Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Concise analysis of Ohio ballot measures

Sean Trende of RCP--an Ohio resident, himself--has offered up an excellent critique of the over-the-top happy dances performed by pundits on both sides of the political spectrum in the aftermath of the Ohio vote last week. Recall that Issue 2--a law that limited the collective bargaining rights of public flames--was soundly defeated, while another issue--that blocked any sort of individual mandate for healthcare--easily passed. The margins were eerily similar, the former going down 61 to 39 percent, the latter passing 66 to 34 percent.

Thus, voters simultaneously swatted the union-busting GOP and the freedom-stealing administration. Or at least that was how the results were cast, depending on the ideology of the pundit. The pundits on the left explained the healthcare mandate vote by suggesting voters were confused by the language on the ballot (looked pretty clear to me). The pundits on the right explained the collective bargaining rights vote by suggesting that voters...were confused.

But here's the thing: the pundits on the right have a bit of a point. As Trende notes, the advertising campaign--launched by groups that wanted the law repealed--was intended to create fear, fear that there would not be enough police officers and firefighters:
To put this in perspective, I live in Delaware County, Ohio. It’s something of a new-growth, high-end suburban county adjacent to Columbus. It has voted Republican in every presidential election since 1920, including a 20-point win for John McCain in 2008. Delaware voted to approve Issue 2, but by a surprisingly narrow 54 percent to 46 percent margin. It wasn’t unusual to see “Vote No on 2” signs in front of houses that were probably valued above $500,000. It seems reasonably clear that these voters didn’t reject it because of a wider anti-corporate backlash. 
Instead, they most likely cast “No on 2” ballots because the anti-Issue 2 forces, after initially toying with an advertising campaign consistent with the conventional wisdom about the topic, ultimately framed the issue as one of public safety. You can find the complete “We Are Ohio” advertisement archives here. Let’s focus on the “home stretch” ads that were running on TV when people were paying the most attention, in October and later: 
Here’s one featuring an elderly Ohioan discussing how firefighters saved her great-granddaughter Zoey, stating that Issue 2 “makes it illegal to negotiate for enough firefighters to do their job.” She also steals something of a page from the Tea Party handbook, railing against “politicians in Columbus” for making decisions for firefighters. She includes a brief line about these politicians turning their backs on the middle class.
No doubt, some of the people voting against the issue were doing so because they simply believed that the Governor was trying to stick it to the public sector unions to justify tax cuts for the wealthy, but it's only reasonable to allow that many more were swayed by the advertising campaign, above.

What about the pundits on the left? Do they have a point, too? Well, maybe a tiny one. As I noted, the language was hardly confusing, but it also never specifically mentioned Obamacare. So, certainly some voters might not have realized that they were voting against Obamacare, for all intents and purposes.

However, allowing that scenario suggests that what they thought they were voting against was more government intrusion into their lives. And really, the vote against Issue 2 can be cast in a similar light: voters were voting down a measure that seemed to be about limiting the options of their local communities and public employees, in deference to the State government.

So maybe, just maybe, the Ohio vote was more about freedom from government, than it was anything else. Except for maybe States' Rights. If I'm on the left, I'm not sure I'd be pointing to Ohio as some sort of watershed moment...

Cheers, all.

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