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No Conservative Mandate

Experts and pundits will float many interpretations of the 2010 midterms over the next few weeks. Progressives should consider each one carefully. But the most parsimonious explanation of how 2010 unfolded in terms of lessons for progressives going forward lies in a few fundamental factors: the poor state of the economy, the abnormally conservative composition of the midterm electorate, and the large number of vulnerable seats in conservative-leaning areas. These factors are discussed in detail in my new memo with John Halpin, “Election Results Fueled by Jobs Crisis and Voter Apathy Among Progressives.”

Conservatives have a different story, of course. For them, the 2010 election was all about voters embracing conservative ideas on the economy, health care, and tax cuts. But the 2010 exit polls tell a different story.

Only 23 percent of voters blamed President Barack Obama for today’s economic problems. Instead, they blamed either Wall Street (35 percent) or President George W. Bush (29 percent).

Nor was the election a repudiation of the new health care reform law. Even among a midterm electorate with an abnormally conservative composition, about as many said they wanted to see the law remain as is or be expanded (47 percent) as said they wanted it repealed (48 percent).

Voters weren’t embracing the conservative position on tax cuts, either. A 52 percent majority of voters wanted to either keep only the Bush tax cuts for those with less than $250,000 or let them all expire compared to 39 percent who wanted to keep all the tax cuts.

These data suggest that conservatives should quickly disabuse themselves of the notion that they have a mandate. They don’t.

Ruy Teixeira is a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress. To learn more about his public opinion analysis go to the Media and Progressive Values page and the Progressive Studies program page of our website.