For many voters, presidential and congressional elections are seen as a chance to resolve big issues facing the nation. After vigorous debate (and, in battleground Ohio, lots and lots of television ads), a new direction will be mapped, or so the thinking goes. The president and members of Congress surely will hear the voice of the people, and they will act on it.
Don’t count on it, at least for the foreseeable future, advises Dan Balz, chief correspondent for the Washington Post and author of Collision 2012: Obama vs. Romney and the Future of Elections in America.
In a recent speech sponsored by the Ray C. Bliss Institute of Applied Politics at the University of Akron, Balz quickly destroyed quaint notions of such political progress. In a calm and methodical fashion, he laid out the proposition that elections these days don’t necessarily resolve much of anything.
Nothing suggests, he said, a “eureka moment” in either next year’s congressional contests or in the 2016 presidential election.
It’s as if Ohio lies between two giant tectonic plates, each moving with immense force, only to crunch into each other, with the nation as a whole going nowhere.
What Balz outlined was an ongoing collision between the “two Americas” that collided in 2012: the America that elected Barack Obama president in 2008 and the America that swept Republicans into the U.S. House two years later.
The most recent presidential election was also a collision between two distinct economic and social philosophies and between two very different personalties, each grounded in what Balz termed “different lives.”
Each candidate gave “an almost apocalyptic view” of the consequences if the country elected the other candidate.
In this view, Ohioans can expect to see a continuation of the bitter campaigning seen last year, although the state’s outrageously gerrymandered congressional districts mean tough battles will occur in only a handful of contests for the U.S. House.
But in those districts, and in the presidential election of 2016, expect sharp contrasts between the candidates, with outside groups pouring in millions, saturating the airwaves.
Technology, too, will play an increasingly larger role, said Balz, noting the highly sophisticated voter mobilization tactics used by the Obama campaign.
At a Bliss Institute conference last year, Gabrielle Seay, political director for the Obama campaign in Ohio, described the sophisticated, hyper-local voter databases put together by the campaign. Using social media, the Obama campaign was able both to communicate targeted messages to its followers and to gather reactions that were used to shape its messages.
But Balz strongly suggested that the Republican Party’s problems in 2012 went far beyond its lagging use of technology.
Among other blunders, Romney seriously underestimated the effects of the country’s changing demographics, basing his strategy on the 2010 election results.
Obama, noted Balz, lost the white vote by more than any other winning candidate for the presidency, a signal of the growing diversity of the electorate. It was an electorate with which Romney had difficulty connecting.
Balz was the keynote speaker at a Bliss Institute conference called “State of the Parties: 2012 & Beyond.” In looking ahead to 2014 and 2016, he saw both parties facing challenges, with the Republican Party’s appearing more difficult.
The question for the GOP is whether it remains so heavily influenced by the tea party, which means it would become a party based in the South and Rocky Mountain West. In this scenario, with congressional districts gerrymandered in its favor, the GOP would be able to hold the U.S. House, but have less likelihood of gaining control of the U.S. Senate or the presidency.
For the Democratic Party, the question is whether the Obama coalition is the Democratic Party’s coalition. In other words, once Obama has finished his second term, will the voters he attracted in 2008 and 2012 remain loyal to the Democratic Party?
One thing is for sure. Ohio voters will be in the middle of it all.
Hoffman is a Beacon Journal editorial writer. He can be reached at 330-996-3740 or emailed at email@example.com.