The Midterm Elections 2014

It is election time again. Today (November 4, 2014), the United States are holding the 2014 midterm elections.

High chances of a GOP takeover of the Senate They have won.

"Democratic Donkey & Republican Elephant" by DonkeyHotel, flickr (CC BY 2.0) https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/
“Democratic Donkey & Republican Elephant” by DonkeyHotel, flickr (CC BY 2.0) https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

The odds of the GOP retaking the Senate are very high. Nate Silver, who accurately predicted the outcome of the 2012 elections, estimates the chance of a GOP takeover of the Senate at 74%.

The Washington Post predicts an 8 seat win for the GOP which would get them a majority of 53 seats in the U.S. Senate and attaches a 94 percent change. Other major news outlets present high but slightly lower numbers: The Huffington Post says 74 percent and the New York Times 70 percent.

Democracy under fire

As Americans are voting today, the decline of democracy in America continues. Unfortunately, there is no end in sight for the long trend of the erosion of democratic institutions in the U.S.

American democracy is under fire from several sides.

One factor is directly connected to the Republican Party’s election strategy. As of 2014, it is continuing its attempts at voter disenfranchisement to keep mostly poor people of color from voting, as they tend to vote for Democrats in the majority. In some twisted way, this strategy fits in with the nationalistic fantasy prevalent in some sections of the GOP of going back to an eighteenth-century America overseen by the infallible wisdom of the Founding Fathers. That idealized America of the past was of course the one in which neither black Americans, white women, or poor white men were allowed to participate in the political sphere. So in this regard, the Republican Party of today is the keeper of American traditions in the most horrible way imaginable.

Another factor for which the GOP cannot solely be blamed is the general corrupting role of money in politics which affects both major parties. And unfortunately, the force of the ‘Money Party’ is particularly strong in 2014. A quote from the Nation:

This is the year of the mega-donor: just forty-two people are responsible for nearly a third of Super PAC spending in the 2014 election cycle. Super PACs, meanwhile, are outspending the national parties.

On Democracy Now!, The Nation author Lee Fang explains how the 2014 election is fueled by $1bn in anonymous “dark money” campaign donations:

 

Another example of money in politics:

K Street lobbyists swarm Kentucky to support the reelection campaign of GOP Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. They dress down in jeans and t-shirts, knocking on doors, masquerading as ordinary grassroots campaigners.

 

Just in case anyone still has doubts about the corrupting influence of money in U.S. politics, David Bossie, the president of Citizens United—yes that Citizens United from the Supreme Court casejust gave a speech wherein he bragged about how that ruling handed Republicans the election:

Citizens United, our Supreme Court case, leveled the playing field, and we’re very proud of the impact that had in last night’s election.

That ‘leveling’ of the playing field means in practice that large corporations and the aforementioned ‘megadonors’ can buy elections because campaign contributions are legally seen as ‘free speech’ by ‘persons.’

In my opinion, the U.S. needs to restructure its political system in a way that diminishes the ability of the wealthy to buy off elections. Otherwise, it will never get any closer to the textbook fantasy of American democracy which many Americans still hold dearly and which I would also like to see realized.

 

Technical irregularities with voting machines in early voting

As if the problem with money in politics wasn’t bad enough already, there have been reports of malfunctioning voting machines during early voting periods. In some cases, as in North Carolina, the touchscreen where a voter selected the Democratic candidate jumped to select the Republican candidate instead.

Update [November 5, 2014] The GOP has won the Senate

As was predicted by the forecasts, the GOP took the U.S. Senate in the 2014 midterm elections, winning 10 of 13 close Senate races, and expanded majority in the House by 10 seats.

What contributed to the GOP’s victory this time?

Troubles with the Affordable Care Act, U.S. Obama’s appearance in recent foreign policy, and partisan politics in Wahington.

The Washington Post puts it this way:

Obama has seen his image damaged by the bungled launch of his health-care program and by his reactions to crises overseas. [. . .] [P]reliminary exit polls also suggested that Obama had become a symbol of what he once ran against: Washington’s gridlock, and the inability of its leaders to move beyond partisan fighting.

The last point is honestly a bit puzzling to me. After all, the GOP, in my view, has been the main source of intransigence during Obama’s presidency so far. They even made it clear from day one that their strategy was to make Obama’s presidency a failure by obstructing virtually all Democratic policy proposals, out of principle. That is the definition of partisan gridlock in Washington. And while Obama often appeared on the defensive against the GOP’s attack-dog style of political aggression, not really willing to put up a fight, their strategy has worked this time. Obama is now being blamed for the unproductive partisan politics in Washington that Republicans have engaged in since his taking office in 2009.

Al Jazeera America aptly titled an article on the subject “GOP: From shutdown villains to kings of Congress?” and interviewed a political consultant, whose takeaway was that “[t]he biggest lesson for the moment is that Americans have a short memory.” Amen to that.

Bonus fun: crazy campaign ads of 2014

Dirty tricks in the 2014 midterm elections

As if the insanely high amount of dark money pouring into 2014 election campaigns wasn’t enough, some politicos took to really dirty tricks this time. In Iowa, the RNC employed a strategy called vote shaming by promoting Facebook ads that claimed that the ballot was not secret (that is a lie) and that their neighbours would be able to get information on whether they voted Republican. The implication was that people better vote Republican or else an angry mob of conservative neighbours might invade their home in a few months when voting records would supposedly be publicized.

The Atlantic Compares US And German Electoral Politics In Light Of The 2013 German Elections

The Atlantic Compares US And German Electoral Politics In Light Of The 2013 German Elections

Germany’s 2013 federal elections are over, Angela Merkel will get a third term as chancellor, and there will probably a “grand coalition” between her Christian Democrats and the Social Democrats. “No experiments” seems to have been be the mindset of large swathes of the German electorate. There was no “hope” and “change” as in the 2008 Obama campaign in the US, although many, including myself, would argue that there has been less change and more continuity from the Bush administration in many ways.

The Atlantic has a fascinating article by Olga Khazan titled “Why Germany’s Politics Are Much Saner, Cheaper, and Nicer Than Ours.” The piece compares electoral politics in the US and Germany. It is largely sympathetic towards how elections are conducted in Germany.

Whether American electoral politics are better or worse than Germany’s is, of course, a matter of opinion. But here are some interesting findings from the article that put elections in both countries into perspective:

Some notable facts about elections in Germany:

No aggressive negative campaigns, few ads:

  • Attack ads are a rarity on German TV.

Here in Leipzig, I saw several campaign posters that featured negative messages. Nonetheless, these were relatively mild compared to your typical negative ad in the US. You would not see something portraying the other party’s candidate as sympathizing with terrorists, freeing dangerous criminals, or wanting to kill your grandmother.

  • There is one 90-second ad per party per election. Ads are aired on the public TV channels and the frequency depends on the last election’s number of votes. In comparison, Obama and Romney each spent over $ 400 million on TV ads, primarily negative ads, during the 2012 campaign season.

Lower cost and shorter duration of elections:

  • The campaign of Chancellor Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU), including all parliamentary races, cost 20 to 30 million euros combined. From an American perspective, that is a real bargain. Buying a Campaigning for a US Senate seat costs about $ 10.5 million (per seat!). Obama’s 2012 reelection alone cost $ 700 million—and that is without funds from PACs, a legal construct unknown in Germany.
  • However, there are no legal limits on campaign donations by individuals and corporations in Germany.
  • Elections in Germany officially last just six weeks. That is almost nothing, compared to two years of campaigning in the US, where there are party primaries.

Less Big Data, TV, and ideological purity of parties

  • Up to a third of German voters are undecided until shortly before the election.
  • There is no microtargeting of voters as in recent big-data-driven US campaigns. This probably has to do with German citizens’ history-based  (think Gestapo, Stasi) uneasiness about extensive data collection.
  • The first US-style TV debate between the candidates of the big parties in Germany happened in 2002. As the German parliamentary system is no winner-take-all system, the reluctance of polarization between two candidates of two parties seems understandable.
  • Among the big German parties, Merkel’s CDU and the Social Democrats (SPD) (“Volksparteien”), there is no lock-step adherence to certain policy positions [except maybe for the hegemony of neoliberal capitalism], as is arguably the case in the US with the social wedge issues of the Culture War. Part of Chancellor Merkel’s success has been “stealing” issues from the Social Democrats (SPD) and the Green Party, most notably the decision to do a 180-degrees-turnaround on nuclear energy after the Fukushima catastrophy in Japan.
  • In the German parliamentary system, there are several relevant “third parties,” as they would be called in the US.

Among these are the libertarian Free Democratic Party (FDP)—even though they missed the 5 percent barrier for entering the Bundestag for the first time in sixty-four years in 2013, the Green Party, and the Left Party (Die LINKE). Within the German party landscape, Khazan holds, fringe political forces cannot capture political parties, as is arguably the case with the American GOP, under the influence of the Christian Right and Tea Party libertarians.

As the article argues, the German parliamentary system “seems to encourage consensus” rather than extreme polarization.

The reason for a broad support of this “pragmatism” among the German electorate, Khazan continues, is a weariness about extreme partisan politics in light of a history that included authoritarian monarchy, Nazism, and Communism during the Cold War in the GDR.

Please check out Olga Khazan’s article. It is really worth reading.