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Winner: Republicans, Loser: Legislature

By Staff | Nov 7, 2014

Voting history predicted a Republican surge in the sixth year of an incumbent president whose popularity had plummeted. The 2014 election results should have been no surprise.

Historically, the opposition party has gained an average of 5.5 U.S. Senate seats in the off-presidential year. This year, Republicans gained at least seven. Any expectations by Democrats of hanging on to a majority in the Senate were specious.

The gridlock in Washington will continue for the next two years. While the voters gave the Congress low grades for performance, they re-elected 90 per cent of the present members, meaning that the standoff will continue.

All efforts will now be focused on 2016 so America will continue to burn while Washington fiddles.

As for the state election, the Republican candidates for state offices won by two-to-one margins across the board. Some of the Republican victory can be attributed to the off-year surge but some can be blamed on the inability of the Democratic candidates to gain statewide visibility.

For the past five elections, Democrats have put up new slates of state candidates. With the exception of Ryan Taylor who had some carryover recognition from his 2012 gubernatorial campaign, the rest of the Democratic candidates were unknown.

With the state and national races predictable, it took the eight ballot measures to capture the attention of the electorate and bring a significant increase in off-year voters

The poll underwritten by Forum Communications five weeks before the election may have suggested to voters that certain electoral trends were indicated. For example, the poll suggested that Measure 5 (conservation) would run strong when it went down in a blaze of “no” votes.

This does not suggest that the poll was faulty. Because the poll was conducted early, the electorate was still not attuned to the issues.

The only measure that won the support of the voters was the mortgage tax proposal. It was a phantom issue. A mortgage tax has never been proposed by any responsible public official in state or local government for at least 50 years. All it did was measure the level of paranoia in the electorate.

All of the seven other measures on the ballot were defeated decisively. Some observers may suggest that the solid “no” vote reflected the conservatism of the Republican off-year. Not necessarily.

The most conservative measure on the ballot was Measure 1 declaring that personhood began upon conception. This measure was defeated by two-to-one.

Studies of spending on ballot measures indicate that money wins 70 per cent of the time. That was not true in the cases of the well-financed proposals to repeal the pharmacy law and to launch a major conservation program.

Dismissing Measure 2 (mortgage tax) as a non-issue, the Legislature lost all of its other measures, suggesting that the Legislature is out of tune with the electorate.

This disconnect between the Legislature and the electorate can be explained by the nature of legislative elections in North Dakota. While we regard legislative seats as partisan, they actually are social positions filled on the basis of community involvement and not on the basis of political issues.

Candidates affirm this observation with their campaign literature. Their material may indicate their support for motherhood and apple pie but the important message is their list of community and social activities. We elect on community involvement rather than issues, resulting in a divergence when it comes to issues.

To avoid a shellacking in future elections, legislators need more and better input. They would be well advised to talk substantive issues with the real electorate more than they do with the each other when sequestered in Bismarck.

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