Election cycles come and go. In recent years, control of the House of Representatives has been changing rather faster than ever before – three turnovers in the last 16 years alone after four decades of one-party rule.
What drives changes in voter sentiment is often debated but, quite frankly, is not really a historical mystery. Two basic factors play the greatest role in the absence of national security considerations: (1) whether government is perceived as the problem or the solution to the problem in voters’ minds; and, closely tied to that, (2) which party is perceived as the party of prosperity. In 2010, both those factors ran in the Republicans’ favor. Keeping those factors in the GOP’s favor is no less than essential going forward.
Throughout all history, people tend to accept more government when the private sector or security is the perceived problem. They tend to move away from government when government is the perceived problem.
In our own history, the success of the Revolutionary War was based on the Colonials’ belief that the British government was their persecutor. When Ronald Reagan ran for President, his campaign and Presidency were based on the notion that government was not the solution to our problems; government was seen as the problem.
Even in modern California, in 2003, Republicans garnered 62% of the vote and recalled a Democrat governor by playing up the perceived and actual abuse of a runaway government that tripled the car tax – a tax that hit every economic class. Both Arnold Schwarzenegger (moderate) and Tom McClintock (conservative) pushed and eventually won the repeal of the “illegal” tripling of the car tax – even in the face of a $10 billion plus deficit.
Before that, California grass-roots Republicans started a national wildfire in the form of Proposition 13 that pushed back at government for rising property taxes. California Republicans made significant Statehouse gains that same year, and shortly thereafter Ronald Reagan rode the tax cutting wave to the Presidency.
On the other hand, many a politician has vilified the private sector en route to promoting big government. Franklin D. Roosevelt excoriated the private sector in each of his terms as he and his Congress grew government tenfold – even though his government provided little relief for the economy. Certainly President Obama did and continues to do the same.
Indeed, the Left and their politicians have made more than a living by exaggerating the problems of the private sector and the free market and then pushing supposedly corresponding government responses – every day of every year. Republicans, meanwhile, only promote a more limited government intermittently and toward the end of an election cycle. In the face of a $4 trillion monolith of a government, ask yourself who is winning that battle.
Closely tied to that dynamic is the perception of which party offers the country a road to prosperity. If the private sector is successfully vilified (even for the sins of government), the Democrats will likely win, bringing with them increased government spending. Witness the government-induced housing meltdown that was blamed on the private sector for the benefit of Obama in 2008 and the federal response.
FDR got away with the same even though government raised taxes throughout the Great Depression, cut off trade and the Federal Reserve allowed the money supply to shrink by one-third.
Returning to Reagan, we find that when government was correctly perceived as the problem, private sector tax cuts (not public stimulus) was the solution that won the day in the minds of voters – not to mention resulting in 92 months of economic growth. Presidents Warren G. Harding and Calvin Coolidge successfully employed that strategy for the 1920s as did John F. Kennedy with his tax cutting plan for the 1960s.
In that context, (1) Obama’s rightfully vilified runaway government which shoved the failed stimulus program, cap and trade (and EPA regulation), and ObamaCare down the throats of Americans — combined with (2) unemployment, despite the government stimulus, above 9% for a near record number of months — provide an easy explanation for the 2010 midterm results.
The challenge for Republicans is not to let voters’ feelings change on those issues.
To accomplish this, Republicans need to stop merely campaigning and start communicating. Indeed, every day of every year:
(1) Republicans must support the cause of economic freedom in the form of lower tax rates and regulations and explain why lower tax rates result in a more vibrant economy and higher tax revenues as opposed to higher tax rates.
(2) And Republicans must, at every level of government – especially while voters are hurting financially – (a) highlight an existing government program that is not working or is wasteful, and (b) communicate (not campaign) to voters the breadth and cost of that program in the form of higher taxes and lost private sector jobs.
For instance, in California, every year the government overpays between $30 million and $125 million on school roof repair because of state failure to make proper use of competitive bidding. Beyond the higher taxes, that waste means that, every year, Californians are deprived of 350 to 1,500 teachers and/or between 200 and 900 business start-ups. In a federal budget of $4 trillion, similar stories could be repeated every day of every year for decades.
If voters at every level only knew what government was doing to their prosperity. If Republicans would only let them know, the GOP would win more elections. It is not a question of a way – it is a question of will.