Last week, NDN’s President Simon Rosenberg once again took part in the Hill’s election prediction contest. As a winner in 2012 and 2008, Simon hoped to keep the momentum going and take the midterm election contest as well. Unfortunately, Simon’s crystal ball was a bit foggy this year—and so his predictions were a little off.
Congratulations to Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, on his 2014 Hill contest win.
Despite the loss, Simon looks forward to the opportunity to keep his presidential election winning streak going in 2016. Until then, we encourage you to read Simon’s post-election memo and keep an eye on day-to-day thoughts on Twitter (@SimonWDC).
At the core of the coming debate over Executive Action will likely be a discussion of prosecutorial discretion and/or the “Morton Memos.” The use of this power is what created DACA; it is something the entire GOP House voted on to repeal twice in the current Congress; and will likely provide the legal basis of what the President does next. Much of our work this past year has been in documenting how much change the Morton Memos brought to the immigration and border enforcement system over the past several years.
We conclude that the way the Administration has already used P/D has helped make our border safer, kept the net flow of undocumented immigrants into the US at zero and improved public safety by prioritizing the removal of undocumented immigrants with criminal records from the interior of the country. It has also been humane, as the number of people deported without criminal records or caught entering the country illegally has fallen to very low levels. It has been smart and successful policy, providing the President with a strong foundation on which he can take additional action.
For more on this see our assembled resources below.
This morning in the Department of Labor’s monthly jobs report, BLS reported that the unemployment rate had slide down to 5.8% and 214,000 new jobs were created. October’s unemployment rate is the lowest since President Obama took office and since July 2008. Recent weeks have shown strong indicators, including 3.5% GDP growth in Q3 and the average 4-week unemployment benefit claims fell to a decade low. The U.S. Economy in 2014 has added 2.3 million new jobs; if this trend continues, it'll be the best year of job growth since 1999.
Despite this, voters felt that the economy is in poor condition and the recovery is not reaching them. Many experts have attributed that to stagnant wage growth, which in October only improved by 2% in the last year. Fixing this issue may become more of a focus as the unemployment rate continues its decline over the next year.
One economic issue that also slipped through the cracks in the past month was the debt-to-GDP ratio. The budget deficit to GDP ratio has shrunk to the lowest levels since 2007, and now sits at a shortfall of $483.4 billion. In layman’s terms, this outcome comes that the Obama Administration has been successful in greatly reducing the budget deficit. It is now 1/3rd of what the budget deficit was during President Obama’s first year in office in 2009.
The Republicans Are a Far Stronger National Party Today - Next year, the Republicans will have their largest House majority since 1929, 53-54 Senators, control of 32 governorships and 66 of the 99 state legislative chambers. 22 states now have Republicans in control of the Governor’s mansion and in both houses of the legislature. Their very successful redistricting efforts of a few years ago also give them advantages in the ways lines are drawn for Federal and state legislative races that will not be easily reversed until after the next redistricting. This is a formidable achievement by the Republicans in recent years.
It is remarkable that our political system could have given the Republicans this degree of power and control during the set of elections which gave the Democrats their largest back to back national Presidential majorities – 53% and 51% - since 1940 and 1944. It is perhaps this success that allowed national Democrats to become complacent or unconcerned about GOP advances in other areas. But the scale of Republican success in recent years outside the Presidency has altered the balance between the two parties now, and may even leave the GOP a stronger national party than the Democrats over the next decade.
By power I mean all that comes with politics – strength of candidates, bench, staff and consultant talent, fundraising capacity, use of technology and of course control over government and policy. Part of what we are witnessing is the coming to power of the children of Reagan – forty something Gen Xers who came of age during the Reagan era. This age cohort is the most Republican of any age cohort in the US, meaning there are lots of them and they have a great deal of generational support for their politics. This generation of politicians is young, gaining in experience, and will be a force to be reckoned with in national and state politics for a generation to come. To regain power Democrats will have to take on and defeat this increasingly successful and energetic generation of politicians over the next decade, perhaps starting with the Presidential race in 2016 (Christie, Cruz, Paul, Rubio, Ryan, Walker).
So while it is true Democrats have developed a post-Southern Strategy majority coalition, a coalition that is perhaps the best and most durable of the Democratic coalitions since the 1940s, it remains to be seen if it has the political infrastructure and bench to take advantage of this historic opening in the coming years.
Running Away from the President/No National Narrative – Many commentators have already weighed in on this but I think Democrats have to understand that in the modern media age mid-term elections are also national elections, particularly when you have the Presidency. The lack of a forceful narrative and mechanism to deliver it from the White House and national party in 2010 and 2014 allowed the national Republicans to make gains that were greater than the political landscape of those elections warranted. As an old War Room guy, I believe that every attack needs to be countered or it sticks, and that if you are not on offense in politics you are losing. And in neither mid-term did the national party mount a major effort to defend the good works of the President and the Democratic Party.
In 2014 the failure to define the election on Democratic terms was particularly impactful. It not only didn’t give Democrats a reason to engage more enthusiastically in the election, it left the message playing field open for the GOP to fill the closing months of the elections with issues like the Central American migrant crisis, Ebola and ISIS that ended up causing true harm to the Democratic brand and successfully fired up GOP voters – particularly older white voters who turned out in very large numbers.
Looking ahead to 2016, I think it would be wise for the entire party, but particularly its Presidential aspirants to learn the lesson of Gore 2000 and the 2014 mid-terms: you cannot run away from the President of your party. Doing so leaves candidates with all of the downside of that President and none of the upside. And while many are disappointed with how the President has performed in recent years, the net effect of his policies and of Democratic governance have been well worth trumpeting: strong GDP growth, falling unemployment rates and deficits, soaring stock markets; tens of millions now insured and the health care cost curve being bent; a hugely successful national energy strategy that has lowered fossil fuel prices, expanded domestic production while advancing renewable energy and taking needed steps toward combating climate change; an immigration strategy which has both humanely lifted the threat of deportation from millions of striving undocumented immigrants while ensuring the border is far safer, etc. In his final two years the President can burnish this record through policies focused on the middle class and broad economic growth, successful management of tough foreign policy challenges, completion of Atlantic and Pacific trade deals and needed additional reforms to the immigration system. But to ensure that the public understands all that has been done, the President must become far more energetic in selling his accomplishments to the American people, and bringing other Democrats along with him.
By owning the economic and policy successes of the Obama Era, it also allows Democrats to draw a very stark contrast between the economic policies of the last two Democratic and Republican Presidents. The last two Republican Presidents brought recessions and exploding deficits. The last two Democratic Presidents brought growth and declining deficits. This contrast will be useful as we enter the Presidential season and a whole host of Republican candidates who already sound if they are running for George W. Bush’s third term.
GOP Does Not Have A Lot of Ideological Running Room In The Next Congress – It is going to be interesting to see how GOP leaders approach their agenda next year. Given the success of the Democrats on the economy, deficits, health care, energy and climate policy and border security, where exactly does the GOP go that is different from where we already are? Cutting taxes or increasing defense spending as some Republicans have suggested would increase the deficit. Attempts to cut domestic spending beyond what has already been cut have already failed in the Republican led House last year. Repealing the ACA would strip tens of millions of people of their health insurance and increase the deficit. Cut subsidies for renewable energy? Really?
So while we should expect investigations and fights over critical social issues, it is not surprising that the GOP’s agenda so far has been modest. Corporate tax reform becomes possible if it is revenue neutral or generates more revenue. Boots on the ground in Iraq? Don’t think so. Opposition to an Iranian nuclear deal? Perhaps. Finding common ground on a Middle East strategy in the next two years might be challenging, but it is not clear that the GOP really has an alternative approach at this point.
This leaves me an area where I think we could see significant bi-partisan cooperation – shoring up and modernizing the liberal international order. As we’ve written before, in a time of great global change America must do more to ensure our values and the system which has produced so much prosperity and avoided great wars prevails. One could imagine the White House and GOP Congress working to pass the nearly completed, geo-politically vital Atlantic and Pacific trade deals; bolstering NATO and the EU in combating the very real Russian threat; assembling a global coalition to end the Ebola epidemic in West Africa and leave behind a better public health care system in the region; along with our partner Mexico, develop a long term strategy to bring greater citizen security and prosperity to Mexico and Central America; and leading a global effort to keep the Internet open and free.
While this kind of broad, strategic partnership is possible, the way the Republicans closed this election makes me concerned about the appetite for global engagement we may see in the new GOP majority. Many of the GOP’s ads run in the last few months of the campaign were deeply xenophobic – Ebola, ISIS, border/scary immigrants – and all sorts of combinations of them together. How the GOP pivots from putting up walls to tearing them down will be one of the more interesting issues to watch over the next few years.
The GOP Senate Majority Is Likely To Be Unstable, and Perhaps Short – Running the Senate GOP Conference these next two years will be no easy feat. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will face challenges from a bigger pool of Tea Partyish hardliners in his conference; struggles with aligning with the even more conservative House; the challenge of having up to 4 members of the conference run for President; and perhaps most importantly, the difficult math of passing anything through the Senate.
Let’s look at getting to 60. Assuming the GOP ends up with 53 or 54 Senators next year, they will need to get 6 or 7 Democrats and hold all of their own to pass legislation. Of the 34 Senators up for re-election next year, 24 are GOP held seats, just 10 are Democratic, and only 2 Democrats are likely to face tough races (even these – CO, NV – fare far better for Democrats in a Presidential year). For the Republicans 7 of these 34 seats come in states Obama won twice and are likely to go Dem again in 2016 – FL, IA, IL, NH, OH, PA and WI. Of these 7, 4 – FL, IL, PA and WI – were won with less than 52% of the vote in a high water mark GOP midterm election. Confirming what a tough map the GOP will have in 2016, Republicans will also be defending three states likely to be very competitive next time – AZ, GA, NC. The Senators from these states are simply going to have a hard time consistently aligning with the more conservative part of the conference as they will be facing much more Democratic leaning electorates in their states next cycle.
There really isn’t an analogous group for the Republicans to target on the Democratic side. The 2016 potentially vulnerable Dems, Reid and Bennett, are in the leadership and will not be inclined to break with their party. There are only 5 Senators in redder states who might from time to time vote with the Rs – Donnelley, Heidkamp, McCaskill, Manchin, and Tester. So even if the GOP has 54 Senators next year, it is hard to see how McConnell routinely or even occasionally gets to 60. At 53 Senators, it gets harder still.
Pulling against the GOP “gang of 7” and other non-conservative Senate GOPers will not only be a more conservative Senate, but a more conservative House with less need to accommodate Democrats. Legislation coming out the House is likely to be more conservative than what comes from the Senate, making it harder for McConnell to get to 60 to reconcile bills with the House. Certainly one would expect President Obama to be far more aggressive in issuing veto threats early in these legislative fights to put even more pressure in the Senate for Dem heavy Rs and more conservative Dems to oppose whatever comes out of the Republican House Majority.
The Senate map is so favorable to Democrats in 2016 that it will put the Rs on the defensive politically from day one, something that may encourage McConnell’s team to be even more cautious of the hard line House than usual. Taken together, it is a bit hard to see how the Republicans can make their possible new found control of Congress anything other than messy. The issue next year will not be what President Obama does – his agenda is well established at this point – but what can this new and potentially unstable Congressional majority do.
Our System Needs Reform – In just these past four elections the US political system will have given one Party its biggest back to back majorities at the Presidential level in 70 years, while also stripping it of both Houses of Congress. From a political science/design standpoint, it is frankly hard to produce election results like this in a political/electoral system even if one tried.
And it gets worse. In 2012 Democrats won more one than 1 million more votes in the House than the GOP but didn’t win the chamber. In 2014, according to the final major national media poll, registered voters favored the Democrats 46-42, but it was a wave for the Republicans. Only 37% of eligible voters participated in 2014, and less than 10% of all voters were able to participate in a close Federal contests with all that it entails – ads, voter contact, political debate, voting. Results like these should raise legitimate questions about whether our government still has the “consent of the governed” as just too few people are determining who has control in Washington.
There is so much wrong with the system now – unregulated money, difficulty of voting, an anachronistic Electoral College, an already reactionary small state basis made worse by high concentrations of recent immigrants in a small number of states – for the center-left to not make political reform one of its highest priorities in the years ahead.
Reinvigorate the Democratic Party – President Obama and his team should leave his fellow Democrats a reinvigorated DNC with a new mission. He should establish a “2024 Project,” one focused on doing what is required for Democrats to roll back recent GOP gains and come out of the next redistricting as the dominant political party in America with majority control in the Senate, House and state houses and legislatures across the country. At the core of this project must be strategies to expand the new majority coalition built in recent years into terrain critical for winning more control in Congress and in the states.
Among the more operational things the DNC should take primary lead on now is recruiting and training a new generation of candidates and operatives needed to beat a new generation of Republicans, expanding and turning out the new majority coalition, and advancing efforts to make it easier for people to vote in every state and locality in the country. A $50 to $100m fund should be put aside for a national paid media effort in off-year elections too.
Too many of these important responsibilities have been left to others parts of the center-left ecosystem. It is time for the most important piece of this ecosystem – the Democratic Party itself – to be challenged to fulfill its rightful and vital role as the enterprise charting the future of all Democrats over the next decade.
We will be issuing a separate memo on the Hispanic vote soon.
NDN’s Corey Cantor contributed to this memo. Please send feedback and corrections directly to me at email@example.com. You can also follow me on twitter at @SimonWDC.
Some thoughts on this very close election on a beautiful fall morning in Washington, DC:
2014 Predictions: A Dead Even Race – We enter Election Day with an enormous number of critical races in statistical dead heats. Making predictions in this environment is a bit tricky (wish the media had held back a bit more), but my predictions for 2014 were once again submitted to the Hill’s Election Prediction contest. Proud to have won this competitive contest in both 2012 and 2008, I predict Democrats will end up with 51 Senators and control the Senate after the Georgia run-off. My admittedly optimistic analysis has been bolstered by the final WSJ/NBC poll, the last major media poll in the field this year. In what might be the poll closest to the actual results, it shows the national race dead even. Democrats have a 46-42 advantage with registered voters, and are tied in the Congressional Generic, Senate Battleground and in vote interest. These findings comport with many of the polls in the individual races these last few days showing them true toss ups, and the effect of strong Democratic ground games kicking in. Analysis of the poll from Chuck Todd, Mark Murray and Carrie Dann has this fascinating data showing the Congressional vote preference (Congressional Generic) progression from their previous polls:
Aug. 2014: GOP 49%, Dem 41% (GOP +8)
Sept. 2014: GOP 49%, Dem 44% (GOP +5)
Mid-Oct. 2014: GOP 46%, Dem 44% (GOP +2)
Now: GOP 46%, Dem 45% (GOP +1)
If the GOP Takes the Senate, Tenure Likely to Be Unstable, Short – Even if the GOP takes the Senate, it is not clear who will really be in charge of the Congressional agenda. Whoever is the GOP’s Majority Leader will face challenges from a bigger pool of Tea Partyish hardliners in his conference; struggles with aligning with the even more conservative House; the challenge of having up to 4 members of the conference run for President; and perhaps most importantly, the difficult math of passing anything through the Senate.
For argument’s sake, let’s give the Rs 51 in the Senate next year. This means they will still need to get 9 Democrats on board to break any filibuster. Of the 34 Senators up for re-election next year, 24 are GOP held seats, just 10 are Democratic, and only 2 Democrats are likely to face tough races (even these – CO, NV – fair far better for Democrats in a Presidential year). For the Republicans 7 of these 34 seats come in states Obama won twice and are likely to go Dem again in 2016 – FL, IA, IL, NH, OH, PA and WI. Of these 7, 4 – FL, IL, PA and WI – were won with less than 52% of the vote in a high water mark GOP midterm election. These Senators are simply going to have a hard time aligning consistently with the more conservative part of the conference as they will be facing Democratic electorates in their states next cycle. There will be no similar gang of Democrats being pressured to vote with the Rs, however. Given this it may be hard for the GOP Senate Leader to get to 50 votes on some major GOP priorities next year, let alone 60.
Pulling against this GOP “gang of 7” will not only be a more conservative Senate, but a more conservative House. Speaker Boehner had a hard time rallying his caucus behind his priorities in this Congress. The anti-establishment Tea Partyish wing of the GOP will be stronger, and the establishment wing weaker in the coming Congress. This means that whatever comes out of the House over the next two years is likely to be even more conservative than before. This will make getting to 50, and to 60, even harder in the Senate next year. Certainly one would expect President Obama to be far more aggressive in issuing veto threats early in these legislative fights to put even more pressure in the Senate for Dem heavy Rs and more conservative Dems to oppose whatever comes out of the Republican House Majority.
The Senate map is so favorable to Democrats in 2016 that it will put the Rs on the defensive politically from day one, something that may encourage McConnell’s team to be even more cautious of the hard line House than usual. Taken together, it is a bit hard to see how the Republicans can make their possible new found control of Congress anything other than messy. The issue next year will not be what President Obama does – his agenda is well established at this point – but what can this new unstable and fragile Congressional majority do.
Not A Lot of Good News in the 2016 Map for the GOP – At this point, it doesn’t look like the GOP has done very much to weaken the Democratic Electoral college advantage of recent years. Most of their Senate wins will come from outside the Presidential map. In critical 2016 states – FL, GA, MI, PA, WI – the GOP is showing ominous weakness in Senate and/or gubernatorial races. Hard to argue that dead even Senate races in CO and IA are big bright spots, though the GOP’s success in Ohio this cycle could become significant in 2016. Whatever GOP strategic gains might come from Ohio moving to be a true Presidential toss-up are likely to be offset by Democrats adding two Red states – AZ and GA - to their 2016 targets.
All of this comes against the backdrop of an electorate becoming 2 percentage points less white every four years, making the GOP’s 2016 Presidential Hill that much higher to climb. In 2012 the electorate was 72% white. Due to inexorable population trends, it is estimated to be just 70% white in 2016. Additionally, far more Millennials will be of voting age in 2016, and though the Dem advantage with this group may not be what it was, it is still significant and there will be more of them in coming elections. The math means that even a lower vote share for Democrats with Millennials in 2016 might not translate into the GOP gaining any additional net vote given the expanding voting age Millennial population.
No Evidence of Any Big Shifts in the Hispanic Vote - Election Day may tell a different story, but today there is no evidence of a statistically or politically significant shift in the Hispanic vote in the US. The most recent Pew Hispanic poll – perhaps the most credible independent poll of Hispanics - released just a week ago has the 2014 Hispanic vote at 2-1 Democrat, 57-28, or about where Obama ended up in 2008. Diving deeper into the data, the favs/unfavs also show 2008 level numbers, which of course may leave the GOP a bit better off than 2012 but far away from being competitive at the Presidential level. In their pre-election poll from a few weeks ago, the Democratic leaning pollsters at Latino Decisions have the numbers even worse right now for Republicans: 59-25 in 2014, and 55-20 in 2016. And in their recent state polls in CO, FL and NC traditional Democratic advantages are holding, and there is no sign of Republican gains.
The Pew Hispanic poll has data which suggests that advocates on both sides may have exaggerated the impact of the President’s delay in taking Executive Action on the Hispanic vote. Only 24% of Hispanics in this poll say they are unhappy (disappointed/angry) with the delay in Executive Action, and only 6% say they are angry. 76% either had no opinion about the delay, or supported it – three times as many as were disappointed or angry. These findings reinforce that what we are seeing is a slight dip in support for Democrats in this community but no real structural change.
Claims from Republican interests of their gains with Hispanics thus seem to be far more wishful thinking than data-driven analysis at this point.
And while the possibility of a Bush on the ballot in 2016 might improve the Rs standing with Hispanics, the underlying trends are far worse for the Republican Party than is commonly understood. The last four years has seen a dramatic escalation by the GOP in advancing policies hostile to Hispanic and immigrant interests, while Democrats have perhaps advanced an agenda that is among the most pro-Hispanic and immigrant of the modern era. Depending on the candidates the two sides choose, and the agenda their allies in Congress advance, it is far more likely that over the next two years the Democrats will be able to make this stark contrast clearer they have this cycle than the opposite taking place - the Republicans switching core positions on things like the ACA, minimum wage, opposition to CIR and the President’s coming Executive Action, deportation of DREAMers, cutting federal education spending and advocating voting restrictions. Remember that the only potential 2016 GOP candidate with an unequivocal embrace of Comprehensive Immigration Reform is Jeb Bush. So there is no real evidence in the data of GOP gains with Hispanics, and the path for them to regain critical lost ground seems politically out of reach.
Our System Needs Reform – Assuming the GOP takes the Senate tonight, in just three elections the US political system will have given one Party its biggest back to back majorities at the Presidential level in 70 years will also stripping both Houses of Congress from that Party and giving it to their opposition. From a political science/design standpoint, it is frankly hard to produce election results like this in a political/electoral system even if one tried.
And it gets worse. In 2012 Democrats won more one than 1 million more votes in the House than the GOP but didn’t win the chamber. In 2014, according to the latest major national poll, registered voters favor the Democrats 46-42, and likely voters are split evenly 46R-45D. Yet the Republicans are likely to make significant gains in both the Senate and House. It is at this point a realistic possibility that the Democrats could win more votes nationally in 2014 and end up with the GOP controlling both Houses of Congress. Results like these should raise legitimate questions about whether something has gone wrong with the way our democracy works these days, and reinforce the need for the center-left to make political reform one of its highest priorities in the years ahead.
In a recent essay, I raised related questions about whether with so few people voting in contested races every two years our democracy is still capable of providing the “consent of the governed” as imagined by The Founding Fathers. And of course there are many other issues – the role of money, the difficulty of voting, the pernicious development of a true small state basis in our Congress, the anachronistic Electoral College and more. I hope in the coming months the chattering classes in Washington can start having a serious conversation about what is happening in our political system, and whether there are things we can do to make it better.
The DNC Should Have A Single Minded Mission: Expanding the Electorate – The return of the mid-term turnout problem for Democrats, and what appears to be early evidence of success in mitigating it in targeted Senate races, suggests a new and very concentrated mission for the DNC: single minded focus on closing this gap, and advancing efforts to make it easier for people to vote in all 50 states. While these efforts are already underway at the DNC, they needed to be stepped up, funded and staffed at a level commensurate with the challenge.
Can a Party Run Away From Its Own President in the Mid-Terms? I have long doubted that a Congressional Party has the capacity to distance itself from its own Presidential candidate or President. I fall in the camp that believes Democrats should have found a way to run on their record this cycle, as 6 years of a Democratic President has made once again made the nation far better than he found it (been true of both Clinton and Obama, not true of either Bush). Whether that narrative was an easy one to sell or not we will never really know for while it is statistically true it was never really tried. Democrats managed to get all of the downside of President Obama this cycle and far too little of the upside.
The across the board policy successes of President Obama on the economy, deficit, health care reform energy policy and border security also leaves the GOP very little running intellectual and policy running room in the next Congress, and reinforce how little of a mandate the GOP will have in 2015-2016. Will be interesting to see how exactly GOP leaders criticize plummeting deficits, gas prices, unemployment and uninsured rates; declining costs of health care; very strong stock market valuations and GDP/growth rates; significant advances in renewable and traditional energy production; and a net undocumented flow of zero and declining crime rates all along the US-Mexico border. Do we think in any kind of serious and sustained debate the GOP will be able to convince the US public that Obama has been a bad President given all this, and that they somehow could have done a better job? Assume this is possible, but it sure isn’t a given.
Finally, in what should be one of the major stories of 2014, the total meltdown of the conservative experiment in Kansas, and the struggles/loses of GOP governors in FL, PA, MI and WI reinforce that while 2014 might be a good election for the GOP politically, it has not been a good one for them ideologically. A dead even national vote, power potentially granted by a handful of races decided by a few thousands votes, no big argument, significant setbacks and struggles in big states does not a mandate make. The potential for overreach by a new GOP Congressional majority is very real, and may be hard to avoid.
More to Come - Look for an update (and perhaps corrections) later this week.
On November 12th, Simon will join the American Security Project for a conversation entitled: "The U.S. - EU Strategic Partnership: Trade, Energy, and Security." Things kick off with lunch at noon, and the discussion follows shortly afterwards at 12:30.
The event will open with a keynote address by Julieta Valls Noyes, the Deputy Assistant Security in the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs. Afterwards, Simon joins a panel to discuss issues of international trade, energy security, and foreign conflicts. The panel discussion includes Simon, Paul Adamson, and additional unannounced guests.
For more information, including participant biographies and the rsvp link, visit ASP's event page. The American Security Project is located at 1100 New York Ave, 7th Floor West Tower, Washington, DC, 2005.
Simon and I worked on this piece together. For the full report, including charts and graphs, download the full pdf version at the bottom.
As we enter the home stretch of the 2014 election and survey the races across the country, we keep returning to the same question - whether or not our much maligned American political system is still capable for providing the most foundational of all electoral outcomes in a democracy, the “consent of the governed.”
The basic issue is that for far too many Americans their vote for Federal office simply doesn't matter. In recent years, there has been a significant decline in the number of competitive states at the Presidential level, and in competitive Senate and House races. Using one measure, in 2012 only 17% of registered voters cast a meaningful vote for President, 1.7% for the Senate and 3.7% for the House (meaningful being a vote which could in theory alter the outcome of the election). Not only does this lack of competitive states and races contribute to lower voter turnout (see graph below), but it is becoming routine for 65-85% of the country to not really be part of any Federal election every two years – the ads, the voter contact, the ubiquitous candidates – giving them far less investment in the issues at hand, the democratic process, and we fear ultimately the outcomes of these elections themselves.
Consider that in 3 of our 4 largest states, CA, NY and TX, equaling about 22% of all voters in the country, there has not been a competitive race for President, Governor or Senate since the 1980s. This means young adults in their mid 20s who have grown up and still live in these states have never experienced a close statewide election contest with all that comes with it in their entire lifetimes. Below you will find a series of charts and graphs offering a bit more data on the trends we refer to here.
We will readily acknowledge that our concern here about consent is in an early beta form of analysis, but we wanted to put it out there for broader discussion. One recent poll taken earlier this year found that only 19% of the public believes that Washington has “the consent of the governed.” And it makes sense. If you are one of those whose Presidential vote has not mattered for decades, and perhaps only once every ten years or so for the Senate or House, even if you are voting regularly are you truly granting your consent in the way the Founding Fathers conceived it? Or is our current system in fact achieving the exact opposite – a reinforcement of distance and not proximity, of a system no longer connected to the concerns of everyday people as just far too many people are just sitting on the sidelines watching others far away experience real campaigns with real debates and where one’s vote really matters?
Given how large and diverse our democracy is, ensuring that our process provides true legitimacy and consent is particularly important. But our system now has developed an enormous bias against ease of voting; allows a candidate with fewer votes to become President; provides wealthy Americans a far greater voice in the electoral process; and gives power to political parties in Congress based on a very small fraction of the population’s vote preference. There is little wonder why average Americans would feel disconnected from politics and the outcomes of Federal elections in DC given all this.
How has this come about and what can we do about it? Both of those subjects will have to wait for a longer examination in another day. But the system is ripe for major reform, and ideas like same day registration, universal vote-by-mail, and eliminating the Electoral College should be given far more consideration. In light of all this, efforts to further restrict participation in a system without enough of it today seems particularly malevolent and pernicious.
We end our pre-election musings with this passage from the Declaration of Independence which makes clear just how important this perception of consent is to our democracy and way of life:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”
The clear implication - it is only governments elected with the consent of the government that are capable of being just.
Send us your thoughts to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.
Graphs -- For Additional Charts and Data -- see Full Report
This article, co-written with Dr. Robert Shapiro, originally appeared in Roll Call on October 27th, 2014. In addition, they also published an earlier op-ed on Puerto Rico's economic circumstances, entitled "To Restore Prosperity, Puerto Rico Should Look to Ireland."
America’s sunniest place, Puerto Rico, faces dark days, and the likelihood is rising that Washington will be asked to step in. While the rest of the United States recovers economically, the commonwealth’s economy remains stuck in a decade-long recession. Puerto Rico’s unemployment rate is double that of the mainland U.S., despite one of world’s lowest labor participation rates. And with such prospects, nearly 10,000 Puerto Ricans every month leave the commonwealth for the mainland.
It’s actually even worse. For years, fixed business investment in Puerto Rico has grown at half the average rate of the 13 Caribbean nations, and recently foreign investors have been cashing out their Puerto Rican financial assets and closing their Puerto Rican operations. And the commonwealth’s public debt is rising at such an unsustainable rate that Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s have downgraded it to junk status.
The first rule for such dire times is that the government should do whatever it can to rebuild confidence and draw in new investment. Yet, Gov. Alejandro Garcia Padilla seems intent on steering in a different direction. First, he rattled bondholders by forcing through new legislation of doubtful constitutionality that allowed Prepa, the island utility, to restructure its debt. And after losing a court case to one of the island’s major banks, the governor is threatening to defy the judgment.
The case involves Doral Financial Corporation, which years ago overstated its earnings and consequently its taxes. After years of negotiations, the Commonwealth Treasury had agreed to provide Doral with $230 million in tax refunds over five years, until Padilla’s treasurer unilaterally the agreement. And when Doral won the case in court a few weeks ago, the governor decried the result as “immoral” and said it would be against the public good to abide by the decision.
Not only did the commonwealth’s government unilaterally renounce its contractual obligations to Doral and now threaten to defy the courts; officials also have warned Doral’s executives that unpleasant investigations will follow, and a whispering campaign against the bank and its top management is in full swing. And if Puerto Rico’s rejection of the court’s ruling persists, the consequences for Doral, a major island employer and mortgage lender, will be dire. The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. has said unless Doral can book the $230 million refund, it will find itself with inadequate reserves and possibly forced to close.
In the next few weeks, Padilla will ask Wall Street to float almost $2.5 billion in new bonds. Even before the Doral case was decided, Moody’s had ranked Puerto Rico as the second most likely place in the world to default on its debts — right after Argentina, which has since defaulted on its debts. In addition, the Government Development Bank is also said to be virtually broke. Now, the governor must ask himself why anyone would lend Puerto Rico that kind of money when its government renounces its contracts and questions the rule of law.
The new offering could fail, or it could “succeed” with a very high coupon rate. In either case, Washington intervention appears to be rising. Indeed, Padilla may already have a federal bailout in mind. True, it’s difficult to imagine Congress or the White House going along. But if a disastrous default is the other alternative, and a bailout of some kind happens, it will cost Puerto Rico dearly. Congress has the authority to take control of the island’s fiscal affairs — and that will be the price for any federal guarantee or bailout. Like the financial controls used to address the District of Columbia’s fiscal crisis in the late 1990s, Padilla would find Congress managing Puerto Rico’s payments to creditors, pension obligations and overall budget.
The commonwealth has time to avoid this drastic scenario, if the governor is prepared to reverse course and do what it takes. He could start by signaling to American, Puerto Rican and foreign investors alike that Puerto Rico’s government keeps its word and respects the law. He could accomplish much of that by honoring his Treasury’s agreement with Doral and respecting the court’s recent judgment in that case. Once that is behind them, Padilla and his advisers should consider Ireland’s model of economic development. The goal is to make Puerto Rico the preferred jumping-off point for foreign multinationals to enter the U.S. market. The basic method is simplify taxes, reform regulations and expand public investments in ways that attract large foreign direct investments from Latin America, Asia and Europe.
The first step, however, is to govern responsibly.
Robert Shapiro, chairman of the Washington advisory firm Sonecon and former under secretary of commerce (1997-2001), has been an adviser to Doral. Simon Rosenberg is the founder and president of NDN, a Washington think tank.
In addition, Simon Rosenberg and Dr. Shapiro also published an earlier op-ed on Puerto Rico's economic circumstances, entitled "To Restore Prosperity, Puerto Rico Should Look to Ireland."