The economic crisis elections

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(NNPA)—There. I made up a title for the fact that the recent November elections were essentially about the socioeconomic status of voters as the primary factor in their decisions. We know already that in bi-year and mid-term elections after a major presidential election, the winner’s party most often loses seats. So why the excitement? The news value was that the major media tried and tried to nationalize the election by making it a referendum on the performance of President Barack Obama’s nine months in office. He had won both New Jersey and Virginia handily in 2008 and campaigned there for Democratic candidates in 2009.

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Symptomatic of this was that even after the elections, Howard Fineman of Newsweek wrote that “election results show a lack of confidence in Obama.” However, ABC News analysts admitted that their exit polls showed that, “Voters Wary of Economy, Not Obama.” In New Jersey, John Corzine, the sitting Democratic governor was defeated by Republican Chris Christie by 48-44 percent. The Edison exit poll asked a question about which candidate had the best property tax plan and people answered “None.” They didn’t care about that. But when asked what was their most important issue, they responded overwhelmingly the “economy and jobs.” This was confirmed by the ABC News poll which found that 89 percent of people were concerned about the direction of the nation’s economy in the next year. Those who say they were concerned about the economy voted for Christie 61-34 percent.

Similarly in Virginia, Democrat Creigh Deeds was defeated by Republican Robert McDonnell by a landslide of 59-41 percent.

Like New Jersey, the ABC News exit poll found that 85 percent of respondents were worried about economy and they supported Bob McDonnell by 77-23 percent. In both states, Obama’s approval ratings were satisfactory at 48 percent in Virginia and 57 percent in New Jersey.

There was a similar picture in mayoral elections, with Michael Bloomberg of New York City winning narrowly (51-46 percent) against African-American William Thompson. Beside race, the other key was that more economically challenged areas of the city, the Bronx and Brooklyn voted for William Thompson while Manhattan, Queens and Staten Island voted for Mayor Bloomberg. The intriguing fact is that if turnout in black and brown communities had equaled those of last year, Bloomberg would have probably been defeated.

The decline in Black, as well as Hispanic and youth turnout, which could have especially helped Corzine, was a major factor in all of these elections and in the mayoral elections as well. This was especially true for mayoral elections in Houston and Atlanta that have had Black mayors in the past, but where Blacks now face a run-off in both cities against popular White female challengers. Because neither won more than 50 percent of the vote, in Atlanta, city council members Mary Norwood will face a run-off against Kasim Reed Dec. 1, while in Houston, City Controller Annise Parker will face former City Attorney Gene Locke Dec. 12.

Democrats must face the fact that one reason the “colored” and youth part of the Obama coalition did not show up in these elections was that they are hurting more than others. Republicans, however, were more energized being fueled by ideology, their opposition to the Obama and Democratic health care policy and therefore, turned out at a greater rate. The logic of this is that because of the depths of the economic pain, the political picture will be unstable, with local politicians taking the hit until 2012 when Obama will be up for re-election. So, Obama will also be in the cross-hairs unless Democrats create a record so strong that it allows them to buck the tide of opposition.

Some headway has just been made with the passage of the health care bill in the House of Representatives by 220 to 215, with 39 Democrats voting against it. And while some Democrats opposed the bill, mostly it could signal nervousness by southern and mid-western Democrats about the impact of the economy on their own elections next year. The new unemployment figures illustrate the undertow: an increase in national unemployment from 9.7 to 10.2 percent with Black unemployment moving from 15.2 to 15.7 percent.

This suggests that while President Obama’s favorable rating are okay right now, he must get a health care bill to campaign on and 2010 must be a busy year for jobs growth if he and his party are to hold on.

(Ron Walters is professor emeritus of government and politics at the University of Maryland College Park.)

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