Any of us following the happenings in the political world, would know that 3 weeks ago on the foreign scene, the all-defining moment of the US midterm elections took place. We saw a great wave sweep through one of the most sophisticated yet polarized political establishments in the world. All the seats in the US House of Reps were up for grabs, about a dozen Senate seats and even more Governorship seats were also up for grabs.
Despite the huge wave of change and hope that resonated in the US in 2008 and propelled Obama to the white house, huge electoral losses were predicted for his party (as is customary every midterm election by the way). But I am 100% no one estimated it would have been of the scale that hit them 3 weeks ago. The last seat in the House of Representatives that remained unresolved went to Republican Rep. Lisa Murkowski on Saturday 20th and that is the basis for writing this concluding report. In all, an amazing 61 seats were gained by the Republicans in the House, putting them in the majority. In the Senate and Governorship races, they made gains but none as many as that of the house.
So, I tried to draw out 10 key lessons from this election that struck me and that we could do well to be aware of, ahead of the 2011 polls here in Nigeria. We need to stop consoling ourselves that we would get there someday. How about that someday being the next day? The next year? Here’s the gist:
- The election proved that big money spenders don’t and won’t always win. A lot of money goes into publicity, adverts and door-to-door canvassing not to talk of paying campaign staff. And so fundraising is a big deal in the US. This year, we saw many big money spenders who delved deep into their own personal savings. Republicans Carly Fiorina, the ex-MD of HP and Meg Whitman were examples. They were beaten.
- Voters track the voting history of their Representatives and Senators and hold them accountable to them. Many Democrats were punished because they voted for the massive government bailouts and the massive health care bill while all Americans wanted were jobs jobs jobs! It is a unanimous verdict in this election that Republicans didn’t necessarily win the elections, Democrats lost it and they profited.
- Parties work hard long before even the internal party primaries to see or even search for candidates that can best represent the “tone” the election would set to leverage electorate’s support.
- Parties then also ensure these candidates win the primaries and leave the main battle to a collective societal push for votes. Large numbers of anti-spending candidates on both sides won election/re-election to seats. Same for the so called Tea Party movement’s candidates who challenged a lot of incumbent Senators and Reps in the Republican party. Many won e.g. the charismatic Florida’s Marco Rubio who’s being taunted as a possible 2016 Presidential candidate.
- Poll numbers are used to monitor the election trends. Except in the cases where the poll numbers were too close to call, most of the predictions came true. Democrats knew they were losing the house. This is only possible because of the digitized system of voting, polling and data gathering.
- Voters are always ready to signal change over and over again. When Obama won the white house, the Democratic party won along with that a majority in Governor’s seats and the Senate. They already had the house since 2006. As we speak, Democrats only control the white house and the Senate. Republicans have regained the majority of State Governorship seats and the House of Reps. “It is a way to say, we have given you (Republicans) a chance, prove yourselves”.
- Power lies with the people. A careful scan of the election and the key issues that either guaranteed a win or loss of an election on both sides would signal the fact that the economy, taxes and the huge deficits were the major concerns. Obama is in the clear as to what to address if he wants to win re-election in 2012.
- No sacred cows. No state is too big to win, no candidate is too big to lose. Harry Reid might have won re-election and thus maintain his seat as Majority Leader in the Senate but his colleagues and staunch allies suffered hugely. New York might have kept its strong Democratic tradition but the Governorship seat in California held by Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger was won by Democrat Jerry Brown. California is the largest American state and long time a Republican stronghold. Democrats broke that jinx in a huge twist of fate and fortune!
- Godfatherism doesn’t work. Obama campaigned hard for his former seat to be won by the Democratic Illinois State attorney but it ultimately went to a Republican. What an embarrassment! On the other, Joe Manchin won the seat left behind by the Late Sen. Byrd by distancing himself from the policies of a President whose personality is liked but whose poll numbers are at record lows.
- Issues matter: without having to repeat myself for the umpteenth time, nobody cared about how big the candidate was or who he was. Harry Reid (Equivalent of Nigerian Senate President)’s son lost the Governorship election in his State of Nevada. All candidates campaigned hard, attended debates and held town hall meetings defending their agendas and defining clear lines on policy and other issues. It didn’t matter where you were born or whose daughter you were.
Nigerians can take cue from this. If the government won’t organize political debates, we can organize it and invite them. If they don’t show up, we know why. All we have to do is wait till election day and show our POWER!!! We have every 4 years to do this. The US shows us exemplary leadership in this direction.
But none of it will make sense if we do not RSVP (Register to vote, Select our candidates of choice, Vote on election day, Protect our vote and ensure ballots go to the right polling station and INEC return offices)
Let’s define the agenda.