Executive Director Reports

Pundits drawing wrong conclusions from election results

The politicians and the pundits are busy analyzing the meaning of the recent election, sifting through the data to pick out facts that reinforce their pre-conceptions.

Mostly they don’t like to challenge their own assumptions so I thought that perhaps I would do it for them.

One article of faith among both liberal and conservative observers is that voters were motivated by intense hostility to taxes. But our experience here in Illinois tells a different story.

Pat Quinn, who was on record in favor of increasing the income tax rate, defeated an opponent who repeatedly vowed to cut taxes. Illinois Senate Democrats voted almost to a person for a 2 percent income tax increase, but only lost two of their colleagues on Nov. 2, and one had voted against the tax hike. On the other hand the House Democratic caucus, which took a hard line against taxes, lost seven of their brethren, six who were opposed to a tax increase.

Then there were the Republican caucuses in both the state House and Senate, which took an even harder line against a tax increase, thinking it would be their ticket to majority status. Yet they failed in a year that Republicans were swept into office across the country.

And finally, consider the four Illinois Democrats who were knocked out of Congress despite voting to cut taxes for 95 percent of Americans as part of an economic recovery program. If voters are about cutting taxes, why weren’t these incumbents returned to office?

If you turn on cable TV or pick up a newspaper, you’ll hear words of warning about the antitax fervor sweeping the electorate. I’m not suggesting that folks are anxious to have their taxes raised, just that one can vote for a tax increase or otherwise defy the conventional wisdom and survive politically. Or you can vote against a tax cut and still get beat.

The pundits are also advising us that voters are concerned about the federal deficit. That’s probably the case. Yet virtually every Republican candidate for Congress supports the efforts of John Boehner and Mitch McConnell, their party’s congressional leaders, to extend the Bush tax cuts to families making over $250,000 annually – increasing the national debt by $700 billion over the next 10 years.

We’re also being told that the electorate doesn’t like the Obama health plan and that Democrats were punished for their support of the law.

But one post-election survey found that 79 percent of folks who voted for Republican candidates support the health-care law’s ban on insurance companies denying coverage based on a pre-existing condition.

I’m pretty sure, based on those same polls, that folks don’t want to reverse the part about children being able to stay on their parents’ insurance policies until they’re 26, or the part that closes the donut hole for Medicare’s prescription drug plan. And do they really want to repeal a prohibition against canceling insurance when someone falls sick?

Let me offer my own take on the events of Nov. 2.

Many voters are angry— including many of us. Whether it’s the 10 percent unemployment rate, the high home foreclosure rate, or the banks and Wall Street making out while we’re just getting by—we’ve had enough.

Some folks—including a lot of AFSCME members—went to the polls on Election Day to vote for candidates who’d fight to create jobs, help families and put a check on greedy corporations. We took the time to figure out which candidates were speaking up for us, and we voted for them.

In the Quad Cities, for instance, many union members came out to vote for U.S. Rep Phil Hare, someone who had a 100 percent AFSCME voting record in Congress, had brought thousands of jobs to his district and had fought the banks and insurance companies.

Yet other angry voters simply turned their outrage against incumbents, often voting against their own interests in the process. That’s why Phil Hare and many like him ended up getting turned out of office.

The result will all too likely be an attempt to unleash the insurance companies and give tax breaks to the rich, all, of course, in the name of the people, even though that’s not what folks told pollsters they wanted.

The Republican leaders will claim they are fulfilling an electoral mandate. Some Democrats will go along because they, too, will have misread what the election meant, and the punditry will affirm it as wisdom.

One can only hope that next time around, when the crowd—brought to you and paid for by the corporate interests who poured tens of millions of undisclosed cash into their campaign coffers—stands for reelection, instead of just getting mad, voters will get even.