Democrats lacking a rallying point
A political science professor warns that even with a unified government, "ours is a house very much divided."
Bradley Best, a professor of political science at Buena Vista University, was the featured speaker at yesterday's veterans soup dinner at the Buena Vista County Historical Society.
Best discussed last week's midterm elections. Because Republicans gained control of the Senate and maintained control of the House, Best said this year's election will be remembered in future years.
"Divided government" is simply the lack of a unified control between both houses of Congress and the Presidency, with either the Republican and Democratic parties, Best said.
Since 1945 the country has been in such a state two-thirds of the time, he said. Prior to the 1990s, the Presidency was primarily in the hands of the Republicans, and one if not two houses of Congress were controlled by Democrats.
There are a number of theories attributed to such a division, Best said.
"Some suggest Republican and Democrat having decreased importance as guides to voting behavior," he said.
Elections have become more candidate-centered rather than issue-centered, he said. A classic example is the 1960 televised debate between Kennedy and Nixon.
"Most people watching the debate on television thought Kennedy outperformed Nixon, but those listening on the radio felt the opposite, that Nixon bested John Kennedy," he said.
The appearance of the two candidates and television signaled a change to candidate image, Best said, which has also given rise to split ticket voting.
Voting a split ticket may be both intentional and unintentional, he said.
"We like some things Democrats do for us and we like some things Republicans do for us," Best said.
Unintentionally, voters may shy away from the unknown, while candidates with campaign money seem to have an ever-increasing advantage.
"That increases the likelihood for incumbents to win a race dramatically over their challengers," he said.
Divided government affects the content of public policy and the productivity of Congress, Best said. A divided government may be sluggish and ineffective on passing important legislation.
"Divided government may serve the function of shifting the course of political activity and debate to a subject not in the public's immediate interest," he said.
But even with Republican control across the top, Best still expects similar action by Democrats.
"For the next 24 months Democrats will work hard at exposing policy failures and character defects," he said.
The Republican Party and President Bush have done a tremendous job at pooling resources, such as fundraising, voter registration and door-to-door campaigning, in the recent campaign.
"George Bush and the Republican Party initiated one of the most aggressive late cycle election campaigns," he said. "It gave Republicans a reason to get out and vote."
What may have helped Republicans may have hurt Democrats.
"There was not a sense of a unified theme in either party's campaign or platform," Best said. "Democrats lacked a clear message, and a strong national figure to serve as a rallying point."
In part, Republicans won by talking about national security.
"This election was about Sept. 11, it was about terrorism and not the economy," Best said.
As the unified government proceeds, Best expects action to take place on federal judges and a tax cut plan. But he gave a word of caution.
"The expectations for the Republican Party are very, very high and Americans are saying it's your economy, it 's your open playing field in terms of foreign policy, but we're watching you," he said.