Polls Show the 2010 Elections Were About Smaller Government

Their message came through loud and clear--and the voters rejected it on Election Day.

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By the numbers, it’s clear the American people voted for a change in the direction of the country on November 2.

There are still votes being tallied but, in the main, it is easy to make a very persuasive argument that--however flawed the polls were regarding specific head-to-head races like the Reid-Angle Senate race in Nevada--the right track, wrong direction numbers held up pretty well.

[See where Reid gets his campaign money.]

A recent post-election survey conducted jointly by the GOP-leaning Resurgent Republic and the left-leaning Democracy Corps, founded by Clinton operatives Stanley Greenberg and James Carville, found that the election was “a nationalized referendum on President Obama and Democratic control of Congress, not just a series of choices between two candidates.”

Control of Congress was a deciding factor, the survey found, in 61 percent of the congressional votes cast, including 74 percent of those cast by Republicans, 57 percent of those cast by Democrats, and 51 percent cast by independents.

Additionally, the survey found, was the importance of the role issue positions played in determining how these different blocs voted. For Republicans, 46 percent said issue positions were “the most important reason why they voted for their preferred candidate for Congress” while only 35 percent of those voting for Democrats said the same thing.

[See a slide show of 5 winners and losers in the 2010 election.]

Among independents, who fell somewhere in between the partisan extremes, 41 percent said their votes were based on the “character and leadership” of the candidates from which they had to choose, with 40 percent identifying issue positions as the most important and only 16 percent saying their choice was based on partisan affiliation.

This is not, however, the only place where such divisions appear. There is an old saying in politics that the only poll that really counts is the one taken on Election Day, meaning the way the people who turn out vote.

Here too it is obvious that the electorate was voting against the growth in government the nation has experienced over the last two years.

An analysis of state ballot measures prepared by the non-partisan National Taxpayers Union shows the American people repeatedly voting for smaller government and lower taxes if given the chance to do so. The results of these issue elections seem to suggest it was not, as President Barack Obama suggested in his post-election comments, some kind of messaging failure that brought the Democrats down. In fact, one can surmise that their message came through loud and clear--and the voters rejected it.

[See a roundup of editorial cartoons on the Democrats.]

NTU identified 93 statewide measures that it said had some kind of impact on taxpayers. There were 43 tax-related measures, 13 bond spending issues, 30 government reform questions, and seven statewide measures that were directly related to actions taken or contemplated by Congress.

Of the 57 NTU says would have lowered taxes or limited government, 40 were approved; 17 were rejected. Of the 36 that either raised taxes or expanded government, 21 were approved while 15 were voted down, meaning the limited government, low tax position prevailed 55 out of 93--or better than 50 percent of the time.

In California, voters approved a measure requiring a two-thirds vote of the legislature to increase “fees,” closing a loophole that had allowed taxes to be called fees in order to get around the two-thirds requirement to raise taxes that was the key component of California’s Proposition 13, while rejecting a measure that would have repealed the two-thirds requirement to pass the state budget.

Georgia voters rejected a measure imposing a $10 registration fee on motor vehicles. Alabama voters rejected a measure that would have allowed special “education taxes” to be levied by a simple majority vote rather than a three-fifths supermajority.

[See a roundup of editorial cartoons on the GOP.]

Louisiana voters approved a new requirement for a two-thirds majority vote to authorize benefits for state employees that added costs to the taxpayers. And in Washington State, voters repealed the expansion of the state sales tax to include candy, bottled water, and soft drinks while voting to require a two-thirds majority vote of the legislature or a vote of the people to approve any future tax increases.

NTU also identified places where voters also cast ballots in six states on seven measures “in direct reaction to developments in the U.S. Congress.” Two of the three states taking up the question of whether an individual mandate to purchase health insurance should be imposed--a key element of Obamacare--voted it down (Colorado went the other way) while four states voted “to guarantee the right to a secret ballot in union organizing elections” in direct response to the Democrats’ push for “card check,” which would effectively do away with the secret ballot.

[See a slide show of 10 things that are (and aren't) in the healthcare bill.]

Given the opportunity to choose larger or more limited government, more voters in the states holding elections chose limits. It’s a lesson that should not be lost on either party in Washington as they prepare to do battle over the next two years.

Sure the polls may say a majority of voters want to see more compromises and for the two parties to find solutions to the problems facing the nation, but, as these results tell us, they largely favor the ones that go in the direction of making government smaller. This certainly puts some steam behind the healthcare repeal movement, even though it is more than not likely to come in pieces as long as Obama is in the White House and the Democrats control the Senate. That means the opponents of Obamacare are going to have to build a strategic coalition, one that operates on an issue-by-issue basis, taking small bites out of a very large cookie on the way toward its ultimate goal: The repeal of Obamacare and the replacement of it with something that works, and for that they may have to look to the states.

  • Check out our editorial cartoons on healthcare reform.
  • See which members of Congress get the most from health professionals.
  • See photos of healthcare reform protests.

  • Corrected on 11/15/10: A previous version of this blog post incorrectly identified the group Resurgent Republic.