Election night. What happened. What didn’t happen.

By: Steve Vancore
By: Steve Vancore

Obama said that his party – my party – got “shellacked” on election night. They did. We did. And man, it hurt.

Obama said that his party – my party – got “shellacked” on election night. They did. We did. And man, it hurt.

Many are speculating “why” it happened…bad economy…off-year election dynamics…anger at Obama…Obama Care…Nancy Pelosi…Tea Party anger…etc. This column does not delve into those, which, let’s be honest, are relatively speculative and likely based on wishful thinking.

I’d rather examine what happened. And by doing so, I believe it is important to first eliminate those things that did not happen.

Voters did not change their core values

I do not find it believable that the same electorate that voted to install a pro-Democratic majority suddenly and quite dramatically changed their core beliefs. People just don’t do that. They didn’t say in 2006 and 2008 that they support Democratic values and reject GOP values and then two years later change their minds.

Not a single poll (exit poll or otherwise) suggests a sea change in values among Americans. A longer and larger view does show a strong and steady shift to the right among the American people over the past four decades. That is hardly in dispute…we are a far more conservative country than we were just a few generations ago.

To suggest that the outcome of the 2010 elections is because voters suddenly saw the light is conjecture as well as excessive end zone celebrating by the victors. This is, again, not to diminish a very real and very tangible cultural shift to the right, but it is not what caused the thumping on election night.

Nor did voters change their priorities.

Certainly, one could change his or her priorities about what is important in an election, without changing his or her core values. But did that happen?

I don’t think so.

In 2008, the top issue was jobs. In 2009, every major published poll said voters cared first and foremost about jobs. And I have yet to see a single indicator that suggests voters cared about any one subject more than they did jobs and our economic recovery. Yes, taxes, wasteful spending, and the deficit all were discussed…but these were backdrop issues and even reinforcing messages (i.e. the economy would be better if we didn’t have such a big deficit) to the larger issue of jobs.

The key concern among the electorate at-large has been jobs and the economy and it has been that way for the past three years.

This election was not about social issues.

We must again acknowledge that voters do not easily change their posture on core “values” issues like abortion, homosexuality, or the role of religion in government. Second, every major analysis (from both GOP and Democratic analysts) says the economy was THE issue. To conclude otherwise would be to suggest that (for example) a pro-choice America in 2006 and 2008 suddenly became a pro-life America in 2010. It would be just wrong to assume that this GOP landslide meant that we are witnessing a cultural shift and that the new majorities should prioritize a very conservative social agenda.

Those who caught the car have a very clear responsibility…help turn the economy around. This election was not about overturning Roe v. Wade or banning gays in the military…it was the economy dummy.

So? What did happen?

For starters, Obama got it half right. It wasn’t just a “shellacking”. Shellac is only applied to the exterior coat. No, this drubbing went several layers deep. One needs only look down ballot to see that nearly 700 state legislative seats went from blue to red with the GOP now controlling outright exactly half of the state legislatures…on November 1st, they controlled only 16!

When you look at who actually voted, the answer as to what happened on election day is simple and irrefutable: more surge Republicans voted while many surge Democrats stated home.

What do I mean by that?

A “surge” voter is someone who only votes in high profile and important elections. The best example is those voters who only vote in presidential elections and don’t always vote in local or state-only elections. In this year’s general election more so-called surge Republicans showed up, while those Democrats who turned out in record numbers in 2008, simply stayed home.

In effect, the electorate was skewed to dramatically favor GOP candidates. (And yes, I know, shame on those who didn’t show up…they got what they deserved…etc.) Voters themselves did not change all that much (if at all) but the makeup of who voted did change…and it appears it changed dramatically.

Let me give you one example. In the southern/western portions of Leon County, most voters fall into two distinct universes. The first group is predominantly blue collar and semi-rural Democrats; the other group is comprised mostly of lower income minorities. Both parts of the county normally vote overwhelmingly for Democrats…as they did on November 2nd. Conversely, the northeastern portion of the county is much more republican and usually votes that way…and they did on November 2nd.


The huge difference was in turnout. Turnout in the northeast was nearly twice what it was in the southern/western portions of the county. Meaning the “electorate” (e.g. those who voted) was much more Republican than the electorate as a whole and certainly far-far more Republican than those who showed up in the 2006 and 2008 general elections. To compare that to 2008, we see very similar turnout numbers in those areas.

Similarly, the well-known Democratic stronghold in Florida is Broward County. Broward had the 2nd lowest turnout in the state (following Osceola County, a county where Democrats outnumber Republicans by nearly 50%).

One national news analyst said the electorate was, “whiter, older, and more conservative” than it was in either 2006 or 2008. These preliminary findings seem to bear that out.

Unfortunately, right now we cannot tell, with any real accuracy, who actually turned out to vote (so I have to extrapolate as I did above) because the Supervisors of Elections have not yet published the final demographics for the election. When those numbers are published, I will review them and share the findings with you. But for now, I will boldly predict that when we see those final numbers, Republican turnout will be at least 8-10 points higher relative to Democratic turnout in the last similar election.

Until then, I will accept the shellacking for what it was…and for what it was not.
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