A Great Night for Progressives, Except for the House

Lots of awesome news for liberals to be psyched about this morning. President Obama won handily with a broad multi-ethnic coalition. Democrats kept their Senate majority despite facing down a very tough map. LGBT issues had a huge night with marriage equality ballot initiatives passing in Maine and Maryland so far, and the election of the first openly gay Senator and first gay Republican House candidate. Marijuana legalization passed in Colorado and Washington.

In PA, Democrats killed it in all the statewide races and narrowed the Republicans’ majorities in the state Senate. The Republicans lead by just 27-23 in the Senate, while the House split will stay about the same. Depending on how the outstanding races shake out, they’ll lead by between 13 and 17 seats.

The bad news is that the American people seriously need a remedial course in how politics works. You’d think by now that voters would understand that picking both Barack Obama and a Republican House member doesn’t produce sensible moderate policies but rather scary debt ceiling standoffs and government shutdown threats. You’ve got to be some kind of idiot to vote for Obama and then also send him an opposition Congressman whose explicit objective is to ruin the guy’s Presidency. That’s the singular goal of an opposition party member! But evidently people really do not understand how this works, because a bunch of Obama voters apparently thought it would be good for him to have to work with John Boehner as the Speaker of the House again.

Ticket-splitting is in long-term decline, but it’s still going to be an annoying part of American politics for a while. I don’t have any particular insight into what we can do to complete the polarization in the short term beyond explaining to friends, family and colleagues why it’s counterproductive to split their tickets.

Over the long term, we really need to organize for voting reforms like Party-List Proportional Representation, where only the names of the political parties appear on the Congressional ballot line, not the names of the candidates. Thinking about the personal qualities of the candidates is what’s screwing people up here. The ballot should put the correct question to voters – which party do you want running Congress?

Luckily, none of the big goals for Obama’s second term involve shepherding legislation through Congress, but rather defending policy wins from the first term that are already scheduled to happen – health care implementation, financial reform implementation, rolling back the Bush tax cuts. As long as Obama doesn’t preemptively cave to Republicans on any of this stuff, they have very little leverage to stop any of it.


  1. Watching from overseas, I thought it was a great night for American democracy in general. The voting seemed well organized, even with the recent storm, everything went fine, nobody rioted or got hurt. The loser was dignified and thoughtful in defeat, the winner was gracious and eloquent. Former government officials aren’t going to be arrested for being unkind to people, as in this terrific election example http://af.reuters.com/article/worldNews/idAFBRE8A616K20121107?pageNumber=2&virtualBrandChannel=0. America at its best, I’d say.

    It was an election in which not much changed, so I’d call it a wash.

    Now–since I’ve given about 400 presentations lately on the American electoral system, it is fair to point out that there is a difference between “how American politics work” and how you want them to work.

    The system was designed with the expectation that the House and Senate would frequently oppose each other (although not due to parties). Our national executive campaign had over 116 million votes cast and less than a 2% differential between them, which would likely result in a coalition government in a parliamentary democracy. The US is an enormous country, and with a two-party system (with big tent coalitions under them) a depersonalized election leaves no room for dealing with significant regional differences in issues, etc. Of course personal factors and qualities matter–that’s why we have elections!! Only Vulcans would be immune to such base emotions.

    I do find it interesting that the part of government the Founders designed to be most in line with the popular will is different in makeup than the result of the rest of the government, but I’m sure sure what it all means.

    • Jon Geeting says:

      There’s a huge tension between how American political parties function and how America’s political institutions are designed. I think it was an enormous mistake for the Founders to design the political institutions to resist party competition. Institutions with an anti-majoritarian bent and first past the post voting leave the country ill-equipped for effective governance when the parties have become more highly disciplined and ideologically coherent. We need more parliamentary institutions, and something like party-list proportional representation so that more parties can compete. More political parties would account for the regional variation. We need something like a Sherrod Brown/Elizabeth Warren Democratic Party, a Michael Bloomberg/Governor Mitt Romney Republican Party, and a Jim DeMint Authoritarian Party.

      • Washington….Jefferson…..Madison…..Hancock…..Geeting….. Gee, I wonder which name doesn’t belong?

        The tension is because we do not hold politicians accountable to behave as adults. That’s another reason for ticket-splitting.

      • And it’s funny….you ridiculed me for stating we needed a 3rd party. Now you’re recommending we need more.

        Nice move there Junior, become what you mock. At least you’re learning.

        • Jon Geeting says:

          I ridiculed you because third parties aren’t viable in a first-past-the-post voting system. If we had ranked voting or fusion voting or party list PR, I’d be all about more parties. Refer back to all the posts I’ve done here on the need for alternative parties in local elections.

  2. The Authoritarian Party name might need a focus group review!

    More parties might help, certainly in coalition building. However, there wasn’t much expectation that parties would play much of a role, but they enabled “national” politics in a time when there were few truly national institutions despite what people expected.

    It is of interest that most western democracies are converging on the 51-49 model, with sometimes a small third party playing the role of American independents, and changes of party after 6-8 years. But while European politics and the EU provoke regionalist/separatist movements and painful government formations (Germany, Belgium),our 51/49 produces a “decisive” victory for the winner nearly always.

    • Jon Geeting says:

      My read of the history is that the Founders were actively trying to thwart the formation of political parties.

  3. Parties were considered problematic, in part because of the corruption connected with British parliamentary groupings (forerunners of parties). Writers like Madison and Hamilton saw the emergence of “interests” as unavoidable, and felt that the overlapping forms of election for the Presidency,Senate, and House would force wiser people to build consensus (ie Electoral College).

    They really didn’t expect them, didn’t like them at first, but got over it quickly-especially when they realized how they helped solve the dilemma of how to govern a large republic (which hadn’t really happened in their reading of Classical history).

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