Six lessons are hidden in midterm election results, which disappointed Republicans, left Democrats controlling the Senate, and set up what will be a bruising presidential contest in 2024.
First, many Americans made their decision months ago. While polls tightened, the nation saw few “last minute flips.” This was a cycle filled with unbridled emotion, little real debate.
Put differently, the “public mind” hardened early, became inflexible, not open to dialogue. Instead, people become resolved, looked to justify feelings, dismissed key facts. As the economy, crime, national security, and president’s cogency slipped, many looked away.
This development – disinterest in what does not reinforce prejudices – undermines quality debate on facts, even interest in them. But it cannot endure. Reality stalks the ignorant, always.
Second, in concert with this development, new procedures encouraged early and remote voting. While some states revamped laws to prevent federal overreach, not all states did. Some took odd comfort in perpetuating COVID-era practices, like mail-in ballots and ballot harvesting.
To some, that looks logical, making election day easier, letting people to vote at home, talk their votes over, get visits from ballot collectors, lengthen the process. The downside – recognized across Europe, where such practices are outlawed – is they invite abuse, creating public doubt.
Historically, we had one day of high energy and scrutiny, people showing up in-person, getting identified, voting alone, and ballots were not mis-sent, mis-placed, or mis-used. The prospect of a politically interested group influencing or casting false votes was small.
As the process gets gangly, the nation needs to look closer at mail-in ballots, ballot harvesting, vote influencing, and reduced voter identity. These things create distrust. Europe knows.
Third, tied to the first two, this election extended a problem that had been growing on us – late vote counting. This is entirely avoidable, again creates frustration, questions, and distrust.
Roughly half the states do not count until election day, many until polls close. The combination of multi-month vote-casting – 42 million early this cycle – and last-minute bulk ballot drops creates a logjam.
For reasons not entirely clear, more Democrats tend to vote early and remote, while Republicans tend to same-day voting. Putting aside the reasons, big numbers of remote ballots delivered late puts enormous pressure on vote-counters.
The obvious solution, beyond tightening time and place for increased accuracy, is setting a real deadline for ballot receipt – before the election, allowing a thoughtful count. This is entirely do-able, monitorable, and allows more time for ballot validation. More, it is done in other settings.
For example, unless you can provide a good reason, taxes must be filed by a deadline. In corporate America, a proxy vote for a board meeting must be received by a date certain, not late.
Fourth, this election tells us more about the Republican-Democrat, or conservative-leftist divide. The divide is real, hard to shift, based on feelings, eludes persuasion. Moderates are shrinking.
Beyond generally hardening – reinforced by media-fed anger – the divide seems to get less movable each cycle, more tied to a philosophical disposition, liberty versus socialism.
Whatever “political scientists” see in their microscopes, average people see an unsettling ideological ravine. Conservatives are increasingly concerned about federal power consolidation, attacks on traditional family, community, education, health, safety, energy, and social decisions. They know big is not better.
Conservatives were body-slammed by COVID lockdowns, bad on their merits. Lockdowns showed left-leaning politicians had little regard for liberties thought fundamental. We learned – they are really at risk.
In a double shock, conservatives learned that political actors exist who are content to blithely endanger or destroy the lives of kids, disrupt lifelong practices of families, schools, towns, churches, businesses, and what many thought belonged to the People.
Liberals are no less content. For reasons tied to how they think society should change, they are resist free speech, free exercise of religion, parental involvement in education, self-defense, strong law enforcement, ordinary criminal justice, proven history and tradition. They resent symbols of sacrifice and faith, like Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, and Columbus Day.
Fifth, we have the economy and energy. Despite America’s energy bounty, enough to keep all homes warm, cars, trucks, and trains humming, liberals permit their “climate change agenda” to clip energy independence, energy security, and our national security.
The result of this and federal overspending is – predictably – mass inflation. This seems a wedge issue, even in a time when the parties are hardening. This course empowers our enemies.
Where is the hope? We need to keep working to elevate public trust in elections – improving the process. We need to talk facts, get less emotional. Things work on facts, not spit and vinegar.
Finally, there is inevitability at work – a realignment shaping 2024. No matter how Democrats try to clamp down on individual liberty, people live in reality. A debt-heavy economy struggles. High inflation, interest rates, and unemployment will dog Democrats. By the next election, the nation will want a Ronald Reagan, not Joe Biden. Midterms are just that – often the halfway point between a big error and course correction.
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