The Voters Have Spoken: What Did They Say?

On Monday, focusing on the special House election in upstate New York, I posted some comments about things to consider when thinking about whether yesterday’s elections had any national implications.

Now that the elections are over & the results are in, I want to follow up on some of those comments, and provide you with a summary of what others are saying about whether there were any “larger” messages embedded in the elections’ outcomes — provide you with a kind of “one-stop shopping” spot where you can get a sense of the range of interpretations that have emerged in the immediate aftermath of yesterday’s races.

I’ll also provide you with the info you need to access these sources yourself, so those of you with the time & desire can read them in their entirety.

RE: NEW YORK’S 23RD HOUSE DISTRICT: Despite multiple polls last week showing the Conservative candidate Doug Hoffman with at least a 5-point lead, the winner was Democrat Bill Owens. The last time a Democrat represented this area was before the Civil War, and the seat had been in Republican hands since 1857. Of yesterday’s “Big 3” campaigns (the other 2 being the Governor races in Virginia & New Jersey), the results in this one were the most surprising.

On Monday I argued that turnout was something to watch here, & noted that in the last House election (2008) 261,238 voters participated. So how many showed up yesterday?

While it’s not a final, official count, the Syracuse Newspaper (The Post-Standard) reports that with nearly 91% of all precincts counted, the total was 125, 051 (Owens had 61,259, Hoffman 56,866 & Scozzafava 6,926). That’s a pretty small number to hang your hat on if you want to make any claims about a national message that these voters were sending.

But I do think that the results suggest that Republicans continue to have a regional challenge in the northeast, and that that challenge is spreading. There are currently NO Republican House Members in any of the New England states, and after yesterday, there are only 2 House Republicans left in NY — and 27 Democratic ones. New Jersey has a total of 13 House members, 5 of which are Republicans.

The hard, conservative GOP approach, which Hoffman proudly represented, doesn’t seem to resonate much with our northeastern neighbors — indeed, had the nearly 7,000 folks who voted for the moderate Republican Scozzafava backed Hoffman, he’d have won.

For an in-depth review of this race that gives you a good, local perspective, google: “Democrat Bill Owens wins hard-fought race for 23rd congressional seat”, by Mark Weiner in today’s Syracuse newspaper, The Post-Standard.

If you’d like to see parts of Doug Hoffman’s concession speech and Bill Owens’ acceptance speech, go to —

RE: THE NEW JERSEY & VIRGINIA ELECTIONS: It’s always great to win, and these elections, especially perhaps the Virginia ones, give Republicans the most to cheer about. They not only scored a hat-trick, winning the state’s top three spots — for Governor, Lt. Governor and Attorney General — but they won all three handily. The smallest winning margin was 13 points, leading RNC Chairman Michael Steele to predict that the gubernatorial victory provides the GOP with “a nice spring board for (the elections) in 2010″.

Yet fellow Republican and Virginia native Fred Malek isn’t so sure, telling Politico reporter Andy Barr that “I don’t think it’s so much a referendum on Obama’s policies as it is a reflection on us having a really, really good candidate”. (To read Barr’s article, google: “GOP Dominates In Virginia”).

What should we think about as we assess these 2 conflicting claims?

Again, I suggest we pay attention to turnout — in order to make sense of “what did the voters say?”, we need to know who was doing the talking.

Let’s look at yesterday’s independent voters — those who don’t strongly identify with either party. They are an important voting bloc whose backing both parties seek, and looking at the early reviews of their behavior yesterday provides support for both the Steele and Malek interpretations.

Exit polls in both the NJ and VA elections show that a majority of independents supported Republicans. In Virginia, 62% of them voted for the GOP victor Bob McDonnell, while 37% voted for the Democrat Creigh Deeds. In NJ, GOP winner Chris Christie captured 58% of their votes, while defeated Democratic incumbent Jon Corzine got 31%.

So this means that Steele is right, and that this vital voting bloc is turning their backs on the Democrats and President Obama, yes?

Not if you listen to what these voters themselves told pollsters: When explicitly asked if their votes yesterday were indicative of what they thought about the President, 57% of independents in VA and 60% of them in NJ said —- NO.

MORE ON TURNOUT: Who didn’t show up much in yesterday’s VA and NJ elections?

Young people. Politico’s Erika Lovely reports that while voters aged 18-29 comprised 21% of Virginia’s electorate in 2008, they made up only 10% of the Commonwealth’s voters yesterday. New Jersey saw a similar drop-off of young voters — 17% of all of its voters were young in 2008, while only 8% were yesterday. Since this is a group that trends Democratic, it’s not clear that yesterday’s Republican victories foretell future gloom-&-doom for the President’s party. (see Lovely’s article, “Exit polls: Mixed bag for GOP, Dems”, at


(1) an article by John Judis which concludes that yesterday’s message is: For Republicans to win, they need to be ideologically moderate (See John Judis, “Elections Deliver Mixed Messages”, in The New Republic);

(2) an article by Dick Morris which concludes that yesterday’s message is: If you’re a Blue-Dog Democrat or a Democratic Senator from a conservative state, you better stop supporting the President’s major initiatives (See Dick Morris, “A Deathblow for ObamaCare”, in The New York Post).

(3) For a historical review of the results of national elections that have followed gubernatorial elections in Virginia and New Jersey, see Ruth Marcus’ article in the Washington Post entitled, “As Virginia Goes, So Goes Not Much”.

Hope this helps as you ponder what it is that the voters said yesterday.



One Response

  1. howdy, superb article.

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