Barack Obama and congressional Democrats won big on Tuesday night, but they should not mistake their victory for a big-government mandate. The evidence tells a very different story.
A poll commissioned by the Club for Growth in 12 swing congressional districts over the past weekend shows that the voters who made the difference in this election still prefer less government — lower taxes, less spending and less regulation — to Sen. Obama’s economic liberalism. Turns out, Americans didn’t vote for Mr. Obama and Democratic congressional candidates because they support their redistributionist agenda, but because they are fed up with the Republican politicians in office. This was a classic "throw the bums out" election, rather than an embrace of the policy views of those who will replace them.
Although currently held by Republican congressmen, all but one of these 12 districts we surveyed flipped to Democratic control Tuesday night. Collectively, President Bush carried these districts in 2004 with 53%. They are nearly evenly split in party affiliation: 40% Democratic, 37% Republican and 19% Independent. The poll surveyed 800 voters with a margin of error of +/- 3.46 percentage points.
Nancy Pelosi’s San Francisco district will always support universal health care, and Jeff Flake’s Arizona district will always support less government. But the 12 districts we surveyed represent the political middle of the country, and in this cycle their partisan allegiances changed. The question is, have their opinions on the issues changed as well? The answer is emphatically no.
Consider the most salient aspects of Mr. Obama’s economic agenda: the redistribution of wealth through higher taxes on America’s top earners; the revival of the death tax; raising the tax on capital gains and dividend income; increased government spending; increased government involvement in the housing crisis; a restriction on offshore drilling and oil exploration in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR); and "card check" legislation stripping workers of their right to a secret ballot in union elections.
On each of these issues, swing voters stand starkly against Mr. Obama. According to the Club’s poll, 73% of voters prefer the federal government to focus on "creating economic conditions that give all people opportunities to create wealth through their own efforts" over "spreading wealth from higher income people to middle and lower income people." Two-thirds of respondents prefer to see the permanent elimination of the death tax, and 65% prefer to keep capital gains and dividend tax rates at their current lows.
When it comes to government spending, voters in these swing districts are fed up with the explosion of government under Republicans, and are no more inclined to swallow further spending increases from the Democrats. Over half of respondents think more than a quarter of federal spending in Washington is "wasteful," and 66% prefer candidates "who want to reduce overall federal spending, even if that includes cutting some money that would come" to their own districts.
A large plurality of voters is dissatisfied with the government’s bailout of the banking industry; even more are opposed to further action. Fifty-four percent think the "federal government is trying to do too many things that are better left to individuals, families and businesses," compared with 39% who think the government should do more.
Mr. Obama’s opposition to domestic drilling is clearly out of step with mainstream America as well. Sixty-two percent of voters in swing districts would like to allow oil exploration in ANWR, and a dramatic 75% want to allow drilling for oil and natural gas off America’s coastlines.
Of all Mr. Obama’s plans, the most unpopular may be one of his first acts as president — the signing of "card check" legislation. Perhaps he should know that a whopping 85% of voters in the districts that made him president oppose taking away the right of workers to have secret union ballots.
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– Karl Rove
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– Lanny J. DavisSwing Voters Don’t Want Big Government
– Pat ToomeyObama’s Triumph Is America’s Too
– Elizabeth WurtzelDespite the celebrating in Chicago’s Grant Park Tuesday night, the Democrats’ victory comes with a very large caveat. Any attempt to jam higher taxes and spending and increased regulation down the throats of American voters will be met with opposition — not just from the right, but also from the center of the electorate.
Mr. Obama is not the only person who should take notice of this poll. These numbers carry a powerful message for Republicans too. In the coming days you will hear many a pundit read the conservative movement’s obituary. But voters have not rejected conservative ideals; they are disgusted with Republican politicians who govern like liberals.
This is pretty clear when you look at the Club’s poll. Voters blame the GOP over the Democrats for "taxpayer bailouts for big corporations" by a ratio of nearly 3 to 1. Forty-eight percent singled out the GOP as "the Party that gave us the Bridge to Nowhere," compared to 14% who blamed Democrats. More voters chose the Democratic Party as better for "promoting economic growth" than the GOP, and eight out of 10 voters agreed that "in recent years, too many Republicans in Washington have become just like the big spenders that they used to oppose."
Much like the years following the 1974 midterm elections, Republican leaders will be tasked with rebuilding the GOP from the ground up. As dire as the future looks, economic conservatives should keep one thing in mind. When it comes to ideas, the American people are still on their side.
Mr. Toomey is the president of the Club for Growth.