Friday, November 5, 2010

The Unseen Election

So I have Internet after all today. Cool. Let's go with that.

Okay, so the Republicans pretty clearly won the night. There is split control of Congress, but Republicans had a good night all the way down into state and local.


Yes. There is a 'but' to the whole thing. Look deeper. Really very deeper. Into the murky depths of the ballot. Specifically, have a look at the ballot questions. The referendums. More specifically, have a look at the referendums that did not get primetime play on the news.

There, you'll find something a little counterintuitive: the liberal sides of the ballot questions start winning more often. The GOP wave peters out to a degree. It goes deep, very very deep, but as deep as it goes, it's still a top-down thing. It doesn't quite reach the roots.

In Dane County and the city of River Falls, both in Wisconsin, a ballot question was put forward to express nonbinding support for medical marijuana. Dane County contains famously liberal Madison, but River Falls is in a much redder area. Now, you would think that if a highly-publicized campaign on legalizing marijuana in generally-more-liberal California failed, and if Republicans ran more or less roughshod over the Democrats elsewhere in Wisconsin, you would think this unnoticed, unremarked-upon-by-anyone ballot question on medical marijuana would fail as well.

But it didn't. It passed in both Dane County and River Falls. In fact, it outperformed the actual candidates in Dane County.

Spending bills that caught the eye of the media went down to defeat nationwide, as voters balked at, really, spending any money on anything.

But then here's Alaska- Sarah Palin's Alaska- approving $397.2 million in spending bonds for things such as schools, libraries, fish and game research, and even $80 million for a sports arena in Anchorage. That shouldn't have happened, should it? And would you peg Ohio voters as approving $1 billion in bonds of their own? And would you peg voters in Idaho as approving three different bond measures of their own, allowing for borrowing by cities, airports and hospitals? Without being subject to a vote, in fact?

The aforementioned California, through Proposition 19, decided against legalizing marijuana. But further down, in less-publicized Proposition 23 (okay, still publicized, but less so than 19, which is the point here), they also decided against suspending action on cutting greenhouse gas emissions until unemployment dips below 5.5%.

Oklahoma voters, as you might have heard, banned Sharia law. Kansas, meanwhile, you might not have heard, banned mental illness as a disqualification for voting.

A smoking ban was extended in South Dakota, 64-36.

Jan Brewer and the rest of the Republican Party dominated in Arizona, but they couldn't get an early-childhood education program killed.

Colorado killed a proposal to apply the term 'person' starting at the date of conception. They also killed three different proposed tax cuts.

Florida decided against increasing class sizes. ...well, really, they voted 55-45 in favor, but the measure needed 60% to pass, and it didn't get that.

And you'll note that I haven't even mentioned anything New England did.

So what gives? Why didn't these ballot questions, which being lower-profile would seem quite susceptible to succumbing to a conservative wave election such as this, not succumb? Why did they still break for the liberals in spite of everything?

My theory is this.

The current conservatively-advantaged enironment, as is widely figured, is built on rage. Voter outrage. That is the fuel, that is the life of the movement. And when that rage is focused on something, whatever stands in its way has a tendency to wither in response. But the rage can only be taken so far. There's only so much room on the front page of a newspaper; only so many primetime coverage that can be given out; only so much attention that can be paid to things before it all becomes a blur too difficult to make out.

Anyone out there with one of those deluxe sports packages, in order to see this for yourself, go to the channel that displays all the games on the screen at once. See how well you can follow eight, nine NFL early games at once. I'd wager you can follow one or two, three at the most. Any more than that and you will start going 'ooh, what's going on over there, hey, that guy's in the red zone WAIT WHY DO THE TITANS HAVE THE BALL NOW? SHOW THE REPLAY SO I CAN SEE HOW THE TITANS GOT THE-- hang on, the Chargers just scored--- THE CHARGERS JUST SCORED? GAH, THERE GO MY NUMBERS IN THE POOL! SOMEBODY GO TO COMMERCIAL!'

You can only be outraged about so much. Sooner or later, something is going to slip in under the radar. People like to complain about legislators not reading the bills. This is the voter equivalent. There's way too many bills for a legislator to be able to read without the help of a staff, and same goes for races on a ballot. And voters don't have a staff to help them. The rage subsides because the rage cannot focus on everything. And issues don't have a D or R by their name to tell you who's supporting what.

And when the rage subsides, when the attention goes away, when a race goes unremarked-upon by anyone... the true, subconscious feeling of the voters reverts to a somewhat more liberal norm. That's my theory, anyway.

And it's a difficult spot to be in, a catch-22. You want to campaign for your issues, but if you campaign for them, conservative outrage takes over, and even if you win your issues, you personally don't get to benefit from the win because you didn't campaign on it and you might have lost your own race due to your base not having anything to support you over.

So, absent the obvious- a taking-back of the topline narrative- what do you do about it?

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