When America votes for president, the two major party candidates at the top of the ballot seem to garner nearly all of the attention. Congressional races and ballot initiatives can be often be forgotten in all the hullabaloo. While the media tend to sensationalize every election by calling it “historic,” in many ways, 2012 truly is, proving that American values and politics are shifting right beneath our feet. Here is a short list of things about the 2012 election which you may not have known:
1.) Democracy defeated moneyed interests
One of the historic elements of this election was spending (especially by outside groups), which totaled a record $6 billion for all races, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Although astronomical election spending will likely continue (at least until Citizens United is overturned or nullified), it appears to me that voters' reasoning abilities overpowered the flood of cash. The fact that the balance of power in neither chamber of Congress (save a few gains by Democrats) nor the White House changed surely seems to support this idea.
2.) Women, not minorities, made the difference
While some pundits would have you believe that minority voters came out in droves to grant President Obama a second term, we must look at the facts: based on CNN exit polls, whites still cast more than seven out of every ten votes in the 2012 election. The Republican Party and its supporters must blame their defeat not on minorities or voters who “feel that they are entitled to things” as Bill O'Reilly put it.
The true problem for the GOP is their inability to connect with women, who made up about 53% of the electorate this time around. The “rape caucus” of Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock lost their Senate races, and it was obvious throughout the campaign that Mitt Romney had not a clue about what issues matter to female voters. Overall, more men supported Romney, but women cast more votes for the president. More women voted in this election, so they clearly made the difference.
An even more significant political victory for women in 2012 is the fact that females now hold 20 of the 100 seats in the Senate, more than at any time in history. Also a first: Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin won her Senate race to become the first openly homosexual senator in the United States.
Women constitute the most influential voting bloc, and their power will likely continue to grow in future elections. Members of both major parties – especially Republicans – better take note. Perhaps future candidates will think twice before calling a female opponent a “dog,” like Todd Akin did to Claire McCaskill of Missouri in their Senate contest, or before opposing equal pay for women or threatening to defund Planned Parenthood. If the Republican Party and their mouthpieces on the right continue to equate contraception with promiscuity and essentially deny women of any sort of dignity or respect as they have done throughout 2012, female voters will undoubtedly punish them time and again.
3.) Voters are embracing more progressive social values
I did mention from the very beginning of this article that the 2012 election was historic, and not just in money spent or the number of women in the Senate. For the first time ever, voters approved of ballot initiatives granting equal marriage rights to same-sex couples. While six states and the District of Columbia already allow this, it has been either through legislative or judicial action. Voters have never directly enacted marriage equality measures until Maryland and Maine did so in 2012. Citizens of Washington state also voted on a same-sex marriage provision, but the final results have not yet been tabulated.
In another historic embrace of social progressivism, voters in the states of Colorado and Washington supported referendums legalizing marijuana for all persons of age 21 or older. Yes, you read that correctly: legalizing marijuana. Both states are awaiting action from the DEA which could potentially override the decisions made by their respective electorates, but the fact that voters enacted such provisions demonstrates America's changing social values.
The issue of marriage equality will be decided upon in some capacity by the Supreme Court this session, and I believe it is only a matter of time before marijuana legalization (or at least decriminalization) will be brought to the forefront of the national conversation, right up there with the economy and jobs. When a politician as conservative as New Jersey governor Chris Christie calls the war on drugs “a failure,” you know it's time to tackle the problem head-on. It's time for America to stop ignoring the issue. Even the notorious right-wing evangelical minister Pat Robertson thinks it's time for a change.
4.)Tea Party Influence is Fading Away
In my opinion, the Tea Party movement grew out of an irrational fear of nativist and reactionary forces responding to an identity crisis they did not know how to deal with: America's changing demographics and values, embodied by the candidacy and eventual election of our nation's first black president, Barack Obama. At times covert and other times wide out in the open, the bigotry of the Tea Party movement is undeniable.
Tea Partiers have fought however they can to resist the tide of history, that WASPs (White Anglo-Saxon Protestants) are a shrinking segment of the American population. They supported fanatical candidates and attempted to shove voter ID laws designed to suppress the minority vote through state legislatures, but it all backfired.
While voter ID laws in Alabama and South Carolina have not yet been struck down, in a majority of places where voter suppression efforts have been made in the run-up to the 2012 election, the judicial branch could not be fooled. Judges struck down voter ID laws in Texas and Pennsylvania this year, and they also blocked other schemes intending to disenfranchise minority voters, such as Ohio's attempt to eliminate early voting days or Florida's move to purge over 100,000 names from its voter rolls.
Finally, and most significantly, the racist Tea Party movement lost where it hurts the most: the vote tally. Extremist Tea Party candidates only won 4 of 16 Senate races according to CNN, a success rate which surely cannot fuel a movement much longer. Tom Smith, who wanted to end Medicare in two years, lost his race in my home state of Pennsylvania (what a relief!), and as mentioned earlier, the “rape caucus” of Akin and Mourdock, also Tea Party darlings, lost their Senate contests. Additionally, Josh Mandel lost in the bellwether state of Ohio.
American voters are largely rejecting the Tea Party movement. The New York Times quoted Republican strategist Mike Murphy as saying that “will be some kind of war” between the GOP establishment and the Tea Party. When that happens, my bet is on the former. The GOP better at least hope the establishment emerges victorious from this battle, because this nativist, reactionary force within its ranks can do nothing but kill off the entire party.
5.) Election polling data are actually pretty darn reliable
Nate Silver, blogger and statistician for the New York Times, has become a hero to math nerds by forecasting the results of the past two presidential elections with amazing accuracy. He correctly predicted 49 of 50 states in 2008, and he may have the same success rate in 2012, once Florida's results are eventually finalized. If Obama wins the Sunshine State, then Silver would have nailed all 50 states – every last one. Is it magic? No; it's math. Silver pioneered the idea of “political calculus,” which is essentially averaging the polls together. It is a bit more complicated than that, since sampling errors and bias must be taken into account, but Silver's predictions emerge from a mathematical algorithm, not from any sort of witchcraft or gut feeling.
Besides Nate Silver, several other organizations such as the Princeton Election Consortium and Huffington Post have created their own poll aggregation methods to predict election outcomes. My favorite, website RealClearPolitics (RCP), simply takes an average of state polls to predict the winner. In every state, the RCP poll average was correct within one or two percent. Like Nate Silver, they correctly predicted the winner in at least 49 of 50 states, or all 50 if Romney ends up winning Florida. I'll say it again: it's not magic; it's math.
Yes, polling can be a bit tricky and some individual polls can be off by several percentage points, but aggregating them has proven to be pretty darn reliable. It's time for Republicans especially to embrace math (and science) instead of pretending it's sorcery.