What recent elections have not taught us about American voters 

With everyone focused on the Republicans’ struggle to choose a worthy nominee, it’s worth looking back at this summer’s special elections — but not because they give us a clear idea of what’s going to happen in 2012. If you lay them all end-to-end, you probably won’t reach any emerging trends for next November.

In Wisconsin, Democrats used the recall process to oust (narrowly) one scandal-plagued Republican state senator and a Republican state senator in a heavily Democratic district. But they failed to retake the state Senate, which would have enabled them to undermine Gov. Scott Walker’s conservative reforms.

In New York’s 9th Congressional District, formerly home to Anthony Weiner, Republicans scored a very unlikely victory. But it was decided mostly by Orthodox Jewish voters whose discontent with President Barack Obama’s lukewarm support of Israel had boiled over.

Nevada’s 2nd District is really a Republican seat anyway. Democrats were playing with house money when they made a play to win it. The fact that they were crushed by 22 points is noteworthy but not earth-shattering.

Last week in West Virginia, Democrats retained the governorship, but it was a lot closer than expected. Still, West Virginia is an odd state that holds few lessons for 2012 either way. Whether or not he is re-elected, Obama will almost certainly lose the state by double digits, just like he did in 2008.

There’s nothing obvious here if you’re looking for 2012 bellwethers.

But that doesn’t mean the races tell us nothing. Indeed, we can learn quite a bit from what they don’t tell us.

In each case (perhaps less so in West Virginia), Democrats hoped to create a very specific narrative.

Middle-class independent voters were supposed to be rising up against a radical tea party movement that had been given too much power.

For a brief time, it looked like this tack would actually work. Using the time-tested “Mediscare” tactic, Democrats won a special election for an open House seat in upstate New York back in May. But ever since, this strategy has sputtered.

We have seen that the middle class, crucial to Republicans’ chances in every election, is not appalled, restive or disturbed. We have learned that, for the moment, there is no genuine grass-roots anger at Republicans, the slipshod protests in New York City notwithstanding. No one cares about the unions that Republicans are fighting in a few key states. Nor does anyone remotely care that Congress won’t move on the American Jobs Act.

These recent off-year elections have not necessarily demonstrated any Republican strength.

But there is no noteworthy tea party backlash, and certainly no reason for conservatives to back down now.

Columnist David Freddoso is The Washington Examiner online opinion editor.

About The Author

David Freddoso

David Freddoso came to the Washington Examiner in June 2009, after serving for nearly two years as a Capitol Hill-based staff reporter for National Review Online. Before writing his New York Times bestselling book, The Case Against Barack Obama, he spent three years assisting Robert Novak, the legendary Washington... more
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