Interpreting the 2010 election results

There are only about three million different interpretations of what happened on Tuesday being brandied about by pundits, politicians, columnists, and political commentators. Some of these interpretations have more empirical support than others. Here are a smattering of opinions that have come out this week that I think merit consideration: – 1) this wasn’t an endorsement of the Republican party or the Republican party agenda. Republicans just happened to not be Democrats and thus they were the least unacceptable option, 2) claiming a “mandate” is a difficult thing for Republican leaders to do when only a little over 20% of the voting public voted for Republican candidates on Tuesday, and when Republicans only control 1 of 3 elected branches of the federal government. – it wasn’t health care, deficits, or taxes. It was the economy, just like every other election. – yep, it was the economy, this time from a political scientist.

And why was it mostly the economy, and mostly not health care, deficits, Tea Parties, or tax cuts? Because the vast majority of political science research supports the argument that “elections writ large depend more on performance than on policy — that is, they depend more on how things are going (for which the incumbent party is on the hook) than on specific policies, bills, legislation, etc.” Most of the public simply doesn’t know or care about the details of specific policies, and really less than a quarter even understand the basics of a liberal-conservative ideological continuum. See these posts: – he’s not a political scientist, but he’s a Nobel prize-winning economist and he’s right on the point that “nobody cares about the process”.

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