Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Reading Too Much Into Election Results?

With a handful of elections yesterday in the US, it is easy for much to be made about each one.  But as any decent social scientist will warn, with a small number of observations, generalization is risky and it is unclear that there are any trends.

Republicans won a couple of governor races and gay marriage got another defeat in Maine, but the Democrat won in the controversial election in upper New York.  What pattern can we discern?  Other than gay marriage still loses in referenda, there is not much of a trend at all.

So, instead some observations:

1) Gay marriage is still bringing out opponents to vote more than supporters.  I am confused by the following:
 Opponents repeatedly warned voters that if gays were allowed to marry, it would be taught in the public schools, a tactic that proved effective in California last year.
What does this mean?  Teaching kids to be gay?  Teaching kids that gay marriage is legal?  Teaching kids how to marry in a gay style?  I have not seen these ads, so if  any of my readers can make sense of this, I would appreciate it.

2) Sarah Palin might just be the equivalent of box office poison--she lost her election last year, and her candidate lost last night in New York.  No wonder the GOP candidates in NJ and VA ran towards Obama, rather than towards Palin.  Where the Republicans go now is a mystery, but I do not rule out further acts of self-destruction.

3)  Candidates matter.  Hoffman in New York just came off as a boob.  The NJ governor was apparently quite disliked even by those who like Obama.  There was no national momentum or flow, but, instead, personalities of each candidate mattered a great deal. 

4) The key next year for the midterm elections will be, as always, the economy.  If the job picture improves by then, then the Democrats should be more ok than not, although the President's party usually suffers in midterm elections (but not always as of late).  If health care passes, then the Dems can claim some successes.  However, I do think there are some risks to the Republicans of being the party of No.  More people want change and reform than those who do not.  Being opposed to change works to win party primaries, but obstinacy as a party platform is unlikely to gain pluralities/majorities of votes in most districts and states.

And as always (at least since last year), for expert analysis on US (and other) elections, see


Steve Greene said...

Nice work. I'm the American elections guy, but you wrote my post for me.

Steve Saideman said...

Thank you, kind sir. I do have several years of experience teaching American politics after all, thanks to TTU. Of course, I never did manage to take such a course.

Mrs. Spew said...

The "teaching" in public schools refers to the fact that teachers would teach that gay families and gay people are normal, legal, and therefore a desirable part of society, which would be in direct conflict with the religious beliefs of children's families. It preys on people's fears that they cannot control public schools (thanks to the first amendment,) that their children are forced to mingle with children from families with different religions, races and beliefs in public schools, and that "liberal" teachers are teaching their children all sorts of things they don't agree with. (We saw this also with the Obama speech/song nonsense.)

This tactic worked really well in racially divided California. It was less effective in relatively white Maine. What worked in Maine was the argument that marriage is not secular but is the department of religions, and therefore, if your church and religious beliefs feel that gay marriage is unacceptable, you should vote against the secular right of gays to marry in accordance with your beliefs. Although Maine's law had special language guaranteeing that churches did not have to marry gay couples, the argument put forth by the visiting Mormons et. al. was that if secular gay marriage is allowed, eventually the government will force all churches to marry gays. This argument has been the most effective one, even though it is imaginary. The schools thing is part of that argument -- that gay marriage will be indoctrinated and is part of government's efforts to control religions and churches, so that liberals can remake society. Gay marriage and gay civil rights are likened to a virus, a hurricane, a mushroom cloud, etc. It's the same stuff Anita Bryant and her religious friends tried in trying to keep gays from holding certain jobs, such as teaching, in the 1970's, but it's been prettied up to assert that gay people aren't the problem. They're just wrong-headed. It's tolerance for gays as normal that creates the problem.

Ellen Saideman said...

Tonight Jon Stewart played two ads from opposing sides in the Maine fight. I was surprised to see, as reported, the big argument against gay marriage was that it would bring gay issues into the public schools. The ad showed the book "Heather Has Two Mommies" -- which strikes terror in some hearts, I guess. The ad also suggested that gay marriage would lead to children asking their parents what gay sex is.
I think that the gay marriage debate is a generational one -- my children are strongly pro-gay marriage.
What would the gay marriage opponents do if their children went to school with Mary Cheney's child and the two mothers showed up at a PTO meeting?
Gay people today are part of many communities.
The funny thing is I still remember the debate in the 1980s in the gay community about whether gays should fight for marriage. Many thought that marriage was too bourgeois.