Street Corner Soapbox: The Truth Behind the GOP's Midterm Elections Sweep

Categories:      News & Politics    Opinion
Wednesday, November 12th, 2014 at 7:00 AM

The American people went to the polls on Nov. 4, and spoke with one voice against liberalism, against the Democratic Party, and against the terrible, disastrous polices of President Barack Obama. The Republican Party and its ideals and policies have won an overwhelming mandate.

At least, that's what you'd think after listening to pundits and conservatives on Nov. 5. But that ain't exactly what happened.

To be sure, the GOP made tremendous gains in Congress. They picked up seven Senate seats and 12 House seats, and now have a majority in both bodies – the biggest Republican majority in Congress since 1929. (A significant historical date that should now send a shiver up your spine.) On the state level, too, Republicans have picked up several gubernatorial seats and won historical majorities in legislatures. There's no doubt the Republicans enjoyed significant electoral success.

But why?

Most are blaming the unpopularity of President Obama. But by most election-day measures – unemployment, economy, budget issues – Obama's presidency has been a great success. He stewarded the recovery from the Wall-Street-created crash that welcomed his presidency. Employment rates are at their highest levels since 2008 – and the country has enjoyed 49 straight months of job growth. Stock gains during the Obama presidency were nearly twice what they were in the 1980s under President Reagan. Obama rescued the domestic auto manufacturing industry. Under Obama, the Consumer Confidence Index has tripled, and the national budget deficit is down 6 percent of GDP since the George W. Bush administration.

When you consider the state of the economy when Obama took office, it's staggering we've come so far in so short a time. It's the kind of economic performance that prompted Forbes magazine this summer to wonder if Obama were the best President, economically, our country has had. (The answer: maybe.)

It's got to be health care, right? The Affordable Care Act – or “ObamaCare” – is a disaster, right? Certainly Republicans are treating it as such, and in August, a Kaiser Family Foundation poll found 53 percent of Americans viewed the ACA unfavorably – although that's down to 43 percent in its most recent poll. But the law has reduced the numbers of uninsured by as much as 11 million. And 75 percent of ObamaCare enrollees are “satisfied” or “very satisfied” with their coverage, according to a Commonwealth Fund study. Evidence also shows that the bill has helped health care outcomes – especially among the young – and contributed to the slowdown of health care costs.

Even on foreign policy, where Obama's leadership has at times seemed slow or muddled, the administration's actions have been a success. We're out of Iraq. We're drawing down in Afghanistan. And Obama's non-intervention in Syria seems all the more justified given the rise of ISIS among Syrian rebel groups – and even Obama's ability not to overreact to that group makes sense, given that it’s hardly a threat to national security.

A majority of Americans agree with Obama in wanting comprehensive immigration reform and gun control. And the issues that Obama hasn't done well on – say, civil liberties: the NSA, federal whistle-blowers, the US assassination program – conservative voters don't care about.

But is Obama really unpopular? Currently, his popularity is at 42 percent approval rating, according to Gallup, which is only a few points lower than the average presidential rating for this point in a presidency. And Obama's approval rating is much ahead of House Speaker John Boehner's (28 percent) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's (21 percent) or even Congress' (14 percent). What's behind the sweep, then, if not Obama?

There's gerrymandering, of course. Because Republicans controlled more state legislatures after the 2010 Census, they were able to create more Republican-friendly Congressional and legislative districts. You don't have to look much further than Pennsylvania for evidence of that, where Republicans won 13 of 18 Congressional House seats. That comes to 72 percent of the House districts in the state, a number far out of line with the 55 percent of voters who opted for Republican House candidates across the state.

But the real reason for the 2014 results is that Democratic voters did not turn out.

Consider: the 2014 elections drew just over 36 percent of registered voters, the lowest since the 1942 midterm election – one that occurred in the middle of a war. And those that voted in 2014 tended to be older and whiter than in the previous elections. According to NBC exit polls, 37 percent of the 2014 voters were over 60 – compared to 25 percent in 2012 and 23 percent in 2008. African-American, Latino and women voters were also more likely to stay home in 2014.

That turnout is partly due to Republican voter suppression tactics. Twenty-two states passed laws making it harder to vote – from tightening registration rules, to requiring photo IDs, to ending early voting, states targeted left-leaning voters in their voting laws.

But really the blame lies with the Democratic Party itself. That's the kind of turnout you'd expect for a political party that spent the last election cycle backpedaling as fast as it could from its accomplishments. That put forward no beliefs, ideas, or values. That, when given the opportunity to laud liberalism and its social and economic gains, instead turned to self-loathing. That abandoned its base, eschewed grassroots organization for big-money donors, and neglected state-level and local candidates.

Democrats in battleground states, like Colorado, told Obama to stay away from their races. Some Democrats even ran ads touting their opposition to Obama's policies. Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu, for example – who faces an uphill battle in a runoff election – decried Obama's energy policies in an ad. Sen. Mark Pryor of Arkansas – who lost his re-election bid – ran an ad against Obama's gun control proposal. Kentucky Senate candidate Alison Lundergan Grimes even refused to admit she voted for Obama in 2012.

You got the definite feeling that the only value high-profile Democratic candidates held dear was the desire to stay in office. Everyday Americans looking for representation in government were left in the cold and voted accordingly.

Obama just may be the best thing about this bloated, moribund, do-nothing, gutless version of the Democratic Party.

Jay Stevens can be contacted at, and you can follow him on Twitter @Snevets_Yaj.

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