American Government Lecture Eight

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American Government Lectures - [1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - 5 - 6 - 7 - 8 - 9 - 10 - 11 - 12]

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Ron Paul, a Republican congressman and candidate for the Republican nomination for president, explained the election outcome this way:[1]

If you look at the numbers and if you look at the way pure democracy works, pure democracy is dangerous. The majority dictates against the minority. So, right now the majority are receiving a check [from the government]. So when you get a vote, that is why people were sort of surprised with these conditions that this president can get reelected. That is a bad sign in that there are more on the receiving end. People do not want anything cut. They want all the bailouts to come. They want the Fed to keep printing money.

Analysis of Election

Obama won the presidential election by an electoral college vote of 332 to 206 (totaling 538). The members of the Electoral College will meet and vote in December to make Obama officially the winner. He will then be sworn in on January 20, 2013, in Washington, D.C., the capital of the United States.

Why did Obama win? Ron Paul's analysis of the election may be correct. But there are other explanations. A prior lecture predicted that this election may be like the one in 1948, when a likable Harry S Truman defeated a wealthy and unlikable Republican opponent, Thomas Dewey, despite a weak economy. Mitt Romney, the Republican nominee, had plenty of money to spend on political ads and campaign workers, but had trouble "connecting" with average Americans. Romney won 48% of the vote, but that was not enough to win. Obama barely exceeded 50%, and third party candidates won another two percent, with Libertarian Party candidate (and former Republican) Gary Johnson doing the best among the third party candidates.

Exit polls (the polling of voters as they leave voting booths) provide much data about who voted, and why. For example, many voters felt that the economy is the most important issue, but blamed former President George W. Bush rather than President Obama for the bad economy today!

The most telling data about the election is this: "18-29 year olds made up 19 percent of voters, 6 points higher than Gallup’s estimate"[2] and Obama won by 60-36% among this demographic, even though Kerry won it by only few percentage points over GWB in 2004. The reference in the quotation to "Gallup's estimate" is about the Gallup poll, which predicted on Election Day that Romney would win by 49-48%, when in fact Obama won by 50-48%.

This tipped the election in Obama's favor. In Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia, "if Governor Romney had won half of the youth vote, or if young voters had stayed home entirely, then Romney would have won instead of Obama. Those states represent 80 electoral votes, sufficient to have made Romney the next president."[3]

The puzzle is this: why did a large majority of young voters (age 18-29) vote for Obama, and why in numbers larger than expected? The most plausible explanation can be summed up in two words: "ground game." We learned about that in a prior lecture, and it worth revisiting next.

Ground Game

The "ground game" in elections is similar to what it is in football: the nitty-gritty moving the ball with a running game down the field, yard-by-yard, person by person, with a lot of difficult effort and teamwork. In politics, the ground game means knocking on doors in the neighborhoods to ask people to vote for your candidate, then calling them until they do vote, and maybe even finding them transportation to get to the polling booth if they don't have any. Where allowed, the ground game can mean making sure mail-in ballots are available to people who are likely to vote as hoped, and then following up to make sure they actually sent it in. Technology like email, smart phones, tweeting, texting, and following up to make sure people did what they said they would do, are what make the difference.

The old term for this was "get out the vote." That meant calling people on Election Day to remind them to vote, and perhaps even driving some people to the polling booths if they lacked transportation. The old term applied when there was one day, called Election Day, when everyone voted.

Today nearly half of Americans vote early, before Election Day. In Ohio there was a full month during which people voted. The term "ground game" is better in describing what the political parties do each day for a full month during early voting to get people likely to vote for their side to cast their vote early.

Hundreds of thousands of people voted by mail during the early voting period, for example, and the "ground game" in many states included getting mail-in ballots to people and making sure they sent them in. In some states, depending on its election rules (which vary from state to state), one person can push hundreds of people to vote during the early voting period. That is what the "ground game" means, and the better the technology and data that a political party has about its supporters, the more effective it can be in increasing its votes during early voting.

The Democrats had a much better "ground game" than the Republicans did in this election, and that is the likely reason that a larger-than-expected number of 18-29 year-olds voted, and voted for Obama by a large percentage. College students are in this age group, and the ground game works particularly well on college campuses. Democrat workers call and visit college students to get them to mail in their votes, or go to polling booths. The longer the early voting period is, the more this can be done. Obama himself voted early in October to promote this among his supporters. In the key swing state of Ohio, nearly 2 million people voted early, and the vast majority were Democrats. Obama won the state by only 100,000 votes. If Romney had a better ground game, or if there was no early voting, then Romney would have won.

Six billion dollars were spent on this election cycle, which included $2-3 billion spent on the presidential race, so there was plenty of money available to gather data about voters and pay workers to have a good ground game. But it seems that Romney's campaign did not recognize the significance of this. Reports after the election confirmed that Romney's ground game was far weaker than Obama's:[4]

Republicans had tweeted that they knocked on 75,000 doors in Ohio on Sunday. Not to worry, the field director [for the Democrats] replied, 'We knocked on 376,000 doors.'

Indiana, the state just west of Ohio, was not a swing state and it was known that Obama had no chance of winning it. So neither Obama nor Romney spent any money on a ground game there. As a result, Obama's lead among the young people who voted was much less. Romney actually won the vote in the area of Purdue University, which has may young voters.[3]

Mitt Romney's campaign underestimated the significance of the ground game in Ohio, which was the key state. Obama's campaign had nearly 100 more neighborhood offices in Ohio than Romney's campaign did.[5] Before the election, Romney's campaign staffers even dismissed the significance of that imbalance. But afterward it was clear that is what defeated Romney. Turnout by African Americans in 2008 to vote for Obama was very high, totaling 11% of the electorate in Ohio. But with the Democrats' better ground game, they increased that turnout further in 2012, to where African American voters for Obama totaled 15% of all Ohio voters. This illustrated the famous aphorism: "all politics is local." Romney was beaten by Obama's superior ground game in Ohio and other key states.

The bottom line is this: it is no longer enough to win for someone to merely be sure to vote himself. To save our Nation, it is essential that concerned citizens themselves vote AND repeatedly ask many other like-minded people to vote too. If, for example, each pro-lifer repeatedly asked ten other like-minded persons to vote and followed up with them to confirm that they did vote, then a complete ban on federally-funded abortion could be enacted.[6]

Other Reasons for Romney's Loss

There are other reasons, both in campaign tactics and in substance, that might explain Romney's loss. Indeed, most students in this class predicted weeks ago that Romney would lose, even though Romney was ahead in the polls during periods in October.

One possible reason for Romney losing was how he handled the important final debate. He intentionally appeared friendlier and more conciliatory in his attempt to win support of more women voters, and indicated that he agreed with Obama on several positions. Obama's approval rating then improved and most people thought he won the debate, because even his sharpest critic (Romney) seemed in agreement with him. The slight improvement in Obama's approval rating, from about 48% to 50%, may have meant the difference between Romney winning or losing. Obama received a vote total of 50%, exactly the same as his approval rating. Had Obama's rating stayed at 48%, then his final vote total may have been only 48%, and he may have lost. This was an illustration of why a political candidate should not agree with the incumbent he is trying to defeat.

Likewise, the praise of Obama by Republican Governor Chris Christie in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy had the effect of boosting Obama's approval rating, and his final vote percentage. Indeed, New Jersey is one of the very few states in which Obama's vote total improved in 2012 over what he received in 2008, and the "coattails" of Obama's unusually large victory caused many Republicans to lose. If even the top Republican in the State thinks Obama is doing a good job, then many others will be affected by this.

Some, even some Republicans, defend Governor Christie by saying that he was just doing his job, and that in a time of crisis (the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy) politics should be put aside to do what is best and right. The counterargument to that is a citation to Orwell's famous observation: "all issues are political issues." Obama was surely thinking about his own political fortunes when he visited New Jersey after Hurricane Sandy, so what didn't Christie recognize the obvious political consequences of his praise for Obama? Also, what was Christie praising Obama so much for? Many New Jerseyans still lack power, nearly a week after the election, and Christie have easily withheld any praise until after the power was restored and the votes were cast. Usually praise for people is withheld until after they do a good job, not before.

Hurricane Sandy itself may have helped Obama, regardless of what anyone said about it. Most national crises that result from forces beyond the people's control, like a foreign invasion, will cause the approval rating of politicians in office to improve, regardless of whether they are doing a good job or not.

Others cite some of the positions taken by Romney and Obama during the campaign. Hispanics voted in favor of Obama in large percentages, much larger than Democrats received in the past, and some have attributed that to the Republican position against amnesty for illegal aliens who came here from Mexico.

As to how young voters aged 18-29 favored Obama by a 60-36% margin, some point out that a record number of young people have no religion. They do not read the Bible, and they do not attend church. As the numbers of non-religious and even atheists grow among the youth, the support for the Democrats are going to increase. The only solution to that trend is for there to be more evangelism among the younger people in America. Remember that the strongest correlation to how someone votes is how often he goes to church: the less he goes, the more likely he is to vote for Democrats.

Then there is the simple likability issue that many students cited about a month ago. Voters, particularly women, never liked Romney much. It is unlikely that someone will vote for an unlikable candidate.

Congressional Races

Several billion dollars were spent on congressional and State races in this election cycle, which was a record. Several congressional races (such as Michele Bachman's) had spending of well more than $20 million apiece.

The Republicans held their majority in the House of Representatives, despite the coattails of the Democrats winning the presidency and improving their majority in the U.S. Senate to 55-45. (The U.S. Senate has two Independents, but they will likely "caucus" or vote with the Democrats, and thus are usually included in the Democrats' overall tally.)

The House of Representatives (the "House") is historically the most powerful part of government, as it is the starting point for all financial issues, such as the annual budget. By retaining control of the House, Republicans remain on equal footing with the Democrats with respect to any new legislation that will be proposed. This "divided government" may result in "gridlock" (a term for when nothing new becomes law because Democrats control part of government and Republicans control the other part, and they do not agree.)

Initiative and Referendum

More than a hundred million dollars was spent on political ads concerning initiatives and referenda, which are when the people vote directly on a proposed law. If a majority of the people vote for it, then it becomes law.[7]

Initiatives and referenda are examples of direct democracy: the people making law by their votes in an election, rather than representatives making law for them.

Initiatives

An "initiative" is when the people put a proposed law directly on the ballot themselves, by obtaining enough signatures beforehand on a petition to do this. South Dakota was the first state to allow this, beginning in 1898 (more than 100 years ago). Now 24 states (not New Jersey) allow the passage of new laws by the initiative process.[8] Sometimes people can even amend their state constitution this way.

The basic characteristic of an "initiative" is that it is initiated by the people, by obtaining thousands of signatures on a petition. There are two types of initiatives: direct and indirect.

In a "direct initiative," once enough signatures for a petition for a new law are obtained, then it goes directly on the ballot after review by a state government official. In an "indirect initiative," the proposal is first submitted to the state legislature to give it a chance to enact the law. If the legislature does not enact it, then the initiative goes on the ballot for the people to decide. But in an indirect initiative, the legislature may put a competing law on the ballot alongside the one proposed by the people. States that use the indirect initiative process are Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, Nevada and Ohio. In two states, Utah and Washington, the people may initiate direct or indirect initiatives.

The steps for an initiative, in the states that allow it (New Jersey does not allow this), include first presenting the petition to a state official for his review and authorization to begin collecting signatures on it, along with a title and summary for the new law. The time-consuming, labor-intensive process of obtaining those signatures, which may take months. Submission of the signatures to a state official prior to deadline for him to confirm that enough signatures were obtained in order to qualify for the ballot.

Referendum

A referendum has two types: a legislative referendum and a popular referendum. The plural of referendum, because it is Latin, is "referenda".

A legislative referendum is a bill put by the state legislature on the ballot for a vote by the people. A popular referendum is when the people exercise their right to approve or repeal a bill that the legislature has already passed.

New Jersey does have the legislative referendum when the legislature seeks to amend the state constitution, or in circumstances relating to increasing the debt of state government. The legislature cannot amend the state constitution by itself; a legislative referendum is needed in order to change the state constitution. Also, the New Jersey Constitution requires the state to balance the budget each year, so a legislative referendum is needed to approve incurring new long-term debt (as in issuing bonds).

All 50 states have procedures allowing legislative referendum.

The popular referendum is very different. It allows the people to repeal a law recently passed by the legislature. If the people gather enough signatures within a period of time after a legislature passes a new law -- typically 90 days -- then the law is placed on the ballot for a public vote. The law may not go into effect until the people vote on it. Most of the states that allow initiatives by the people regardless of whether the legislature passed the law, also allow the people to veto a law recently passed by the legislature through this mechanism of the popular referendum. In total, 24 states (not New Jersey) allow the popular referendum. Most of these states are in the Midwest and West.

History

Initiatives and referenda originated in the Progressive Era of the early 20th century. Many students instinctively like this concept. It bypasses the special interest groups and lobbyists, and lets the people make a decision themselves about what is good. And on some issues, what a majority of the people want is a good thing. But often it is not, and the Founders of our Nation opposed a pure democracy. Recall what Ron Paul said at the outset of this lecture: "pure democracy is dangerous."

There are many examples of when the majority view of the people is not what is best for the Nation. When a proposed law to increase the minimum wage is put on the ballot for a vote by the people, it wins nearly every time because most people do not understand economics.[9] They think that laws increasing the minimum wage make people better off, because they make more money at their jobs. Most people do not realize that a higher minimum wage results in more unemployment, because businesses cannot hire as many people. A higher minimum wage also results in fewer young people going to college, because they decide to make more money working instead. Some of those young people would have been better off by going to college and obtaining a better job later.

The States of Colorado and Washington had initiatives on their ballots this Election Day to make it legal for people to smoke marijuana. Most people voted for these initiatives, so they became law, but the result will be very harmful for society. There will be more drivers on the road who are on drugs and hurt other people due to accidents. There will be more crime resulting from the drug use, and more students will drop out of school or lose their job because they became addicted to the drugs. There will be more health problems, as drug use has been associated with increased brain tumors and other serious problems. What the majority of the people approved is not what is best for society, and this illustrates why the Founders opposed a democracy. Elected representatives would not have approved these laws that the people passed.

In New Jersey, the people voted to allow state colleges to go into debt amounting to $750 million, despite already being in enormous debt. This will likely result increased tuition in the future, but the people voted for it because they thought it would improve education for students.

Recall

One more type of "citizen democracy" is the "recall" of public officials from office, which enables the people to gather signatures to hold a special election to vote on whether to remove a state official from office before the expiration of his term. At least 29 states, including New Jersey, allow some form of recalling state or local officials.[10]

Earlier this year, unions angry at Wisconsin Republican Governor Scott Walker attempted to recall him from office. They collected enough signatures, but when the special election was held, Governor Walker won a majority of the vote. His reelection was helped by the raising and spending of $63 million in support of him during the campaign leading up to the recall election.

Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger was elected governor of California after the Democrat, Gray Davis, was recalled and removed from office in 2003. Prior to that, the only time a governor was recalled from office was in 1921, in North Dakota.

But many officials other than governor can be recalled from office by this procedure of gathering enough signatures to hold a special election. In New Jersey, the governor has never been recalled, but other officials have been. The New Jersey Constitution provides:

The section of the New Jersey Constitution that authorizes recall says:

"The people reserve unto themselves the power to recall, after at least one year of service, any elected official in this State or representing this State in the United States Congress. The Legislature shall enact laws to provide for such recall elections. Any such laws shall include a provision that a recall election shall be held upon petition of at least 25% of the registered voters in the electoral district of the official sought to be recalled. If legislation to implement this constitutional amendment is not enacted within one year of the adoption of the amendment, the Secretary of State shall, by regulation, implement the constitutional amendment, except that regulations adopted by the Secretary of State shall be superseded by any subsequent legislation consistent with this constitutional amendment governing recall elections. The sufficiency of any statement of reasons or grounds procedurally required shall be a political rather than a judicial question.

The process to recall a state official in New Jersey is this:

No sooner than 50 days before the completion of the state official's first year in office, a recall committee of at least three people may form and submit to the state a short petition to recall the petition. The state official must respond within three business days, and also notify the incumbent that there is an effort to recall him. If the petition is approved, then the recall committee must obtain signatures of other registered voters over the next 160 days (320 days to recall the governor). The number of signatures must be at least 25% of the registered voters in the relevant jurisdiction in the last general election. Those signatures are then turned in to the state election official, who must determine within 10 days whether enough signatures were obtained.

In 2010, your instructor argued a case before the New Jersey Supreme Court to establish a right to recall a U.S. Senator by this procedure. Several students attended the oral argument in Trenton, and the gallery was overflowing. But by a 4-2 vote, the New Jersey Supreme Court held that the provision in the New Jersey Constitution allowing the recall of federal officials, specifically U.S. Senators, was unconstitutional. The Court held that the U.S. Constitution does not permit the recall, by a vote of the people, federally elected officials.

Lame Duck Congress

Fiscal Cliff

What is next for the political parties?

Remember that politics is a team sport, and the biggest teams are the political parties: Republicans and Democrats.

The "smoke-filled room" is a term used to describe a few powerful people smoking cigars who make all the important political decisions within each political party. Then the orders go out to everyone else in the party to obey, or else lose support from the party for reelection.

At the top of the party structure is a national committee. For the Republicans, it is the Republican National Committee, which raises enormous sums of money and otherwise sets direction for the party.

When are the Next Elections?

One aspect of politics that some like, while others dislike, is that it never stops. The day after an election, the focus begins on the next election. Most politicians never take their eye off their approval ratings or the next election.

New Jersey and Virginia are unusual in holding major elections in odd-numbered years, so in 2013 there will be campaigns and elections in these states. Why do New Jersey and Virginia do this? Probably to give greater power to the political machines, keeping them influential all the time.

Governor Chris Christie's stands for reelection in 2013, and the massive Democrat majority in New Jersey makes it difficult for him to win. His opponent may be Newark mayor Corey Booker, a rising star among Democrats who may one day want to run for president himself.

Christie and Booker must first win their party's primary in June in order to qualify for the ballot in November. There will almost certainly be other Democrats who oppose Booker for that party's nomination. Will anyone run against Christie in his primary?

There will be many other state races of great importance in 2013 in New Jersey. There will also be special elections as congressional seats open up around the Nation. It is expected that Obama will appoint John Kerry to be the new Secretary of State after Hillary Clinton resigns, and that will create an open U.S. Senate seat from Massachusetts. Republican Scott Brown, who lost reelection last week for his U.S. Senate seat, would then likely run to replace John Kerry.

Already congressmen must begin thinking about their races for reelection 2014, and the race for the next presidential election in 2016 has quietly begun too. On the Republican side, it is expected that Jeb Bush will seek and win the nomination, while Hillary Clinton seems likely to be the Democrat nominee.

Homework

Answer the first five questions, and then two of the remaining three, for a total of seven questions:

1. Why do you think Obama defeated Romney? Explain.
2. Explain the difference between an "initiative" and a "referendum"
3. Explain what a "recall" is, including an example.
4. In which direction do you think the Republican National Committee (RNC) should take in order to improve its election results in 2014 and 2016?
5. Which states hold major elections in 2013, and when do candidates begin running, perhaps quietly, for president in 2016?
6. Do you think it was right for Governor Chris Christie to praise Obama after Hurricane Sandy and less than a week before the election? Discuss.
7.
8.

Extra credit (answer two of the following five questions):

9. Do you think the U.S. Constitution prevents the people of New Jersey from recalling a U.S. Senator? Discuss.
10. The Republican Party has lost the popular vote in presidential elections in 5 out of the last 6 elections. Do you think the Republican Party can win the presidency in 2016?
11. Do you expect Governor Chris Christie to run for reelection in 2013, and would he win? Discuss.
12.
13. Discuss any topic in this lecture.

You can post your answers at American Government Homework Eight.

References

  1. http://www.ibtimes.com/ron-paul-obama-got-re-elected-because-majority-receiving-check-866900
  2. http://themonkeycage.org/blog/2012/11/07/galluping-away-from-the-herd/
  3. 3.0 3.1 http://www.civicyouth.org/at-least-80-electoral-votes-depended-on-youth/
  4. http://www.washingtontimes.com/blog/inside-politics/2012/nov/8/obama-ground-game-wont-transfer-2016-aide-says/#ixzz2Bsldq5kV
  5. http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/politics/2012/11/why_romney_was_surprised_to_lose_his_campaign_had_the_wrong_numbers_bad.html?google_editors_picks=true
  6. The Hyde Amendment is a partial ban on federal funding of abortions.
  7. In Florida a super-majority of 60% is required to change the constitution.
  8. http://www.ncsl.org/legislatures-elections/elections/initiative-referendum-and-recall-overview.aspx
  9. A rare exception was in 1996 in Missouri, when a minimum wage referendum in Missouri was defeated "overwhelmingly." [1]
  10. http://www.ncsl.org/legislatures-elections/elections/recall-of-state-officials.aspx