On the Election

Looking for lessons in the November election outcome, here is what I find.


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On the day after the 2012 presidential election, I was sad. The candidate I thought could have been a great president did not win.

My congratulations go to the candidate who did win. He has been, and will now continue to be, my president.
Here are a few general thoughts about the election and the country:
1. Wisconsin. With regard to presidential politics, we now know an important number: 1 in 6. Wisconsin taught us this. Earlier this year, the state had a special election about whether to recall its governor. Feelings were strong on both sides. Turnout was higher for this vote than it had been for the state’s midterm election in 2010. Seemingly every Wisconsinite with an engaged interest in current events registered an opinion in this contest, in which 2.5 million votes were cast.
Then, less than half a year later, 3.0 million voted in Wisconsin’s presidential election. That means 1 in 6 voters cared only about the second of these two elections. Assuming the finding can be extrapolated nationwide, this is the share of voters in a presidential election who otherwise aren’t interested in politics.
Upon what do these 1 in 6 base their votes? Is it style? Branding? This portion of the vote is large enough to be decisive, so it’s an important question.
2. Ohio. “Negative campaigning” is something the other guy does. If my guy does it, it’s a clean hit. In other words, I know my view in this is biased. That said, it seems to me—from my perspective in swing-state Ohio—that the side that relied more heavily on negatively characterizing its opponent is the side that won the presidency. Say what you will about “going negative,” but it appears to work.
3. America. There was a column I wrote a few years ago in which I was trying to figure out the country’s financial mess. I took comfort then in the bustle of my local airport—things were still in motion; business was still happening. After election day, I was again in that airport. It suggested a different analogy.
My airport, CVG, has lost its prominence as a hub because of recent airline mergers. As a result, the airport is still bustling, but all of that activity has been concentrated into one terminal. The other terminals are still there, their disuse unseen.
Our economy is like that. The proportion of people finding work and prosperity within the U.S. economy has dramatically ratcheted down. The circle has constricted, with the people still inside often busy enough to forget how many remain outside. Are we content with this? Like the White House, the divided House and Senate also kept their status quo, suggesting that neither party’s view of the way forward won broad new support.
If we as a country are coming to accept our employment situation as the “new normal,” then who is the new normal American?  What does he or she believe? The ones who wish to lead this country will need to figure this out.