Wave of democracy changes nation - or not

11/14/2012 10:00 PM

Dick Simpson

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Election 2012 brought both change and continuity.

It was a wave election. In 2010, the Republican wave rolled. The Tea Party movement and reactions to the Great Recession combined to bring Republican control of the House of Representatives. It brought many Republican governors and Republican-controlled state legislatures. This year, that wave rolled back out and the new tide has brought Democrats back to power.

The winner and losers are clear. President Barack Obama won both the popular vote and the Electoral College vote.

Democrats gained seats and continued their control of the U.S. Senate. In the House of Representatives, they made gains but Republicans continue to have a safe majority.

Why did voters elect more Democrats than Republicans? Nationally, Republicans gained a majority of the white male vote but Democrats had more of the female vote. The youth vote climbed back to 2008 levels and voted overwhelmingly for Obama. (It had dropped to 24 percent in the 2010 election, when their staying home gave the Republicans victory). Social media played a more important role in this election as well.

In a less covered story, almost seven million fewer whites voted in 2012 than in 2008. We think that many white voters were unhappy with President Obama. But they were convinced not to vote for Romney either by Obama’s attack ads and Romney’s own statements that portrayed him as an out-of-touch rich guy.

A key voting bloc in battleground states was the Latino vote. Latinos voted in greater numbers than ever before, and they voted overwhelmingly for Obama. Because it is a younger population and there are many still in the process of becoming citizens, this will be an ever-more-important voting group.

Also almost unnoticed, this was the “Year of the Woman.” There will be 20 women in the U.S. Senate and 78 in the House of Representatives. More women are getting elected successfully.

While a lot of money is needed to win elections, the most money — especially spending by outside groups — does not always, or even usually, win. A candidate must have enough money to get their message out and counter the worst negative TV ads. But money doesn’t necessarily carry the day. In the 15 U.S. Senate races with $5 million or more in independent spending, seven were won by candidates favored by more spending while eight lost. In the 40 House races with $2 million or more spent, 17 were won by those more favored by independent groups but 23 by the less favored.

Here in Illinois, Republicans lost four congressional seats. The Illinois delegation will now be 12 Democrats and six Republicans, an exact reversal from 2010. Most importantly, three of the four new Democratic seats — Tammy Duckworth, Brad Schneider and Bill Foster — are from the Chicago suburbs. The suburban area is no longer the safe home of the Republican Party.

In the state legislature, Democrats won veto-proof majorities (40-19 in the Senate and 71-47 in the House). This means the Democrats now have the power without Republican votes to make the temporary income tax permanent and to pass pension reform forcing school districts and public universities to pay employee pensions.

One negative outcome in this election was that all judges kept their jobs, despite unanimous recommendations from bar associations and the media that six in the Chicago region should be defeated. No judges, no matter how incompetent, have been defeated for reelection in 20 years.

The constitutional amendment to require a 60 percent legislative vote to pass higher pension benefits was defeated, while a non-binding referendum to have an elected Chicago school board received 86 percent support.

Overall, if Republicans are still to have a significant role in government, even though the tide was against them in this election, they need to find a way to appeal to minorities, women and youth. They can’t continue to lose these segments and win most elections.

Similarly, Democrats, with their new numbers in Washington and their overwhelming majorities in Springfield, must demonstrate that they can solve our major problems.

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