Month after month, we heard a constant refrain from candidates and political pundits alike that this election was going to be all about the economy. The monthly unemployment numbers and the jobs report became major news stories. The historical fact that no incumbent since President Franklin Roosevelt had won re-election with a nationwide unemployment rate above 8 percent was repeated over and over again.
The now famous words of James Carville, campaign manager/consultant for Bill Clinton in 1992, “It’s the economy stupid” rang out like a warning siren at a railroad crossing. At every campaign stop across this country, most of the political speeches were about the economy.
From GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney, the message was his private sector entrepreneurial experience and his accomplishments as Massachusetts governor would help lead the country to stronger economic growth. President Obama pounded away on the message that he was responsible for slow, yet steady economic recovery from our deep recession. These two campaign themes were repeated and repeated and by Nov. 6, most voters were very familiar with their campaign themes.
As the pollsters and political commentators examine the election results a different story comes to light. The broad economic picture might not have been the real key to the election after all. The vote tally reveals an electorate focused on the economy from a personal perspective rather than from a federal budget viewpoint.
One example is from the battleground state of Ohio, where there was broad support for Obama among autoworkers. The federal bailout of the auto industry (excluding, of course, Ford Motor Co.) led many who are employed directly or indirectly in the auto industry particularly in Ohio and Michigan to favor Obama. This bailout was mentioned repeatedly in the campaign by the Obama team, never wanting a potential voter to forget their dependence on a government bailout.
Next consider the significant block of voters coming from the ranks of federal, state and municipal government employees. While there are no exit polls showing how government workers voted, there would be little doubt that they supported the re-election of Obama in large numbers.
Also included in voters concerned about “their” economy were college students. Here again, students supported Obama in large numbers, in part because of his repeated stated support to expand student loans and to place limits on the amount of required loan repayments.
And of course, perhaps the largest block of voters concerned about “their” economic situation were the millions of Americans receiving some type of financial support or benefit from the federal government. These of course include food stamps, housing supports and Medical Assistance to name just a few. Again, Obama likely won the vast majority of support from these voters based on a belief that Obama would protect “their” economic programs and that a Romney Administration would potentially reduce or change some of these social welfare programs.
And last, but not least, there were of course senior voters, those over the age of 65 who receive Medicare benefits. The 2012 election similar to some previous elections saw once again the Democrats using the “Mediscare” tactic to win over senior voters. Whether it was the Democrat’s previously produced television commercial using a Congressman Paul Ryan look alike pushing an elderly woman in a wheel chair off a cliff, or this year’s scare tactic that under the Ryan plan seniors would pay $6,400 a year more for Medicare, the intent is always the same. Round up more votes on the Medicare issue allowing people to believe that nothing in the program needs to change.
On the other side of the “it’s the economy” debate there were millions of Americans who voted for the Romney-Ryan ticket because of their belief that another four years of Obama would result in major federal tax increases. This group included small business owners as well as “personal pocketbook” voters and many high income-earning Americans.
There is no doubt the economy played a key role in the outcome of the presidential election. But the focus wasn’t on the national economy with our $16 trillion in national debt or the fact that we currently borrow 40 cents of every dollar of federal spending. The need for entitlements with the Medicare program going broke and the Social Security fund headed for bankruptcy, made for good stump speeches for Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan in the short term, but had little impact on voters.
The simple reality is that when the majority of Americans cast their ballots it was for the candidate that they believed would do the most to protect their individual economic situation. Are people concerned about the economic direction of the country? Yes, but human nature is a much stronger force. It propels each of us to be concerned for our own economic interests first, and our country’s economic woes second.
The result is the re-election of the status quo, instead of a willingness to take a chance that Mitt Romney might have been able to actually produce a more vibrant economy in the future. Fear won out over reason, and we will likely have a smaller less robust economy as the result.
Phil Krinkie, a former eight-term Republican state rep from Lino Lake, is president of the Taxpayers League of Minnesota. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org