An election at a crossroads
As the Democratic Party suffered a crushing defeat in the midterm elections on Nov. 4, President Barack Obama became a target of blame. The opposition Republican Party is celebrating the idea that the election outcome is proof that the Obama administration’s policy direction is wrong. Even the Democrats blamed the president for the defeat. American media practically declared that Obama is helpless, even though he has two more years left in office.
Considering the report card so far, the criticism seems justifiable. The Democratic Party was crushed in most of the contended elections, and the outcome seems to reflect the voters’ judgment on the administration.
As the president gets involved in the election campaign in the United States, the defeat of the ruling party means defeat of the president.
U.S. sentiment is not so favorable after economic and foreign policy failure. And the recent Ebola crisis has added anxiety. Voters could not trust the authorities, who seemed harried in their response to the Ebola crisis. Obama is not entirely at fault, but when it comes to national leadership issues, it is only natural for the president to take a chunk of the responsibility.
So is the current crisis solely President Obama’s fault?
In the past few years, support for the Republican Party has been the lowest in history. In most opinion polls before the midterm elections, only 36 percent of the respondents supported the party. While the GOP gained its first majority in both the House and the Senate in eight years, its support ratings are not moving up. They’re actually lower than the approval ratings for the president, at 42 percent. In other words, the victory reflects dissatisfaction for President Obama, not support for the Republicans.
The election turnout should make politicians even humbler. The estimated turnout for the election was 36.6 percent, the lowest since the end of World War II. Only 13 percent of voters under 30 went to the polling stations. More than 40 percent of voters who did not cast a vote were minorities, including the black and Hispanic population. The traditional Democratic supporters chose not to vote. It is no coincidence that President Obama said the day after the election, “To everyone who voted, I want you to know that I hear you. To the two-thirds of voters who chose not to participate in the process yesterday, I hear you, too.”
The 2014 midterm election is expected to be recorded as the most expensive election in U.S. history. More than 1 trillion won ($9.2 billion) not counted in the statistics was also used. Broadcasters enjoyed a more than 30 percent increase in election advertisement sales. But after making enormous investment in publicity, people still did not vote. Blaming the president doesn’t explain the situation. In the end, people distrust politics in general.
The midterm elections were important, but the more intense presidential election game is slated for 2016. While the Republican Party holds the majority in Congress, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the GOP will have an advantage. The outcome depends on which party better communicates with the citizens and changes to meet the calling of the period.
The contest is not over yet.
The author is the Washington correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.JoongAng Ilbo, Nov. 8, Page 30
by LEE SANG-BOK