Time to reconsider the conventional wisdom

Time to reconsider the conventional wisdom

- in Fitzsimon File

Political pundits are busy preparing their analyses for Tuesday night when the primary elections results roll in.  What was the voter turnout, which incumbents received a scare, how many independents voted in the Republican primary, what did the tea partiers do, and most importantly what does it all mean for November?

You can bet that almost without exception, the commentators will use the answers to those questions to give us some version of the conventional wisdom, that this is a big Republican year, that voters are angry at Congress, opposed to President Obama's health care reform, and galvanizing around the anti-incumbent sentiment so prominent at the tea party protests last summer and this past tax day.

Those have been the headlines for months and right-wing talking heads have been trying to push them even further, claiming that Republicans may gain a hundred seats in Congress and that Democrats might lose control of the General Assembly in North Carolina for the first time since the 19th century.

The idea is to create a self-fulfilling prophecy by using the conventional wisdom to affect the election itself, dispiriting progressive forces and keeping conservative activists motivated by media headlines drawn from the talking points of the right-wing think tanks and the politicians they support.

There will no doubt be interesting stories in the primary results. Politics always brings some surprises. But don't let the efforts of the pundits convince you that the results are another indicator of a looming Republican landslide in November.

Republicans will gain a few seats in the fall. This is an off-year election when the party not in power in the White House historically makes gains.  The Republicans might even do a little better than that.

But there are increasing signals that for all the bluster, that's all this fall may be, a mostly typical off-year election. 

The latest New York Times Poll provides the most obvious clue. Forty-one percent of Americans now believe the economy is improving. That's up eight points from last month. Seventy-five percent of those who think things are getting better approve of the job President Obama is doing on the economy.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average began Tuesday above 11,100, up from its low of 6,500 early in 2009. The stock market may not be the most important indication of economic progress, but it is one sign that things have improved.

The unemployment rate in North Carolina that has stubbornly hovered around 11 percent is beginning to trend downwards and conservative economist Mike Walden recently wrote that North Carolina is poised to lead most of the nation in the economic recovery underway. 

That's not to say that everything is rosy here, far from it. Millions of people in North Carolina are still struggling to make ends meet and the employment security commission offices are flooded with people looking for work.

But there is a growing sense that things are turning around. It's not just in the economic indicators. It's in the perception of the public.  And that's what the fall election is really about.

People are not likely to vote in November because they are mad that health care reform passed nine months before, reform that people increasingly support once they understand what it does in contrast to what Fox News and Americans for the Prosperous told them it would do.

People are not likely to vote in November because they are mad about their taxes or because they think government is too big.

Many people will go to the polls and base their votes on how they think the economy is doing and how they think it will do in the next two years.  If they have little hope and are still angry that nobody seems to care about their plight, the anti-incumbency mood may prevail and the conventional wisdom predicting a Republican landslide will be validated.

But if the current polls are correct that people are becoming more optimistic about the economy and their own financial well being, things might turn out much differently when the votes are counted in November. 

The tea partiers shouldn't plan a post election celebration party yet.

About the author

Chris Fitzsimon, Founder and Executive Director of N.C. Policy Watch, writes the Fitzsimon File, delivers a radio commentary broadcast on WRAL-FM and hosts "News and Views," a weekly radio news magazine that airs on multiple stations across North Carolina.
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