TODAY'S PAPER
Good Afternoon
Good Afternoon
OpinionColumnistsLane Filler

Election tea leaves yield little clarity

Republican House Speaker John Boehner came to the

Republican House Speaker John Boehner came to the first congressional district for a second time Thursday night to headline a rally for State Sen. Lee Zeldin in his tight, multimillion-dollar battle with six-term Democratic Rep. Tim Bishop. Credit: Newsday / Thomas A. Ferrara

The data are pouring in from last week's election, and we have to draw conclusions. And by we, I mean pundits and statisticians. You may not care enough to. In fact, based on turnout numbers, it's likely you are thinking, "Wait, there was an election?" Or, worse, "Wait . . . what's an election?"

After ballots were counted in 2012, lots of conclusions were drawn. Barack Obama beat Mitt Romney by 4 percent, or about 5 million votes. The national House of Representatives vote total favored Democrats by 1 percent, but Republicans won 55 percent of the House seats. So reasons were detailed, by media members and academics: The United States, as it becomes less white, is becoming more Democratic. But Republican-controlled state legislatures have drawn House districts shaped like Rorschach inkblots ("I see a vast right-wing conspiracy, Doc. Or a butterfly.") And liberals dilute the power of their votes by clustering around chai tea bars, electing relatively few House members by practically unanimous margins.

Uber conclusion from 2012: The nation will eventually be Democrat-ruled, but it will take time for those old white Republicans to die, ceding young, morally upstanding liberals both voting power and inheritances.

But now we've had another election. That means new data, and conclusions. There is still some truth to what was said after the 2012 vote count. White liberals can no more resist clustering -- and politicians in power can no more resist gerrymandering -- than teens can ignore incoming texts. Community composition and the districts created after the 2010 census still matter.

But the 2014 data threw a lot of assumptions about the electorate into doubt. It wasn't surprising that the Republicans took over the U.S. Senate and added to its House majority. Polls, quantitative analysts and savvy third-graders said they would. But Republicans won the national House battle by almost 7 percent. So that kills the whole, "It's a Democratic country with a Republican House majority" meme.

Or does it?

Turnout was terrible at 36.6 percent, down significantly even from the abysmal 2010. And while every socioeconomic group stayed home, the young, the poor and minorities stayed home with an all-consuming passion. These groups, which would have been most counted on to support Democrats, stayed home like they were being treated to a Tuesday special of fresh waffles and endless back scratches.

The pundits conclude that turnout was low because of cynicism and negative advertising -- and particularly low among minorities because Obama was not at the top of the ticket. And many Democrats who ran talked as much smack about Obama as some Republicans.

Note to Democrats: Republicans already hate you. Why make Democrats who like Obama and elected him twice hate you, too?

What does this all mean for the future? I dunno. We may well be headed toward a Clinton-Bush presidential battle in 2016, and I have no idea who would bother to vote in that, other than Clinton and Bush family members. I don't know whether young people will stay more liberal than their parents' generation, or will become more conservative as they age, like every previous generation. I don't know if Asian and Hispanic immigrants will be reliably Democratic, or what black turnout will look like if the national election doesn't feature a black candidate.

Foretelling our future from a snapshot of election results and polls is like trying to spot the truth in a Rorschach blot. It's definitely either a long-term Democratic demographic wave, a vast right-wing conspiracy . . . or a butterfly.

Lane Filler is a member of the Newsday editorial board.

 

Columns