Tea Party Rejection or just Mixed Messages

Last Tuesday night people throughout the country went to the polls to weigh in on numerous local initiatives and representation. Giving voters their last chance to directly express their views before next year’s presidential elections, many of the contests could very well be viewed as referendums on Democrats, President Obama and those elected in the 2010 Republican resurgent wave.

At stake were many high profile pieces of legislation ranging from a ban on collective bargaining rights to a constitutional amendment defining when life begins to voters’ rights. Other contests were to determine control of a state legislature and who would occupy states’ governor seats. The outcomes would surely define many issues next year and may well require many politicians to reassess certain positions.

By now many already know the results of these elections but here’s a rundown. In Mississippi, the proposed personhood amendment, supported by anti-abortion groups, sought to define the beginning of human life at conception was defeated 58% to 42% . Ohio voters soundly rejected the Governor Kasich supported ban on public-employee collective bargaining with 61% of the vote. Voter’s there also, symbolically, denounced the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate by 65%. Maine voters reinstated same-day voter registration, a long-held measure Republicans in that state attempted to abolish.

There were also a number of state representation races decided Tuesday. Kentucky saw the re-election of the Democratic Governor Beshear while Mississippi voters placed another Republican in their governor’s office, replacing Haley Barbour with Lieutenant Governor Phil Bryant. It appears the Virginia senate races have stripped Democrats of control of that chamber resulting in a 20-20 split. And in Arizona, the architect of that state’s controversial immigration law, state senate president Russell Pearce lost his recall election, stating in his concession speech that, “if being recalled is the price for keeping one’s promises, so be it.” Pearce is the nation’s first sitting senate president and the first Arizona legislator to lose a recall election.

What does it all mean?

Was Tuesday night’s elections a rejection of Tea Party policy? Voters in 3 states, 2 solidly red states and one swing state, sent a resounding rebuke to their legislators, saying they will not support highly partisan agendas. Anti-union, anti-abortion and illegal immigration are core Tea Party issues. Those along with promises to cut government spending swept ideologically far-right politicians into power and control of many state legislatures. In pursuit of campaign promises these newly invigorated leaders sought to limit abortion practices by circumventing Roe v. Wade through such peripheral strategies as eliminating funding for health clinics that provide abortion services or in this week’s case, redefining legal definitions of life. They implemented constitutionally questionable illegal immigration laws and attempted to curtail collective bargaining rights through the demonization of unions and even public school teachers. In each state where voters had a chance to express themselves, these policies were sent asunder. The results will call into question similarly proposed laws in other states. And the Ohio vote will undoubtedly embolden recall efforts to unseat Wisconsin’s Governor Scott Walker whose state legislature colleagues are now attempting to pass a bill requiring notarized affidavits to accompany all pages of submitted recall petitions.

While the election results reflected a general discontent with far-right partisan policies, voters in Ohio also expressed their dissatisfaction with the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate. A message the President and Democrats will have to heed as they move into the 2012 campaign season. Additionally, barring any changes during the recount, Democrats will lose control the Virginia state senate. Was this a referendum on the President? Cable news is already assessing it as such.

In both the gubernatorial races, in Mississippi and Kentucky, the incumbent parties held onto power. As opposed to the 2010 elections, this reflects a lack of a “throw the bums out” mentality.

So were these elections a rejection of Tea Party and far-right Republican policies or did they just send mixed messages? Both. Voters did not give either side a free pass. They have grievances against both parties. Now, the results will be spun in a multitude of directions depending on the perspectives of the speculators but one thing is quite clear, these elections have essentially mandated policymakers from both sides to reassess their views and strategies as the 2012 general election campaigns draw ever closer. What they do between now and then will depend on how closely they listened.

7 Comments to “Tea Party Rejection or just Mixed Messages”

  1. I totally agree that both sides suffered in these elections. At the same time, I do think the media used to over exaggerate the influence of the Tea Party in national politics. And to a degree, the media still does this.

  2. I think there is a general anger aimed at both sides. I think that the results overall were positive for Dems since for a lot of right-leaning voters they have seen a multitude of legislation passed that hurts the middle class. The question is will this lead to big wins for Dems in 2012. I think it is too early to tell. Once we get a definite GOP candidate (I predict Romney but this years GOP primary has been very strange so I could be wrong), we will have a better idea of Dems chances in 2012.

    • Angela> I think you’re right about the right-leaning voters taking issue that legislation. It seems so many voted on emotion rather than on substance and now they just may be regretting it.

      And yes, it’s definitely too early to tell what this will bring for 2012. It is a momentum builder so it may depend what is done with that. I’d say the results of these elections should add something significant to the national conversation and where the focus of blame has been. Perhaps it will alter the scapegoating. **fingers crossed**

  3. I think the American people are tired of being told what they’re tired of.

    But seriously, it seems to me that the biggest mass of the electorate really does behave like a pendulum. Most Americans don’t want to be extremely anything, whether left, right or some other direction. They just want to feel like their standard of living is secure or improving, and they’ll either cast no vote or cast one for whatever seems at the moment most likely to do that. As soon as some political ideology feels too extreme or feels like it’s been tried and hasn’t delivered economic improvements, that central mass of the electorate will reach the end of its swing and head back the other way.

    That’s only about economic matters. I think that’s most of what drives the swing voters, but maybe moral issues come into it to some extent too. What do you think?

    • That’s a great observation. It got me thinking a bit… would you say that pendulum is beginning to swing back and forth faster of late? It swung way to the left back in 2006 when the Democrats took over Congress then hung there on that side through 2008 then in 2010 it swept far to the right. Now, as we enter this year’s election cycle it seems like it could swing to, at least, the center if not a bit to the left of center (if the economy continues to recover).

      I think you’re right though about this primarily being associated with economics. Social issues do matter, of course but if people are secure in their lives, financially, I don’t see social issues having as much of an influence.

      Sorry it took so long to get back to you.

      • I’m not sure if it’s swinging faster now. I haven’t been looking at enough detailed data to have any opinion there.

        I think it might be the opposite about social issues. When people feel economically secure, then social (or more narrowly, moral) issues come into play more forcefully. Kind of like Maslow’s hierarchy.

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