Mandate for What?
Here’s some of what was on people’s minds as they voted, according to polls taken on Election Day:
- Two-thirds (65 percent) said the country is seriously off-track.
- 70 percent rated the economy fair or poor.
- Although more people (28 percent) said their own financial situation was improved than in previous polls, about 7 in 10 said their situation was about the same or worse.
- People are seriously pessimistic: 78 percent were worried about the economy in the year ahead; about half (48 percent) said they expect life for the next generation to be worse than life today.
They don’t trust government to turn this around. Only one in five trusts government to do what’s right. A little more than half say government is doing too many things better left to businesses and individuals. They think the deck is stacked: 63 percent said the U.S. economic system favors the wealthy; only 32 percent said it’s fair to all Americans.
To unstack the deck, they voted to increase the minimum wage in Alaska, Arkansas, Illinois (non-binding), Nebraska, and South Dakota. In election night polls in 11 Senate battleground states conducted by Hart Research for the AFL-CIO, voters expressed strong support for an agenda in Congress that would redress economic inequities and raise ordinary people’s incomes:
- 75 percent supported increasing funding for public schools from preschool through college.
- 73 percent wanted to increase taxes on corporate overseas profits, to ensure that businesses sheltering income overseas pay as much as they would on profits earned in the U.S.
- 62 percent supported raising taxes on the wealthy or corporations to fund priorities such as education, job training, and deficit reduction.
- 62 percent support increasing Social Security benefits, and paying for it by increasing Social Security taxes on the wealthy.
A majority of the voters in the Hart sample didn’t trust either party to represent their interests. More than half (55 percent) strongly agreed that politicians from both parties “do too much to support Wall Street financial interests and not enough to help average Americans.”
Still more: a poll conducted shortly before the election for the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC) found that 71 percent agreed that the federal government has a great deal or fair amount of responsibility to deal with hunger. More than half also saw a role for nonprofits, churches, and food banks, but while 47 percent said the federal government should have a great deal of responsibility to deal with hunger, only 26 percent thought the private sector should be taking on such a major role.
So we have an electorate that doesn’t like the way things stand now. They are dissatisfied and distrustful of government, but support an active federal role to invest in services and want corporations and the wealthy to pay their fair share. They want investments in education and anti-hunger programs. More than three-quarters oppose cutting Medicaid.
At the federal level, they decided to give the other guys a chance. It isn’t clear how much voters knew about who would be more likely to carry out their preferences.
The new leaders in Congress can certainly argue that the public thinks government is broken. But they cannot accurately claim that voters don’t want government to play an active role on behalf of working people, children, and seniors. We’ll have to remind them of that every chance we get.