What Do Voters Really Want?

November 5, 2014 Updated: April 23, 2016

By all indications, last night’s midterm election results were a Republican wave despite previous prognostications of the contrary.  Democrats were walloped and the president must now come to terms with a heavily controlled Republican Congress (the already-GOP controlled House, playing second fiddle to the high profile Senate potential, also picked up seats and now enjoys a record majority.)  Voters are upset with the president, and by extension the Democrats, but there were trends throughout yesterday’s results that pose anomalous questions.

As Ezra Klein points out, while the election was a rebuke of Democrats, liberalism won.  Klein draws attention to various ballot initiatives throughout the country that passed;  “The personhood ballot initiatives lost in Colorado and North Dakota. Marijuana was legalized in D.C. and Oregon (and we’re still waiting on Alaska). The minimum wage was raised in Arkansas, Illinois and Nebraska. Washington state expanded background checks on guns,” Klein wrote.  Astute observations by NBC’s Political Director and moderator of “Meet the Press,” Chuck Todd, stated that these midterms represent atypical trends – the prospect of minimum wage being increased in deep red states such as Arkansas and Nebraska, and Republican governors elected in blue states Maryland and Massachusetts.

In Kansas, voters also reelected their governor, Sam Brownback (R), even after his conservative tax policies, which are shared my many fellow conservatives, cost the state it’s credit rating and forced million dollar budget shortfalls.  Voters also disapprove of the Congress, which has the lowest approval rating in history, as well as members of the GOP, who were blamed for the government shutdown in the fall of 2013.  To that point, exit polls in Kentucky demonstrated that voters were largely disappointed with McConnell, but disapproved of Obama more – this was evident in exit polling that indicated that “38% of Kentucky voters said they wanted their ballots to express opposition to President Barack Obama” and McConnell’s Democratic challenger being so reluctant to say whether or not she voted for the president.

So what exactly can be gleaned from this election?  What do voters really want?  They want progress, not gridlock.  Polling indicates that more and more Americans are identifying themselves as Independents rather than Democrats or Republicans.  Too often during debates in the election cycle, Democratic incumbents were asked about whether or not they agreed with the policies of the president.  Most gave the most obvious answer – on certain issues they agree, and others they don’t.  Voters also share this sentiment as many Americans are not concerned with the nitty gritty issues dominating the schisms of the parties such as trade promotion authority or corporate tax reform – two areas in which the president may be able to compromise with the new Congress.  Most Americans are worried about the sluggish economy and unemployment – tangible issues that directly affect their lives – with some partisan exceptions such as abortion and national security.

The mudslinging back and forth between each party confuses voters, who just want to see measurable job growth and a strong America on the world stage.  Politics isn’t always local, as demonstrated in this past election, but it is usually petty and wonky.  The fact that a conservative state such as Alabama voted to raise their minimum wage, which is generally opposed by most Republicans, and vote out their moderate Democratic senator for a member of the “hell no” caucus in Rep. Tom Cotton indicates partisan politics generally does not make it outside the beltway.  It will be interesting to see if this trend continues into the next cycle.