Almost always, the Salem City Club has highly enjoyable noon hour presentations. Last Friday's was especially interesting for a political junkie like me.
Ed Dover, a professor of political science at Western Oregon University and chair of the department, spoke about "Election 2014: Outcomes and Implications."
Here's my top takeaways from his talk -- based on my scribbled notes and memory.
(1) The 2014 mid-terms were more of the same "trench warfare."
Just as World War I the opposing armies were dug in with little movement on either side, despite massive fighting and casualities, elections in this country don't result in lasting wins for either Republicans or Democrats.
Much of the populace was barely aware of the mid-term election, which is akin to soldiers being hidden in the trenches. "Is there an election underway?" "Where's the battle?" Being a progressive, this made me feel better about what just happened.
Only about a third of registered voters took part in the election (twice that in Oregon, in part because we have vote by mail). This was a continuation of the prior trench warfare, Dover said, not a Republican victory or Democratic defeat.
(2) A few battleground states saw most of the action.
Per usual, a small number of "purple" states (not blue, not red) received most of the national attention. In 2012, I believe it was, Dems and the GOP each spent a billion dollars on the presidential campaign. Half of this was for television advertising in just nine battleground states.
So even though the 2014 mid-terms have been called a wave election for the Republican Party, most of the country wasn't washed much by the wave. Meaning, by and large voters cast their ballots as they usually do. In the House of Representatives, which elects all members every two years, 96% of incumbents were re-elected.
(3) Suburbs often are the deciding electoral factor.
Urban areas tend to be reliably Democratic; rural areas, reliably Republican. The suburbs can bounce either way.
For example, California is mostly urban and Democratic. Wyoming is mostly rural and Republican. Colorado, though, is mixed. There, three suburban counties typically decide the outcome of a statewide election. Thus suburbs are the trenches in which today's political trench warfare is fought.
(4) The "silent generation" is a big political influence now, but not for much longer.
Being 66, a baby boomer, I found this age-related analysis by Dover to be fascinating. Often polls and election results talk about the over-60 vote. However, Dover said there is a big difference between how those born between 1929 and 1941 vote, and how the post-war baby boom generation I'm a part of votes.
Members of the so-called silent generation generally were in high school in the 1950's. Now they are aged 70-80, or thereabouts. They are much more likely to vote than young people, and are considerably more Republican. In a mid-term they have an outsized influence, since 37% of those over 60 voted in 2014 compared to 12% of those under 30.
A national election, which will occur in 2016, brings a higher turnout among young people. And, obviously, the oldest people are steadily growing older. So before too long the "silent generation" will be truly silent: dead. This demographic change will affect the political landscape.
(5) Paul Evans vs. Kathy Goss race reflected national politics.
Dover worked on the Paul Evans campaign for state representative, so he said his comments about the race were in the spirit of participatory involvement. Nonetheless, his observations made a lot of sense.
District 20 is one of the most evenly balanced in Oregon between Democrats and Republicans. In 2014 it was the only state house district that changed parties. (Previously the district representative was a popular Republican who didn't run for re-election.)
In some ways District 20 is a suburban district as it includes West Salem and Monmouth/Independence. A million dollars was spent by both sides on this race. It was fiercely fought, whereas in many parts of Oregon with non-competitive state house races, voters barely knew an election was going on.
Character and policy are both important in a candidate's campaign. Ideally, personal characteristics and policy positions align. This is one reason Evans won, Dover said. For example, Evans had a military background and he advocated for treating veterans better. Goss, on the other hand, didn't have clear policy positions, in Dover's view.
Well, these are some key points I recalled. Ed Dover had more to say, naturally. I believe his talk will be on Salem's CCTV eventually. It'll be well worth watching.