Wednesday, November 6, 2013

A Shifting Electorate=Gridlock

With the 2013 elections behind us, the countdown to the 2014 midterms has officially begun.  Issues such as the recent government shutdown and the increasingly failed rollout of healthcare exchanges under the Affordable Care Act have certainly raised the stakes as our nation heads toward the 2016 Presidential election.  Despite these issues, however, a shift of our nation's demographics has ultimately contributed to the deadlock, brinkmanship and partisanship that we currently see plaguing our government.

This week, I had the opportunity to observe a Brookings Institute panel of political experts discuss the upcoming 2014 midterm elections. Additionally, one day later, our class was lucky enough to speak with John Hudak, a Brookings Institute fellow and participant on the panel.  During both events, Mr. Hudak contended that the Republican Party faced significant demographic hurdles and has failed to nominate many quality candidates for important races.  Despite only a few major races taking place this year, the shift in the electorate and overall demographics were reaffirmed.  In Virginia, the race for Governor was won by Democrat Terry McAuliffe, a former Democratic fundraiser. Governor-elect McAuliffe defeated Republican Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II, confirming Virginia's evolution as a state increasingly dominated by the Democratic-leaning Washington, D.C. suburbs.  President Obama used the same blueprint to carry the state in last year's presidential election.  Mr. McAuliffe benefited significantly from an electorate that was less white and less Republican than it was four years ago.  This demographic change is not only limited to the Commonwealth of Virginia.  States such as Ohio, North Carolina, Florida were Republican strongholds just a decade ago.

This demographic change, along with gerrymandering, has created significant gridlock amongst our elected officials in Washington. While Republican state governments are able to redistrict and gerrymander to put their candidates in easier positions to win House seats, they're unable to do so in Senate and Presidential elections.  Additionally, the number of voters in a midyear election is significantly less than in a general election.  This ultimately favors Republicans because younger voters who tend to vote Democrat will stay home.  But interestingly enough, Democratic Senators currently represent such "red" states as Montana, Alaska, Iowa, South Dakota, Louisiana, Missouri and Arkansas.  Since House members from these are overwhelming Republican, a divide and subsequent gridlock has taken shape in both chambers of Congress.

As a result of this, the overall belief of the panel and other prominent political experts is that the House will remain controlled by Republicans while Democrats will keep the Senate. Republicans will use the same district lines that were put in place during the 2010 Census and subsequent Tea Party wave and Democrats should continue to take advantage of their upper hand in certain statewide elections.  While many of the political pundits will continue to dissect and analyze the prospects of 2014, our nation's demographics, electorate and gridlock won't be seriously tested until 2016.