By José Ramòn Cabañas Rodríguez – Nov 15, 2022
It is now a week after the midterm elections in the United States and we still do not know who will have the majority in the House of Representatives, nor the definitive data on the Senate where, if there will be Democratic dominance, it will be minimal. The data has fallen in drips and drabs during the last week. It will be months before we have access to real, definitive numbers on voter turnout at each level and for each office. All we can access for now are exit polls.
Without trying to “tropicalize” the matter, if this scenario had happened south of the Rio Grande River, there would have already been a lot of complaints of fraud, requests for foreign intervention, and the OAS Secretariat would be on permanent vigil. However, this is not the case, as the elections are an exercise in “American democracy.” The aftereffects will reach all of us in one way or another.
It is necessary to delve into the “unseen” (recalling Jose Martí), which is ultimately the truth. The first question we must try to answer is why, this time, the historical tendency of these elections to constitute a cost for the party that occupies the White House has been broken. This question takes on a different meaning if we add to it the fact that the economic conditions were not entirely satisfactory for the Democrats.
Because of the volume of information that overwhelms us and the intensity with which it appears these days, we are left with the impression that all US citizens voted and that more or less everyone participates for the same reasons. This is the first inaccuracy.
The most trustworthy pollsters are telling us that about 47% of eligible citizens exercised their right to vote. In other words, all the projections we make will take into account the criteria of less than half of those who could have influenced the final result. This in itself leaves a very open margin of error for 2024.
When we access which issues (always according to the pollsters) led people that day—and on previous days (through the advance vote)—to go out and fill out the ballot, we will realize that they are citizens of two countries, or more. Those registered as Democrats or Republicans have totally different priorities, ranging from abortion to taxes, and when you add in the so-called independents, everything becomes more complex.
In other words, a woman of African descent in Maine doesn’t have the national perspective of a farmer in Iowa at all. This is true for both domestic and foreign policy. In reality, the differences are much more complex and, above all, classist.
However, there are other issues that very few sources speak about. These are the issues that the voters of each state placed on the ballot previously, by popular consultation. If we review these, we find that there are states in the union voting on proposals that the corporate press (which is only right wing) might label “socialist”: establishing a new minimum wage, ending forced prison labor, collective bargaining rights, and banning poverty pay. If we add to this the estimate that 63% of voters (of all groups) between 19 and 30 years of age voted for the Democrats, and that, within these, there is a strong tendency towards progressivism (however the term is understood), then we will come to the conclusion that phenomena—of which we have not been told much—are manifesting themselves in the social base of that country.
Almost all of us looked at these elections expecting to see an onslaught between a recalcitrant sector (not the only one) among the Republicans, gathered under the vague umbrella of so-called Trumpism, against an easy prey, the Democrats, who seemed to be disoriented and disunited. However, both narratives that have been placed before our eyes are inaccurate.
Perhaps the first distortion comes from the polls themselves, which on this occasion, as in 2016, were not entirely accurate. Did they get it massively wrong? Will the methodology have to be changed?
Two factors seem to be weighing in here. The first one is that the number of predetermined “polls” by each party is increasing exponentially, with the sole purpose of influencing the undecided the polling averages published by certain institutions and scholars.
The second is the irremediable reality of the last six years. The common voters, especially the poor voters, hide their real preferences from pollsters. In an increasingly polarized society, in which the public exposure of your preferences (whether political or sexual) can cost you your job, your family stability, or literally your life, those who respond have an increasing need to be “discreet.” This does not consider those who hang up upon receiving the call (most of these inquiries are made by telephone), who the pollster does not rate as either for or against. They simply do not register.
Let us return to the headlines and the ideas that have been reiterated the most. Two of them have focused on the neighboring state of Florida. There is praise for the landslide victory of the current governor, the re-election of one of the Republican senators, and the overwhelming turnaround in Miami–Dade County.
It seems a truism that for someone to win, someone else must lose. However, in politics it sometimes happens the other way around: one loses in advance so that another will win—and this is exactly what has happened in the gubernatorial race.
Was anyone really expecting a Democrat victory when the candidate of that party was a former governor who changed party preference before, who had already lost a previous race, who did not have a clear message for the fundamental groups of the state, and who, on the issue of Cuba, had varied his position from officially visiting the country, to joining the chorus during the events of July 11, 2021?
But the explanation goes far beyond isolated politicians. In 2020, the state of Florida as a whole voted in favor of the so-called Issue 4. According to the outcome of the referendum, voting rights would be restored to former inmates who had lost them, according to the legislation in force at the time. What was a popular victory was blurred behind closed doors by a Republican-majority state assembly of less than 200 members, which passed new regulations that made it nearly impossible to restore rights to some 1.1 million people, the overwhelming majority of whom would support the Democrats. The same assembly redrew voting districts according to Republican geographic concentrations.
In short, you can’t swim, if in addition to not knowing how, they hang a rock around your neck.
To this, let’s add the statistic that is almost always safely tucked away. How much funding did the Democratic Party invest in each of its candidates in the state? Without knowing more details, the head of that organization has already made statements saying something like: “some of our candidates lost because we left them alone.”
All these factors and others had the same influence on the re-election, and front page news, of the Republican senator who has been anti-Trump, then Trumpist, and now is not clearly positioned. In this case, we should also add the repeated errors of the advisors of his female opponent, young and Afro-descendant, with a career of merit in the police force, who bet on believing more in God than Jesus himself. After this race, a clause should appear in the Democratic electoral manual that says “you cannot aspire to obtain the support of Cuban-American voters by pretending to be further to the right than your opponent”.
It would have been easier to win over her opponent by explaining that she was facing the senator who has the lowest level of attendance at the sessions of his federal chamber, and who has presented fewer successful bills to the floor than his 99 peers. In other words, she was battling the worst representative of the state that elected him and still got the message wrong.
These two Republican “victories” have fueled the narrative supporting the conclusion that “Florida is consolidating as definitively Republican,” and that rivals to Trump have already emerged for 2024. The latter has been reinforced by the academic analysis of a betting site (pure hard money) that has already begun to make its first projections.
The fact that Ron DeSantis’ name is cited as a contender for 2024, 24 months away, has allowed Republicans something very important, almost forbidden until now: to dissent. This notion that there may be another pole within the party has opened the way to severe criticism of the former president, questioning his legacy, the inevitability of his message, and creating less demand for him to offer patronage. Dissent goes beyond the presidential, as new candidates are already emerging for party leadership in both houses of Congress, which is an even darker and more unpredictable environment.
The end of Florida as a swing state could be a great victory for some, but it could also turn the page on an issue that has been the spearhead and main condiment of blackmail: the conduct of the so-called Cuban vote. So much for the “need” to court a tiny percentage of voters that in theory is said to have been defining the final Floridian outcome since 1980, both for presidential and midterm elections.
What happened in Miami–Dade? Well, it is the sum of all that has been said so far, plus the same factors that changed the color of Arizona or Colorado: demographic flows. And they are diverse: they range from the massive arrival of wealthy retirees, to the access to vote of recent Colombian and Venezuelan immigrants (plus the traditional Cubans).
What will not change, for the time being, and this has been not been commented on much by those who bet on the red wave, is that Congress, with whatever majority it is certified, will continue to be less and less productive, and will retain the scarce respect granted to it by the voters throughout the Union: only 9% support. This is undoubtedly a factor that slows down changes in a nation where so many different projects for the country are being proposed at the same time.
There is still much to meditate on, but the call is for us to do so against the current and beyond the headlines we see on our cell phone screens.
In fact, everything seems to indicate that the expectations built on the “red tide” and a monolithic Trumpism have had more to do with algorithms than with what was discussed in every corner—excuse me, I meant in every select and private club with refined tableware, that place where pollsters do not have access.
José Ramòn Cabañas Rodríguez is the former Cuban ambassador to the United States.
Additional translation: Orinoco Tribune
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