The quote is attributed to Einstein: insanity is defined by expecting different results, when one does the same thing over and over again. After last week’s US elections for President and Congress, most of the same actors remain in place; the most expensive campaigning in history resulted in a non-event. What surprises David Twibell, president of Denver-based Custom Portfolio Group, is that “many exit polls showed voters believe we are on the wrong economic track, yet they still chose to maintain the status quo”.
Post mortem analysis suggests that the Republican party’s dysfunctionality enabled Democrats to prevail. Obama claims victory while facing 7.9 per cent employment, and an economy which still limps along at about 2 per cent – despite gaining some recent traction. So why did Republicans forfeit what should have been an easy triumph?
Two key reasons stand out: demographics and extremist ideologies. The ethnic composition of the electorate has altered radically over the past two decades. Exit polls showed that Whites have declined from 87 per cent to 72 per cent of voters since 1992. Asians, Hispanics and Blacks meanwhile supported Obama last week by over 70 per cent each. “These are supposedly minorities, but that is no longer so,” says Dennis Gibb, president of Sweetwater Investments in Seattle.
The other overarching Republican dilemma is the degree to which the party has been co-opted by conservative activists, evangelical Christians and the Tea Party. Those groups, dominated by white males, do not have the clout to win a national election, but can sway the primaries. Thus, Mitt Romney found himself between rock and hard place, as he first courted the right during primary season, and later switched tack, veering center. The move made him an easy target for flip-flopping and insincerity. “He might have done better running on his pro-choice, moderate record as governor of Massachusetts,” Gibb suggests.
In another significant development, two anti-abortion candidates sacrificed easy Senate seats for espousing extreme philosophies. Todd Aiken and Richard Mourdock damaged their reelection prospects, following remarks on “legitimate rape” and a suggestion that “God intended” rape-induced pregnancies.
Yet democracy still worked. The election did not end in a draw or a contested recount. Emblematic of the evening were the long queues, waiting patiently into the night, for the right to exercise political choice. Mike Martin, president of Financial Advantage, observes from Naples, Florida, “we came to the polls deeply divided about policies, made a peaceful arithmetic decision, and everybody went to bed.”