« November 2, 2014 - November 8, 2014 | Main | November 16, 2014 - November 22, 2014 »

November 13, 2014

the quiet efficacies of voting restrictions

Good gosh this is depressing.  I wanted one last quick hit on the 2014 elections, one concerning the effect of restrictive voting laws on the outcome.  Naturally, this would be a topic that would need a little more than may say-so, so I did a little searching around for some authoritative links.

And, no, not a whole lot out there.

Now, you'd maybe think that the fact of that indicates that the restrictive voting laws in states like North Carolina and Kansas and Florida had no effect, seeing as how no one is talking about it.  But actually that is so totally not the case, as not even twenty-four hours after the election, Wendy R. Weiser of the Brennan Center For Justice crunched the numbers and came up with this:

The Republican electoral sweep in yesterday's elections has put an end to speculation over whether new laws making it harder to vote in 21 states would help determine control of the Senate this year. But while we can breathe a sigh of relief that the electoral outcomes won't be mired in litigation, a quick look at the numbers shows that in several key races, the margin of victory came very close to the likely margin of disenfranchisement.

The races in question?  The North Carolina senate race, and the governorships of Florida and, wait for it, Kansas.  And instead of these stories being reported out, what we've been reading for the past ten days are stories of the "mandate" demonstrated by the election — which is ludicrous on the face of it as it was an election in which only 36.3% of registered voters bothered to show up.  (And FWIW I didn't see 2006 as any sort of "mandate" as I don't really believe the concept applies until you get to a margin of victory approaching unanimity.)

Maybe as the results are solidified and the data rolls in, more attention will be paid.  But until then, let me commend the efforts of the Brennan Center, as they truly are doing God's work when it comes to keeping elections free and fair.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:39 AM

November 10, 2014

the toxicity effect

Now let's talk about how the results of the election a week ago are the fault of our sitting president, Barack Obama, whose unpopularity is so-famed that rarely a day passes that you are not reminded of this somewhere in the A section of your local paper.  Let's look at the numbers!

So Obama's approval rating right now is 42%.  That's pretty bad!  Not sure if I would want to be photographed next to a man that only four of ten voters approve of!  But wait.  President George W. Bush's approval rating the month after his final midterms, November 2006, was 35% percent.  For the record, that is lower than 35%.  And for the record, the approval rating of Congress is currently 14%.

There seems to be a certain exaggeration of the toxicity of Obama.  So what is actually going on here?

I have two answers.  (Maybe you have your own!)  First of all, and most depressing, is that while Obama is not necessarily less popular than historical precedent or other government institutions, the quality of the "unpopularity" is a bit more weaponized than in other instances.  That is to say, people who don't like Obama really fucking hate Obama, to the point of unreasonability.  Such as, if Obama is for something, the Obama haters are against it, on a kneejerk basis.  This is maybe not such a new thing — there were elements of this at play during the Clinton administration, and the Bush administration certainly had its "derangement syndrome" — but the viciousness of this hatred for some reason has a much uglier quality (cough cough racism cough).

And the second answer is that this whole midterm was one big self-fulfilling prophecy.  For months, the narrative that the news reporting interests ending up agreeing on was that the Obama unpopularity was "toxic" and therefor the motif of the entire election.  Now, as we discussed above, this was demonstrably untrue, at least in any novel way, but it was repeated over and over again until it became conventional wisdom.  And wishing made it so.  "Obama is toxic" was repeated so many times that it became undeniable, to the strategists of Democratic candidates, and then to the blue voters that did not show up and the red voters that did.  I'm not suggesting some conspiracy between all the DC newsdesks and blogs and Sunday AM newsshows, but I do think that there is a bit of laziness, and a bit of losing sight of what the news is for.  The news is not some storyline that needs to be impressed upon the news-consumer so that interest is not lost.  The news is, you know, what happened, not necessarily what is going to happen.

Is it possible that the so-called Obama drag on the ticket, as evinced by campaigns and voter turnout, would have happened had the media refrained from shoe-horning a result yet to be determined into a gripping drama easy to follow, but I think that this was not a natural phenomenon.  I propose that it was conjured into inevitability by a bunch of people who have to file many more words per day than they have ideas for.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:51 AM