The mixed results from a number of the Nov. 3 elections paralleled a number of mixed feelings amongst the American public. Conservatives hailed the GOP victories in New Jersey and Virginia’s gubernatorial elections as a sign that Americans are fed up with the Obama administration. Liberals hailed the Democratic victory in New York’s 23rd congressional district as a show of continued support of the Democratic Party and signs of a splintering GOP. It would seem that both sentiments are true.
For the Obama administration, it would seem that the honeymoon is over. His approval rating has dropped almost 20 percent since January’s inauguration, and it is clear that his once-wild popularity is waning. This, however, is to be expected. Such a high level of popularity was highly unsustainable as the lofty campaign promises and rhetoric met with the plodding reality of Washington politics.
Many liberal Democrats (myself included), were hoping for sweeping reform in the areas of healthcare, the environment and the war in Iraq, and have been disappointed by the perceived lack of meaningful legislation in these areas. The gay community has largely withdrawn support as a result of similar disappointment in the area of gay rights. And of course, the GOP and other conservatives have not failed to harp on the so-called “far left” and “big government” policies of the Obama administration.
Despite this, Tuesday’s election results were not quite the referendum that many GOP politicians were claiming. In response to Chris Christie’s gubernatorial victory in Virginia, RNC Chairman Michael Steele stated, “Americans have grown sick and tired of big government and reckless spending, and this vote is a sound rejection of the far-left policies that are hurting our nation.”
Network exit polls in New Jersey and Virginia suggest otherwise. According to Politico.com, 60 percent of voters in Virginia and 55 percent of New Jersey voters said their feelings towards the president did not affect their decision. Rather, it would seem that a number of state and local issues were the main concern of gubernatorial voters, as is often the case.
The Democratic victory in New York’s 23rd congressional district, a first since the 19th century, did serve as a major indicator of national sentiment. The primary reason for this victory was a split in the conservative vote. Many “Tea Party” conservatives viewed the Republican nominee, Dierdre Scozzafava, as too moderate and instead chose to back Conservative Party nominee Doug Hoffman. Scozzafava chose to drop out of the race, leaving her votes uncounted and giving the victory to Democrat Bill Owens. Outgoing Virginia governor Tim Kaine stated that “[the] race turned out to be the worst possible outcome for Republicans…what occurred in New York has exposed a war within the Republican party that will not soon end.”
Despite the cooling of Obama’s popularity, it is clear that the GOP is not necessarily faring any better. The splintering of the party by the increasingly radical libertarian “Tea Party” voters could prove disastrous for the party in 2010’s midterm elections.