The recent election could have gone either way, based upon shifting polls and momentum. It was probably not the watershed election many now claim it is, nor was it primarily a reflection of demographic trends. It was, rather, simply a case of who actually showed up to vote. How could the predictions of so many conservative-leaning analysts have, for the first time really, been so wrong? There was an assumption that groups voting for Obama would not turn out in the same numbers as they did the last time, which didn’t happen. Furthermore, prior to this election it was almost always the case that many polls chronically undercounted those who wound up voting Republican. This time that didn’t happen, as millions of likely Republican voters did not turn out, and Romney actually wound up winning fewer votes than McCain did last time. For months it seemed as though they were the more energized voters, with more motivation to go out and vote, but in the end that was not the case. Why not?
These days it is generally understood that, in simple terms, the Democrats overall are the “party of government,” while the Republicans are the opposite. Democrats are far more likely to oppose cuts in public spending and instead advocate increases. It follow that people who are dependent on government, either because it supports them, or they directly or indirectly work for it, are more likely to support Democrats. But it goes deeper than that. They are also more likely to be interested in government and politics as a result. The Obama campaign “micro-targeted” these voters and successfully aroused the fear that Romney was a threat to them, thus leading to a greater propensity to vote. On the other side, people who get nothing from the state are more likely to be less interested or enthused about the political process. They don’t care as much, which means it takes a lot more effort to persuade them about how it directly affects them, i.e. in terms of costs, unless there are other issues salient enough to capture their attention.
What is occurring here may well signal the beginning of a new paradigm vis a vis political behavior. It replicates what we have seen for many years in local school board or other district elections. Public employee unions are well-organized and highly motivated to get people to vote their way, which often happens, because turnout is generally sparse in such elections. Even though this often results in tax increases, they have to become especially onerous before people are motivated enough to negatively respond. (This is not intended to be a rap on everyone who works for the government, often in necessary fields, but rather what the unions do with their money). At the national level it may be too simple to view this in terms of“makers and takers,” but clearly the more people are brought into the government orbit, the more likely they are to vote for more government, and, it now appears, they are also more likely to vote, period.
This doesn’t necessarily mean we’ve reached the tipping point in terms of dependency yet, but it does indicate, for the present, that the Republicans have a lot of work to do in terms of organization and bringing out the vote.