The opposite seems to have occurred. Does President Obama have what it takes to govern a country significantly to the right of his political preferences? Does he even want to govern such a country?

If Wednesday's press conference was any tip off, the president will simply remain in denial, hoping that we "frustrated" voters will eventually see the light or at least become accustomed to having more government in our lives. It is going to be an interesting two years.

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