This is a hard time, I know. We've all been there—it hurts when your candidate loses, and you realize that all the people and policies you hate will be in place for the next four years. But let me suggest that while you're perfectly justified in crying, wailing, beating your breasts and rending your garments, you really should try to keep your sanity. Not only will it be good for the country, it'll be good for you too.
Last night, as I sat in Massachusetts Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren's campaign ballroom taking notes on her win, I turned to Twitter and was stunned to discover that Americans have moved further and faster on marriage equality than I had dared to dream. Maine and Maryland voted to let same-sex couples marry; Washington state is poised to do the same; and voters in Minnesota defeated a measure that would have amended the state Constitution to ban same-sex marriage. Maine voted in favor of equality 54 percent to 46 percent, in the first voter-initiated referendum to do so. Maryland passed marriage equality 52 percent to 48 percent—and did so the first time it went to the ballot. In Washington, with 50 percent of the votes recorded, marriage equality was ahead 52 percent to 48 percent. (That last one will take a week to before we get final results; Washington votes entirely by mail, and some of those ballots won’t even be received for days.)
They’re not kidding when they say the ads are inescapable in Ohio. Even the simple act of filling up the gas tank meant risking exposure to campaign messaging on Election Day; on the small screen at a pump in Cleveland, a Romney campaign ad about the skyrocketing cost of gas over the past four years played, a perfect example of the political micro-targeting that has become pro forma in the state. Mention the ads and people shudder; these 30-second soundbites are the modern day political equivalent of the Bubonic plague, festering with untruths and decimating what little Mr. Smith Goes to Washington innocence Ohioans might have had about the political process.
If you want a sense of how remarkable Barack Obama’s re-election victory is, think back to last summer. At the time, the president was struggling to reach a deal with House Republicans, who were threatening not to raise the debt ceiling and plunge the economy into a second recession. Unemployment was high—9.2 percent—Obama’s approval had dipped to the low 40s, and to anyone paying attention, the first African American president looked like a one-term failure.
But beginning in the fall, Obama began to reassert himself. With the American Jobs Act, he outlined a viable plan for generating economic growth and kick-starting the recovery. With his widely praised speech in Kansas, he outlined a populist agenda of greater investment and higher taxes on the wealthiest Americans. Over the course of 2012, he built good will with important communities, from LGBT Americans with an endorsement of same-sex marriage to Latino immigrants and their families with a measure meant to emulate the DREAM Act. What’s more, the economy began to pick up: Job growth increased, unemployment dropped, and the overall economic picture began to brighten.
Many years ago, legendary psychologists Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky used experiments to demonstrate the power of "loss aversion," the fact that losing something you have is more emotionally powerful than gaining something you don't. In other words, the misery of losing $100 is far larger than the pleasure of gaining $100. Which means that Democrats ought to feel even better today than they did in 2008.
They probably don't, though. The election of 2008 was certainly the most extraordinary of my lifetime, and probably of yours as well. There were a few prescient voices at the time saying, "Don't get too excited, or you'll just be disappointed" (Paul Krugman was the most notable), but it was almost impossible not to get swept up in the moment, particularly because it came after eight years of the George W. Bush presidency. The emotion most Democrats are experiencing right now is not so much hope, or inspiration, but relief. It doesn't seem quite as likely to produce tears of joy.
ALEXANDRIA, VIRGINIA—The daycare of a church named Shiloh Baptist isn't where you'd expect to locate the epicenter of President Obama's hopes for being re-elected. Inside, boxes of Toy Story fruit snacks, miniature scissors, and the occasional errant, bewildered toddler indicate the building's primary purpose, but the string of Obama-Biden yard signs marks this as the spot. While half of the building maintains its original use, the other has been taken over as an Obama field office. About 60 volunteers cram every nook and cranny of the second floor. They line the hallway walls, sitting on folding chairs or cross-legged on the floor, speaking softly into their cell phones, gently reminding voters to head to the polls. A chorus of voices echo the message: "This is so-and-so from the Obama campaign, calling you from Alexandria to see if you have voted today."
For progressives, waiting for tonight's election returns is less a matter of giddy anticipation a la 2008 and more a cause of intense nail-biting. There is potentially more to lose tonight (or God forbid, in a couple of weeks if Florida, Colorado, or Ohio make a mess) than to gain. There’s health-care and regulatory reform, of course. But more than that, there’s the much-needed sanity that President Obama has brought to a politically fractious, often-unhinged Washington.
I've often thought that there are few things worse than getting your party's nomination for president and then losing. To come so close to becoming the most powerful and important person on Planet Earth and then to fall short, and to boot, not only not getting a nice silver medal but being heaped with scorn, ridiculed and condemned—that must just eat you up inside. Some losers, like John McCain, have a job to go back to, but most don't, and Mitt Romney hasn't had a job since he started running for president five years ago. Let's assume for the moment that all the polls are right, and tonight is going to end with Barack Obama getting re-elected. What will Romney do with himself?
This is the tenth in the Prospect's series on the 174 measures on state ballots this year.
Marriage equality is up for vote in four states. In three states, voters have a chance to affirmatively say yes to allowing their state to marry same-sex couples; in the fourth, voters can add a “one man-one woman” marriage clause to the state’s constitution. As we all know, support for LGBT issues in general, and marriage equality in particular, has been getting stronger every year, as more of us talk to our families and friends, explaining that love and devotion are the same whether you love a boy or a girl. Will this be the year that, at long last, we win at least one marriage vote at the polls?
For a long time, curmudgeonly commentators lamented the decline of voter turnout in America. Fewer and fewer of us found our way to the polls, distracted as we were by the love lives of motion picture celebrities or the latest models of sporting motor car. But then about a decade ago, something strange happened. First, some political scientists realized that everyone was measuring voter turnout wrong. The accepted rates, which said that fewer than half of Americans turned out on election day, were based on census data of the voting-age population (VAP). The problem is that there are a lot of people who are of voting age but aren't eligible to vote, either because they aren't citizens, or have had their voting rights taken away because they committed a felony (you can read about that in this article by Michael McDonald and Samuel Popkin). And second, voter turnout began going up.
To date, I haven’t made a formal forecast of the presidential election (though I will below). But I want to answer the question in the title of this post first, because it’s one that isn’t asked (or answered) enough.
“Thank you for what you are doing.” Liz Childress, a 22-year-old volunteer for the Obama campaign, heard this refrain as she knocked on doors in Church Hill, a predominately African American neighborhood east of downtown Richmond, where dilapidated vacant homes dominate many of the blocks.
Childress, in a navy pea coat with a Joe Biden pin fastened to the lapel, was canvassing as part of the Obama team’s final get-out-the-vote effort in Virginia. Gone were the days when the campaign sought to reach persuadable undecided voters. Even a week ago, Childress would have talked up Barack Obama to everyone she encountered, with arguments on why the president deserved their support. On the final weekend before Election Day, though, the campaign was pursuing a different strategy: Childress was only checking in with reliable Democrats and reminding them to go to the polls. From the Democratic signs in almost everyone’s yard to the “Occupy Richmond, VA,” spray-painted on a brick wall, Church Hill was clearly Obama territory.
If you’re confused by the reports coming out of key battleground state Ohio about last-minute changes to voting rules there, you’re not alone. The state’s current voting regulations have more moving parts than a live Lady Gaga show. On Election Day, speculation abounds about legal battles that could lie ahead come Wednesday morning.
I called up Ned Foley, professor at The Ohio State University’s Moritz College of Law and director of Election Law @ Moritz, a bipartisan center on electoral procedure, to guide me through the wilderness.