By: Scott Jennings
With the dust settling on the 2016 general election, here are a few observations on the big questions people are asking:
Does Trump’s losing the popular vote mean anything? Yes, it means the Democratic Party under President Barack Obama lost connectivity to non-urban voters, and that Hillary Clinton lacked the political skills to do anything about it.
The data tells the tale. Kyle Kondik of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics reports that Trump won 94 percent of Appalachian counties by a margin of 63 percent to 33 percent (nine points better than Mitt Romney’s 60 percent to 39 percent margin in 2012). Further, as Ron Brownstein at The Atlantic points out, while Clinton won 88 of the largest 100 counties in America, overall she won just 420 of the nation’s roughly 3100 counties (Bill Clinton carried about half in his elections).
It is impossible to understate the chasm that has formed between Democratic Party elites and non-urban American communities, something on display in Kentucky where Clinton won just two of 120 counties (Jefferson and Fayette).
Is the electorate more conservative than we thought? Yet to be determined, but America’s non-urban voters wholeheartedly rejected a liberal culture in which Democratic Party elites, when they aren’t promoting a society of government dependence, openly mock those who prefer traditional social values. The Democratic Party’s adherence to a liberal social agenda has impaired its ability to have a conversation with voters about economics in many parts of the country (see: the Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Ohio countryside). It is hard to talk to average Americans about jobs while simultaneously ordering them to take down the gender-specific signs on the bathroom at their kids’ school.
Is polling dead? Not necessarily, as the national polling average correctly predicted Hillary Clinton’s popular vote win. The practice of forecasting results, however, may be dead, as media-sponsored gurus and academics, wearing their cloaks and poring over bubbling caldrons of data and faulty assumptions about the composition of the electorate, gave Democrats false hope that Clinton was a mortal lock to win The White House.
Only two states—Wisconsin and Ohio—showed election results outside the margin of error of their final polling averages. Other target states landed within their polling margins of error, per data tabulated by research firm Public Opinion Strategies. It does appear that for the third straight year media-sponsored pollsters had trouble picking up conservative undercurrents among rural populations, something we learned in Kentucky in 2014 and 2015 and previously discussed in this space.
What message did voters send by voting for one-party control? This is the most important question, and the answer is clear – voters rejected incrementalism, and they tore down barriers to serious change by ending the divided government of the last six years.
Divided government, a common condition in American history, has not always impeded bold action. President Ronald Reagan and Democratic House Speaker Tip O’Neil made deals on Social Security and taxes; President Bill Clinton and Congressional Republicans produced welfare reform.
But the last six years have felt like a ping pong game played at the bottom of a swimming pool full of molasses. People want policy changes that will lead to more and better jobs, lower health care costs, and a safer nation. Frustrated voters, sick of the excuse of blaming the other side for inaction, handed full control to the GOP, the Senate’s 60 vote filibuster rule notwithstanding.
Congressional Republicans and Donald Trump made a series of promises they must keep or there will be electoral hell to pay in 2018 and 2020. After two years of unified Republican control, serious progress must be made on repealing Obamacare and lowering health insurance costs, securing the border, reforming the tax code, rebuilding crumbling infrastructure, and confirming Constitutionally-minded judges. If Republicans do that, voters will be thrilled with their decision to flip the keys to the GOP. If not…well, think Darth Vader Force-choking inept Imperial officers, but worse.
The same is true for Republicans now in full control of Kentucky state government. The fall of Greg Stumbo as Speaker of the House (predicted in this space last November) and the rise of Republican supermajorities in both legislative chambers should immediately lead to long overdue policies that will catch Kentucky up to her neighbors. Passage of a right-to-work law, repeal of prevailing wage, allowance of charter schools, and comprehensive lawsuit (tort) reform are must-do items for Republicans in 2017.
To the newly elected Republicans now running the General Assembly, ignore the old Frankfort guard whispering in your ear about “taking it slow” on tort reform or anything else. Half-measures and watered down compromises with the liberals won’t do for the voters who elected you; plunge headlong into conservative, pro-growth reforms to unlock the endless possibility found within Kentucky’s resources and people.
They say good policy makes good politics. Republican leaders in Washington and Frankfort have a chance to make excellent politics in the years ahead so long as they heed the demands of frustrated voters who are tired of the policy treadmill and want their politicians to go for a brisk run outside.
Scott Jennings previously served as an advisor to President George W. Bush and U.S. Senator Mitch McConnell. He is a partner at RunSwitch Public Relations and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @ScottJenningsKY.