Election 2014: Voters weren’t mad as hell; they were worn out

Election Day 2014 ended up worse than the already-bad predictions for Democrats.

The Republicans took control the Senate, picked up seats in the House, and snagged governorships in Illinois and Maryland. With few exceptions, everything that could go wrong did.

And when things go that wrong on Election Day, the team that loses is supposed to take a week and write postmortems looking at what happened, what’s going to happen, and the electorate was trying to tell us.

But I don’t think I need to write a postmortem, because I don’t think anyone died, apart from a few political careers. 2014 was, for the most part, a boring election that highlights much of what we already knew about our current political state of affairs.

This was not a wave election

One of my bigger pet peeves in politics is that political observers and prognosticators are careless in their use of the term “wave.” As Stu Rothenberg, one of our more prominent political pundits, admitted before the election:

I know of no formal, widely accepted definition of the term “wave.” On the other hand, as United States Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart once said when referring to obscenity, “I know it when I see it.”

Yesterday, Nathan Gonzales of the Rothenberg Political Report planted his flag and declared 2014 a wave. And in a way, Rothenberg was right: Wave elections bear a striking resemblance to pornography in political journalism.

For an outfit that makes its living declaring whether or not an election counts as a wave, the Rothenberg analyses strike me as awfully lazy. More systematic ways to define waves are out there, so if they don’t want to come up with one of their own the least they could do is look. What’s more, informal definitions of “waves” almost always include a clear mandate for the party that wins.

And while you can say that voters endorsed GOP candidates on Tuesday, you can’t say they endorsed their policies. Unlike 2010, GOP candidates were hesitant to rail too heavily against Obamacare, ran away from absolutist positions on reproductive rights, and even came out in favor of minimum wage increases.

What’s more, liberals claimed victory on a host of ballot initiatives, even as their candidates struggled in encouragingly frustrating fashion:

Bored cat, via Shutterstock

Bored cat, via Shutterstock

Throughout the campaign, this election cycle was in many ways an election about nothing. Voters weren’t mad as hell; they were worn out.

Neither party was comfortable going all-in on major issues like Obamacare or the economy or immigration, despite the best efforts of their respective bases. They just defaulted into generic D and R talking points, and let the chips fall where they usually do. The Republicans came closer to a coherent narrative towards the end of the cycle, but even that was, as Jon Stewart said, “Vote for us or get beheaded while pooping blood!” It was scary, but it wasn’t exactly comprehensive. And, in the case of Scott Brown, who said that we wouldn’t be worried about Ebola if Mitt Romney were president, it backfired.

Presidents almost always lose senate seats in their second round of midterms, which makes sense: All of the senators who rode those presidential coattails to victory six years prior now have to defend themselves at the top of the ticket. This year, a disproportionate number of those senators hailed from red states.

In other words, the fact that Republicans will control both chambers of Congress come January says less about them, and more about the GOP’s path to victory comprising six states President Obama lost in 2012 by at least thirteen points: Alaska, Arkansas, Montana, Louisiana (pending runoff), South Dakota and West Virginia.


Jon Green graduated from Kenyon College with a B.A. in Political Science and high honors in Political Cognition. He worked as a field organizer for Congressman Tom Perriello in 2010 and a Regional Field Director for President Obama's re-election campaign in 2012. Jon writes on a number of topics, but pays especially close attention to elections, religion and political cognition. Follow him on Twitter at @_Jon_Green, and on Google+. .

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19 Responses to “Election 2014: Voters weren’t mad as hell; they were worn out”

  1. Butch1 says:

    Our voting in Washington State is all done by mail-in as well.

  2. Butch1 says:

    There was no one in 2008 who was liberal enough running for me. Both candidates pretended to be moderate democrats. I gave Obama a chance. He turned into a republican once in the White House. In 2010, there were no liberals running for the office of the president at all. Obama started pretending he was a moderate again and I knew better. I voted for a real liberal, Rocky Anderson, an Independent, since there were no liberals in the party to speak of anymore, save an Independent from Vermont, Bernie Sanders. I wouldn’t call Sen. Elizabeth Warren a liberal, but a moderate democrat and I do like her, but she wasn’t running.

    The party itself has too many ties to big money on Wall Street and that bothers me. Just like the republicans do, they have to answer to the same people. This government is too close to Wall Street and not close enough to representing the people of this country.

  3. Butch1 says:

    Exactly! Watching them lie about “protecting” social security, medicare and veteran’s benefits and then jumping on board with the republicans and this president with trying to cut those same benefits and our retirement package out of social security by calling it “entitlements” is a step too far for me. There is very little difference between these democrats and the republicans when they want to do the same thing to our social programs.

    I can see why many people were just fed up with the same old lies that we are fed around voting season. Perhaps sitting out of power can do this party some good, but I doubt it; they never learn. These people should be replaced by fresh people with new ideas and spines that will listen to us and not Wall Street. We need people leaning to the left once again. I have watched this democratic party move slowly over the past decade or more to the right where they have forgotten those people who were their greatest supporters; the workers and the union. They don’t support the unions anymore and the unions are moving away from them. What a huge mistake on the democrat’s part trying to be like republicans.

  4. stephanie092 says:

    til I looked at the draft ov $5101 , I be certain that…my… brother was actualy earning money parttime from there new laptop. . there dads buddy has been doing this 4 only eleven months and resently paid for the depts on there place and bourt a top of the range Land Rover Range Rover . hop over to this site……>> -> INCOME FROM ONLINE ADVERTIsiteNG!!! <-

  5. BloggerDave says:

    That’s just another excuse for not voting and as usual, it is self-defeating… Considering how smart progressives claim to be, I have no idea on what your base your conclusions about the candidates tacking to the right especially in light that the republicans won in 5 deep blue states where the Dem candidates did NOT tack to the right. If you’re talking about the incumbent Senate Dems , then you are willfully ignoring the context (to validate your baseless conclusions), namely that they were running in deep red states. That may have more that a little to do with it. Most importantly, you should not need to be inspired or otherwise cajoled to vote, as the consequences of not voting should be clear to you. If they are not, brace yourself because they will become abundantly clear in the next two years, especially to those 5 deep blue states…

  6. Naja pallida says:

    I can’t speak for all Democratic voters, but I feel that most Democratic candidates are way too Republican to bother voting for. When they’re actively fleeing to the right, from even any pretense of progressive values, it’s no wonder why the progressive vote doesn’t even bother to turn up.

  7. Denver Catboy says:

    I agree with you about him ignoring progressive legislation, going back on campaign promises, and the whole Right-Wing style giveaway to big business in the guise of helping the common folk (ACA), but to compare Obama to GWB? Really?

    GWB started two _large_ wars caused gas prices to spike from $1.50 at the beginning of his Presidency to over $4.00, took good will towards the US and shat all over it with the afore-mentioned pointless wars, damn near drove our economy into the ditch, expanded the overreach of the US Surveillance State, and that’s just off the top of my head.

    Obama has continued the surveillance state, definitely, and he’s gone back on many promises he made (Guantanamo, Public Option, holding those responsible for the economic crash accountable, etc). But in context of an almost 200% increase in energy costs, the extra wars (which is setting up the whole Islamic State BS today), and all the other things I listed up there?

    Obama is mediocre. What’s worst about him is that he’s mediocre when he promised us he’d be a champion for our rights.

    If this is about Hillary not getting the nomination in 2008, then she’ll have her chance in 2016…assuming she can withstand an assault to her left by Elizabeth Warren. Regardless, I’ll be less enthusiastic about supporting either of them, because Democrats have proven time and time again that if they can use the Right as a cover for their own behavior, they will, and nothing will change.

  8. BloggerDave says:

    Part of any analysis is getting the facts right… The Democrats lost the governorships in 5 Deep Blue states not just in Illinois and Maryland which resoundly indicates that Democrats just didn’t bother to vote…

  9. Eebadee-eebadee-thatsallfolks says:

    I did early voting by mail in Arizona. It took me about a total of two hours to research candidates and positions on the internet, fill out the form, and mail it. To be honest, about 90% of my motivation to vote was in order to vote against Republicans because of that repulsive SB 1062 earlier this year, which every single Republican legislator in AZ voted for, and all but one Democrat voted against. SB 1062 ended up getting vetoed by outgoing GOP governor Jan Brewer – of all people! – after heavy pressure from the various chambers of commerce and the business community. After 1062 raised a national brouhaha, a slew of Republican state reps and senators claimed that they made a mistake, they didn’t understand the bill and if they had to do it over again they would have voted against 1062. The other 10% of my motivation was just inertia from being in the habit of voting.

    My point is none of the Democratic candidates really excited me to vote FOR them, it was all about voting AGAINST the worse option. I can see how some voters couldn’t be bothered to vote.

  10. Naja pallida says:

    I don’t think anyone was worn out. I thing progressive voters simply had no one to vote for. After finally having some measure of hope in the last 30 or so years, they turned out to vote and then promptly got tossed under the bus time and time again. They’re all once bitten, twice shy now and don’t want to risk voting for someone who is just another right-winger in disguise. Or worse, isn’t in disguise at all… as about 90% of the Democratic candidates were this time around. When given the choice of two right-wing candidates, nobody has much interest in turning out for the lesser evil one.

    Historically speaking though, the President’s party pretty much always gets shellacked six years into his Presidency. So I’m not convinced at all that they didn’t just give up trying, in hopes of riding the crazy Republican wave to 2016.

  11. nicho says:

    “We are the lesser of two evils” is not a slogan that stirs people to action.

  12. 2karmanot says:

    ” With few exceptions, everything that could go wrong did.” This is not surprising. I’ve not heard any analysis that places blame where it belongs—-with Obama and his bots. From the get go Obama dismantled his brilliant base strategies, turned his back on progressive legislation, failed time and again to put up any leadership fight, drew lines in the sand and then had his ass handed to him. Further he and his advisers went full tilt for predatory capitalism and seemed incompetent in both domestic and foreign affairs. Ultimately Obama’s legacy will have been to turn over the nation to a cabal of ignorant,religious, ideological fascist cracked pots.. Once his only major achievement in office—a mediocre boondoggle health plan that will fall apart for lack of cost control’s he will join George Bush the Petite as one of the worst presidents in American history.

  13. GarySFBCN says:

    And sometimes voters were turned away. Funny how this never happens to white people:

    http://www.politicususa.com/2014/11/05/minority-voter-intimidation-witnessed-recorded-broward-county-election-night.html

  14. timncguy says:

    It was all about turnout in NC. With all the talk here about how turnout was going to be better in 2014 than it was in 2010, we ended up with only about 17,000 additional votes this time. Much of the lack of turnout can probably be attributed to the republicans eliminating polling sites from college campuses. College students for for democrats, but only if it is convenient.

  15. therling says:

    All voting in Oregon is done by mail. The state sends you an extensive election information booklet detailing all the candidates and ballot measures. Then about two weeks before the election you receive your ballot, which you can either put a stamp on it and mail it or put it in one of the many drop boxes at no cost.

    It was nice to be able to spend some time looking over my ballot without having to stand in line, or have someone breathing down your neck while you vote, which I’m sure also results in fewer miscast votes and spoiled ballots.

  16. GarySFBCN says:

    We had low voter turnout in California, but we rejected Republicans:

    “California’s Clear Message to Republicans: ‘Not Interested’ ”

    http://m.thenation.com/blog/188329-californias-clear-message-republicans-not-interested

  17. therling says:

    Oregon’s voter turnout was about 70% and the state remained blue, retained a Demcratic governor, re-elected a progressive senator, defeated the state’s GOP chairman in his run for congress, legalized pot and approved an Equal Rights Amendment. The nation’s turnout was only about 34% and gave the Senate, the House and many governorships to Republicans.

    Tells you something?

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