The results of the recent midterms seem to put to bed some common assumptions about U.S. politics.
As the dust settles on the 2018 Midterm Elections, I noticed two interesting things that raise questions about what we’ve come to take for granted in politics.
1) That protest movements achieve something. When I was younger, I used to love a good protest. Fondly recalling their own “Days of Rage” in the 1960s and ’70s, university professors in particular have encouraged campus activism, which in turn spread elsewhere. It makes you feel good. It makes you feel like you’re part of something bigger than yourself—a grand statement that you will not sit idly by and allow something outrageous to continue.
But do they actually work here in the United States, especially when the only outrage is over losing an election? In 2010 Scott Walker, a Republican, was elected governor of Wisconsin. Wisconsin, like Illinois, is divided between large cities, which tend to be very liberal, and geographically large but underpopulated rural areas, which tend to be very conservative. Governor Walker did as promised and limited the collective bargaining powers of Wisconsin public employees. The left lost its mind.
Massive protests erupted in the state capitol, Madison. I was there, on March 12, 2011 (see picture above). Thousands of angry people stood in the cold screaming and holding signs and walking around in a circle. They launched a recall effort in 2012, which ultimately failed when Walker won again. Now, six years later, Governor Walker was removed from office not by hand-wringing and carrying on, but at the ballot box when Democrats ran an appealing candidate with a message that resonated with voters.
That’s how you affect change in the United States. That’s the beauty of our political system. We have a chance to change our public officials through regularly-held elections. If you make a compelling argument, you can appeal to enough voters and have a chance to implement your agenda.
2) That celebrities have the power to sway large swaths of voters. We can’t have an election anymore in the United States without celebrities grandstanding and virtue signaling and lecturing everyone on how we’re terrible people if we don’t support their preferred candidates. In this election cycle, pop singer Taylor Swift caused a stir when she publicly endorsed Democratic candidate for governor of Tennessee Phil Bredesen. Many other celebrities came out to support Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate in Texas Beto O’Rourke.
Neither candidate won their respective elections, although O’Rourke’s was much closer than Bredesen’s. What does this say about the power of celebrity endorsements? Did Taylor Swift, a hugely popular musician, move the needle an inch in Bredesen’s direction? He lost 54.7% to 43.9%. When Bredesen was re-elected governor in 2006, he won with 68% of the vote. Ouch.
In the end, it’s impossible to say what effect endorsements have. Does someone really go into the ballot box and think, “well, if Beyonce likes this guy, he deserves my vote”? Maybe they do. But in this election, it seems celebrity endorsements were overrated. It’s their choice whether they want to risk alienating their fans by endorsing a particular candidate in a contentious election, but I don’t think the risk is worth the reward.