The big, gigantic, huge ideological shift of 2010: About 4.76 percent of voters changed their minds

Sometime over the last couple of days I was talking to a Republican friend who insisted that the American people decided to reject Obama and all his works on Tuesday, that the ideological message was clear and unequivocal.

His view was similar to the one express in this Tweet posted by @SCHotline today:

SC Politics 11/5: America to Democrats: Stop what you’re doi… via #scgop #sctweets#scdem

I, of course, disagreed. I believe that elections seldom express clear messages, for one thing. People have many reasons for voting as they do, and it’s almost impossible to classify or quantify them with any degree of certainty, even with exit polls — which necessarily boil motivations down to explanations that can be quantified. Voters could vote against a guy because, deep down, they don’t like the tie he wears — something a pollster is unlikely to capture.

What happened was that a small proportion of the electorate — a minority of us independents in the middle — voted Democratic in 2006 and 2008, but Republican in 2010. And they are just as likely to vote the other way in two or four years. Believe me; these are my people. I’m one of them. It’s a swing voter thing; someone who calls himself a Republican, or a Democrat — something who really believes all that junk they spout — couldn’t possibly understand.

My friend saw the election, for instance, as a clear, unambiguous rejection of Obamacare. Please. The word may poll well (for Republicans), but most voters couldn’t explain to you what the recent health care legislation actually DOES. Neither can I, unless you give me a couple of days to refresh my memory on it. I don’t even understand how it’s going to affect me, much less the country. If you don’t know what it is, how can you possibly know, clearly and unambiguously, that you are against it?

As a measure of how the country FEELS about the president, sure. But as a measure of a clearly defined ideology, no way. Which is good, since I don’t like ideologies.

Anyway, today my friend sent me this piece from The New Republic (hoping I would consider the source favorably, no doubt), headlined “It’s the Ideology, Stupid.” Well, I was offended at the original version of that phrase when the Clinton people used it; I am no more persuaded by this one.

What I DID like about the piece were the stats provided from exit polls. To begin with, they told me that in 2006, “those who voted were 38 percent Democratic, 36 percent Republican, and 28 percent Independent,” and this year the self-identification was 36/36/28. Well, right there I’m not seeing a big ideological shift. But my favorite stats were here:

We get more significant results when we examine the choices Independents made. Although their share of the electorate was virtually unchanged from 2006, their behavior was very different. In 2006, Democrats received 57 percent of the Independent vote, versus only 39 percent for Republicans. In 2010 this margin was reversed: 55 percent Republican, 39 percent Democratic. If Independents had split their vote between the parties this year the way they did in 2006, the Republicans share would have been 4.7 percent lower—a huge difference.

OK, let’s parse that. Independents are 28 percent of the electorate. In 2006, Dems got 57 percent of that segment, while the GOP got 39 percent. This year, they went 55 percent Republican and 39 percent Democratic. So that means roughly 17 percent of independents switched their preference from Democratic to Republican.

Seventeen percent of 28 percent (the percentage of the electorate that is independent) is 4.76 percent. I make no claims to be a statistician, so y’all check my math there. But I think I’m right.

So… instead of “America” sending a clear message to Democrats, or to anyone for that matter, what we have is 4.76 percent of the electorate voting differently from the way it voted in 2006 — for whatever reason.

“America” doesn’t change that much from election to election, folks. A few people in the middle slosh back and forth. And I think my explanation for why they do is as valid as the grand, oversimplified ideological one: People were dissatisfied in 2006 and 2008, so they elected Democrats to fix the things that were making them dissatisfied. Nothing has yet been fixed (even, for instance, if Obamacare will do the trick — which I doubt — it hasn’t accomplished anything yet), so they’re still dissatisfied, so they’re taking their custom to the other shop.

And that’s what happened.

Oh, by the way — the writer in TNR went on to explain his grand theory that it’s all about ideology in the subsequent paragraphs. I found them unpersuasive. At the very most, he quantifies an “ideological shift” of 11 percent — and I don’t think it’s ideological, I think it’s semantics. I think the word “conservative” feels more comfortable to more people this year. But even if he’s right, that’s an ideological shift of 11 percent. And 11 percent ain’t “America.”

Go read it and see what you think.

30 thoughts on “The big, gigantic, huge ideological shift of 2010: About 4.76 percent of voters changed their minds

  1. Brad

    By the way, even the modest assumption I make in that headline is questionable. I don’t know that even 4.76 percent of voters “changed their minds.” They may want the same things they wanted in 2006 and 2008 (and they probably do). They just decided that the Democrats didn’t give it to them, so maybe the Republicans will — or the incumbents didn’t give it to them, so maybe the newcomers will. I don’t KNOW that, of course — but it’s as well-founded as the other explanations I’m hearing.

  2. Phillip

    I’m guessing you’re offended at the “stupid” tag to the original Carville quote; but surely “It’s the economy…” is true for most elections; ’02 and ’04 maybe being exceptions due to 9/11, but ’08 and certainly ’10. All the bloviating out there among the pundits…comes down to: economy is lousy, party in power punished. That’s all you really need to know.

  3. Ralph Hightower

    Demint wants to roll back federal spending to pre-Obama levels.

    Why not roll spending back to pre-Bush (#43 W, not #41 George Herbert Hoover Walker) levels since they spent money like drunken sailors.

  4. bud

    Which is good, since I don’t like ideologies.

    Of course you do. Everyone has an ideology. Your particular brand of ideolgy, though very distinct to anyone who has read your blog for any length of time, is just not captured by the Republican or Democratic parties.

    Mine happens to conform fairly well with the Democratic Party. Not entirely mind you but fairly close. I believe in individual liberty for most human activities. I support a robust regulatory environment for business and for that matter a robust interventionist approach into dealing with the environment. I strongly reject interventionist policies oversees and wish to see a much smaller military budget.

    And I could go on. But suffice it to say I have a pretty solid ideology to base my political selections on. And they mostly conform to what a Russ Feingold liberal would do. Unfortunately the vast majority of my fellow Americans seem to reject my ideology in much the same way they reject Russ Feingold. But hopefully the electorate will be more enlightened in 2012.

  5. Mike's America

    I suppose if I were in your shoes I would prefer trying to rationalize the loss instead of confronting the real causes.

    The sad truth is that an overwhelming majority of the American electorate rejected the hard left agenda they saw on display from Obama and Pelosi these past two years.

    Take a look at the maps I gathered showing just how spectacular this victory was for the GOP:

    6 new GOP Senators, not one loss of a sitting GOP Senate incumbent.

    61+ House GOP gains.

    7 new GOP Governors. No loss of GOP gubernatorial incumbents.

    682+ new GOP legislators nationwide and the flip of 19 state legislative bodies to GOP control.

    I’m glad to see you backed away from your headline Brad. Perhaps it’s time to admit just widespread this electoral wipeout was for Dems instead of making excuses.

    P.S. I see Obama gave an interview to 60 Minutes making the claim again that it was a failure to communicate on his part and not a failure of his policies that are too blame.

    You’re in good company when it comes to false rationalizations!

  6. Steve Gordy

    I’ve never been much of a fan of John Boehner, but he hit the right note on Tuesday when he showed some humility. By contrast, Mitch McConnell reminds me of why I couldn’t stand the man even when I lived in his backyard: his most important goal is to beat Obama in 2012. Does he plan to run for President himself?

  7. Brad

    Whoa, Mike! You are COMPLETELY misunderstanding what I just said.

    Do you think I CARE which party got the most votes, or which one controls Congress? I wouldn’t give two cents to help the Democrats take it back, just as I wouldn’t have given two cents to help the GOP take it.

    I. Don’t. Care.

    What I wish is that one party or the other — doesn’t matter which one — would become SO dominant in Congress that we’d no longer notice who was, say, a Republican, because virtually everyone would be a Republican. And then we could actually discuss the relative merits of ideas without it being poisoned by the constant push-and-pull competition of these equally-balanced gangs.

    ALSO… we’d have the chance to try some long-term solutions to problems. The party in dominant power could actually have a chance to IMPLEMENT health care reform, or WIN the war in Iraq, or whatever, before having all their work undone by an election. We might actually come up with a solution for Social Security; who knows?

    THAT’S what I want to see. And I’m frustrated that I foresee a future in which we’ll have these maddening swings back and forth, and we’ll never accomplish anything.

    What I CARE about is that Vincent Sheheen lost, and Nikki Haley won. That was very bad for South Carolina. And you know what? Both Democrats and Republicans who know both of them know that I’m right.

    That has nothing to do with party. But I wouldn’t expect you, or anyone who looks at the world through the prism of either party, to understand me.

  8. bud

    But Mike Obama’s policies weren’t liberal enough. They didn’t fail so much as they didn’t succeed completely. With 4 straight quarters of growth the Bush recession is long over. Today the Labor Department announced 151,000 jobs and would have been even more if the public sector had show a bit of hiring. But noooo, these ridiculous balanced budget laws in most states prevent spending more than is taken in so we lose cops and teachers to the budget axe. Thankfully the Democratic congress saw fit to pump some money into the state and local governments thus preventing a much worse collapse. They bailed out the auto industry thus saving thousands of jobs. The housing market was bolstered by creative policies to give new home owners a break. Sadly the American people are not a patient group and the gains by the GOP will likely thwart any further gains for the job market. And in a couple of years we’ll be talking about the Palin recession just like we talk about the Reagan recession, the Bush Sr. recession and the two Bush Jr. recessions. Too bad folks haven’t learned what a disaster the GOP is for America.

  9. Herb Brasher

    Well said, Brad, but I wonder if this party allegiance thing isn’t part of a growing insecurity and lack of being connected. We used to have a much more established structural cohesiveness. Not the same as in a clan-oriented society, to be sure–our very system of government broke those allegiances to some extent–but we still had our roots.

    Now, it seems to me that we’re different in several ways, among them that 1) we’re busy trying to keep up a very high standard of living (e.g.,the average size of the U.S. home as doubled since 1980); 2) we’re bombarded with an incredible amount of information to sift through.

    So how does one cope with that?–by grasping simplistic solutions formulated with simplistic catch phrases, and backed up with revisionist history that we get from our one (usually) favorite source.

    In short, we don’t take time to think, and we don’t take time to relate to those who think differently and are different from ourselves. And the more insecure our world is, the more we insulate ourselves. I think it is a dangerous trend.

  10. Heyward

    To think that this election was a rebuke or endorsement of either party’s ideology is incorrect. The election was won (or lost) based on negative attacks and misinformation. The independents who decided this election (as Brad points out) don’t know enough about the issues or policies enough to support or reject them. And that is both parties fault for not discussing the issues. For the GOP to think that Americans rejected the Democrat’s agenda, they (the GOP) would actually have had to make the election about the Democrats policies, and that they did not do. They campaigned on meaningless phrases that gets crowds excited (“take our country back,” for example). These platitudes could easily be made into slogans for either party, and they still would have no meaning. The election was won because the GOP realized it was easier to throw stones at the Dem’s glass house instead of setting their own policy goals. Now that the GOP has to govern they will have to take ownership of some of the problems.

    Also, the first set of percentages in paragraph 9 of your post, Brad, seems to add up to 102 percent.

  11. Mike's America

    Brad: Sorry, but despite your non-partisan protestations, I’ve been around the track long enough to know that no one is “COMPLETELY” unibased in terms of outcomes.

    You might have yourself convinced of your objectivity and I salute you for trying.

    But, let’s be honest… Who among us can truly be objective?

  12. Brad

    NO ONE is objective. And I would hate to be. That would mean I was a machine. One reason I switched from news to opinion was that the conventional news model doesn’t allow journalists to tell the whole truth. A large part of reality is perceived subjectively, and if you can’t write about that, you can’t describe reality completely and truthfully.

    No one is objective, and I have made no bones about the fact that I wanted Vincent to win. But that has nothing to do with his party. In fact, I wish he were a Republican. If he had been, he would have won.

    In fact, let’s take that another notch up: If he had been the Republican and Nikki had been the Democrat, he would have won by a much larger percentage than she did. Because he, personally, Vincent Sheheen, was the better candidate.

    To support this, I point you to the stats I cited before: Mark Hammond, whom I see as the generic Republican because voters know zip about him, got 60 percent of the vote. Nikki only got 51 percent. Why? The voters knew her too well. But with that 4.7 percent of the electorate shifting toward the GOP this time, she won anyway.

    As for Congress, which is what we were talking about in this post — I just find it hard to imagine that anyone thinks the country will be better off because the GOP is in charge. And I can’t see why Democrats thought it a great thing when they captured control of the House in 2006. It just makes no difference.

  13. Mike's America

    Well Brad, I don’t want to stray too far off the topic of your post here as I am certain I have the better argument.

    It would be wonderful if I lived closer to Columbia and perhaps we can do a joint appearance on Wes Donehue’s Pub Politics and thrash out the whole objectivity thing.

    But returning to topic, I would just add that there is a a concerted effort on the part of Democrats (even if you don’t include yourself) to deny the results of the 2010 election.

    Perhaps I shouldn’t make too much of a fuss about Dems delusions as it’s clear if they keep rationalizing the way they are going the lesson will have to be repeated in 2012.

    P.S. I haven’t followed closely your Shaheen vs. Haley discussions but perhaps you have already laid down benchmarks for Haley’s performance that we could judge as her Administration progresses.

    I never made any endorsement in the SC gov race (primary or otherwise) but still stand by the general principle that almost ANY Republican in office will perform better than nearly EVERY Democrat!

    But then, I’m biased and proudly so!

  14. Mark Stewart

    Anytime anyone can see Sheheen and think Pelosi they have a cognitive collapse. Good grief, its like too many Republicans can’t differentiate. Why is that? They can see differences within the Republican party but not within the other party. I’m.sure it was the same when the same people were called Dixie Democrats. As not from around here, it just boggles my mind.

  15. Karen McLeod

    Brad, you state that you wish that one party would take over so that we’d have a chance to actually let some policies play out. But take a look at what’s happening with the GOP. It’s starting to splinter. I suspect that is what would happen to any group that gained control long enough to feel ‘safe’. If there were no political parties, they would invent themselves in order to separate the brown monkees (us) from the pink ones (them).

  16. Juan Caruso

    “Both Democrats and Republicans who know both of them [Sheheen and Haley] know that I’m right.”

    Would such generalization still hold if sitting members of SC’s legislature and law-school-graduates, including lobbyists and agency heads, who know them were eliminated from your calculus due to reasonably expected biases?

    The suggested exceptions tend to be highly vocal spokepersons with dogs in the coming fights to maintain SC’s archaic power structure and/or tort overhauls largely as is.

    They are still a very smallish block of voters, however.


  17. Ralph Hightower

    Yea, I slosh back and forth. Call me a “middler”; I am an independent! I am not a left or right leaning Democrate and I am not a left-center, or far-right Republican. I vote for the person that is most capable of leading America from our current situation.

    Newt Gingrich screwed the pooch with his “Contract with America”. Republicans lost big time after that failure!

    2011: Republicans are going to fall flat on their face with their “Pledge to America”.

    Balance of Power shifts again.

    Gridlock is ever present. Washington needs, requires legislators that are willing to work with each other.

    As Walter Kelley said in the comic strip, “Pogo”, “We have met the enemy and he is us!”

  18. bud

    It does make a difference who is in charge of congress. The problem is so many of the blue dogs sided with the enemy. That’s why we ended up with such an inadequate healthcare bill. Even so, with a GOP controlled House we wouldn’t have gotten even that. Plus we had “cash for clunkers”, the stimulus, reform of the banking regulatory sector and a program to help new home buyers. All of which made a difference in the lives of millions of Americans and certainly kept unemployment from skyrocketing to 20% or more.

  19. Pat

    @ Mark Stewart “Anytime anyone can see Sheheen and think Pelosi they have a cognitive collapse.” – Amen to that!
    Now for the reason why I voted the way I did – and I would consider myself an informed voter – Only 2 votes went to D.C. and I hope those votes of mine went to some rational statesmen. The other votes were for local and state offices and I voted on the basis of the power of each office. I almost voted for one man for state house until I received his mailout that said something like he was against Washington DC; he never even mentioned unemployment in South Carolina or what he could do for SC so I ended up voting for his opponent. Coming away from the day, I probably batted 150 but I was proud of my votes and I consider it in the Lord’s hands now.

  20. Pat

    About Washington DC – When Republicans were in full power, they tried to ram some things through Congress. They wanted to do away with the fillibuster so they could push some things before anyone had a chance to think. While fillibuster can stall some good legislation, I can see its value in slowing things down a bit.
    Then the Democrats got in there and they have taken advantage of their power, too. I sense that those Republicans who would do some work across the aisle have felt betrayed. The backlash against the Dems probably has some justification. So now we have government with some kind of mass mental illness in need of some prozac. Really, nobody wins.

  21. Phillip

    My friend over at Mike’s America likes to point out that if Democrats lose an election, no interpretations are possible except for the great shortcomings of the Democrats themselves. Fair enough. But my friend is in no position to point that out, since in his world, any loss by Republicans, ever, is not the Republicans’ fault…it’s either a massive and crooked get-out-the-vote effort by Dems, or Dems’s buying the election. Even last week’s losses by Angle and Buck for example are not because those candidates were just a little too extreme even in this conservative wave. No, Mike is as good an excuse-maker as any Democrat:

    And you can check out his posts after the 2008 and 2006 Democratic victories to see excuse-making and rationalization on a par with any Democrat of the last week. Truth is, partisans like Pelosi and Mike’s America are basically cut from the same cloth, are much more alike than they are different. That’s why they make each other so mad.

  22. Phillip

    Oh, and Brad, while I agree that it’s important to engage with people with whom we disagree without characterizing each other as “enemies,” in defense of Bud’s point I would ask to envision yourself as a person in the past decade whose very life might have been in danger because of a lack of access of to health insurance, for example. Who would you have been more likely to see as the “enemy” as it related to your own life? The political situation (and those who defend the powerful) that has helped create that situation, or Saddam Hussein?

    Just to put it in raw numbers, there is the Harvard study of 2009 that estimated 45,000 deaths annually due to lack of access to health insurance:

    How does that compare to the number of Americans killed by Iraqi attacks on the United States in all the years of the Saddam regime(zero)?

  23. bud

    Let me explain. The Taliban is an isolated, largely irrelevant organization largely confined to the Middle east. They have no designs on us except to secure teritory in Afganistan and Pakistan. To the extent we resist those efforts they are indeed our enemy. Yet they have little power to inflict injury to American citizens other than the soldiers in the area and the extremely rare terrorist attack.

    The GOP, on the other hand, if fully controlled by the Tea Party would be a disaster for millions of Americans both economically and physically. Sharon Angle and perhaps others have openly suggested “Second Ammendment Solutions” if they fail at the ballot box. That kind of talk, even if it’s only rhetorical, spurs many of the looney gun nuts to do bodily harm to anyone they perceive as a threat to the “true Americans” as embodied by the Tea Party.

    The Tea Party is also likely to push for greater involvement in foreign nations through military adventurism thus exposing our troops and others to the dangers of militants.

    Most Tea Parties are not likely to take up arms against the American people. They would profess to be the true Patriots. But their reckless policies may very well destroy America in a far more effective manner than any extremists in foreign countries. So whether they are considered enemies or political opponents this misguided political movement is very dangers to the safety, economic welfare and health of the American citizenry. And they need to be defeated at the ballot box.

  24. bud

    But Bush is mounting a defense, as selective as it might be, of the Iraq war. He acknowledges that he experiences “a sickening feeling every time” he recalls the absence of WMDs in Iraq, but he contends that invading Iraq was the right move because “America is safer without a homicidal dictator pursuing WMD.”
    -David Korn

    Even if you ignore all the evidence to the contrary and still believe Bush was truthful when he claimed he believed (in 2002) there were WMD in Iraq it is completely unambiguous that he is flat out lying now. His own hawkish, hand-picked guy determined that Saddam’s WMD programs, especially nuclear, were long ago non-existent. Yet he now claims Saddam was pursuing Nukes. Unbelievable that this lying scumbag still commands any kind of respect from any quarter.

  25. Kathryn Whitaker

    Excellent post, Brad. Thanks for the insight and for crunching the numbers to back up your claims.

    Ideology cannot easily be quantified. It’s an emotional word thats definition is broad and vague. So no, you can not accurately say that the 2010 midterm election was a clear message to anyone or about anything.

  26. Phillip

    Brad, I thought you might enjoy this post from Scott Adams, the Dilbert guy, about eliminating political parties, he’s definitely in your camp on this:

    Secondly, re Lindbergh-style isolationism: if anybody ever questioned ANY US military intervention anywhere in the world, they could be accused of “isolationism.” It’s kind of the genteel, polite version of invoking Nazis or Hitler to favor one’s side of an argument, as Glenn Beck thinks Obama is a Nazi, or some liberals called GW Bush a Nazi.

    With America falling further behind in education, in world standing in so many categories, with income inequality at record levels, with our politics at a new level of dysfunction, is it really so far-fetched to acknowledge that the biggest existential challenges to our country are internal, not external at this moment in history? Can Bud, or I, or our political leaders, speak this truth without being labeled isolationists, or accused of not taking seriously the threats we do face (even if not existential) from Islamic extremists?

    As for the real isolationism as endorsed by Lindbergh, et al: When Al Qaeda or the Taliban, or even Iran for that matter has amassed the military strength and the track record of territorial aggression and conquest that Nazi Germany had attained by 1939 (along with naval and air power), then we can talk. Until then, using the “i” word is just so much partisan name-calling, not worthy of the Unparty.


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