Another Wait A Minute
CHARLES: Charlie Madigan here with my friend and colleague Jim O’Shea and our thoughts about this past election Tuesday, where not much went the way most of us were led to believe it would go.
The first piece of mythology that collapses in the wake of a big turnout is that the party that holds the White House will always lose seats in the House and Senate in the so called “Mid-term” election. People chisel things like that into stone and run with them right up to the opening of the polls.
This year, media was wrong about all of that.
The Democrats held onto the Senate and even though the Republicans won the House, it was by the slimmest of margins and wasn’t a drubbing, maybe a handful of seats at the most. And it turned out in Pennsylvania that John Fetterman’s problem with stroke damage was not as significant as the fact that Dr. Oz lived on television and collected mail in New Jersey.
Fetterman took that one by a couple of points!
Lots of people were wrong about all this, but mostly Fox news and other Rupert Murdoch outlets. It wasn’t just going to be a “red wave,” it was going to be a tsunami that would push all Democrats to perdition and beyond.
That didn’t happen at all, and one big reason it didn’t happen at all is turnout, particularly among young people. About 27 percent of Gen-Z folks voted and a huge chunk of that group voted for Democrats.
It’s going to take a while to collect those numbers with the clarity one needs to conclude the level of significance, but trust me, it was very big. The last measure for turnout in that group, which includes 20is to early 30ish folks, was 20 percent. A 7- point increase in that number is simply huge.
Because I am old, I am forever wandering down memory lane, and in this case, memory lane presents some interesting facts. The record shows if you give Americans a reason to vote, they surely will.
At the height of the Civil War, 1864, about 70 percent of
eligible voters cast ballots. Remember now, things were not measured the same in 1864 as now, but that is the estimate. Participation also went up when women finally got the right to vote in 1920, when the depression pulled voters out for Franklin D. Roosevelt in the 1930s, at the height of the Civil Rights era in the 1960s, and of course, at Donald Trump’s midterm in 2018.
Everyone is eager to say former President Trump was the big loser on election day, and you can build an argument for that. But I think the biggest loser of all was media, with its endless crowing about red waves and Democrats facing debacle. That kind of stuff should end now!
Cover what happens and leave predictions to fortune tellers.
And don’t forget to get out and talk to voters!
JAMES: I couldn’t agree more, Charlie. The media took it on the chin and deserved the uppercut. I don’t like wandering down memory lane, either. But history provides us with perspective that you simply don’t get from a media obsessed with “creating content.”
I sympathize with our former colleagues covering this mess we call politics. They – and the organizations that employ them – are desperate for content so they can sell ads adjacent to the stories and prop up their beleaguered finances. The game really belongs to the big boys like the New York Times and Washington Post, the only ones with audiences big enough to pretend to compete with the Googles of the world. We used to call content creation like this “feeding the beast,” or the huge space for news that newspapers once had to fill. Only now, the beast is more like a behemoth for those able to compete for the ads.
The result is a desperate need for content like polls with flimsy underpinnings that generate stories that are as weak as the one the New York Times ran a few weeks ago suggesting voters were more concerned about inflation than threats to our democracy. I think voters simply considered inflation, which is a real problem, a part of a troubled democracy that worried them enough to flock to the polls and vote, defying all the punditry and prognoses to the contrary. At least we didn’t fall for that with our story that debunked the Times analysis.
Now we face the reemergence of Donald Trump, a man who could give my gastroenterologist heartburn. What do you think? Is this a Phoenix rising from the ashes of Mar-a-Lago? Or perhaps a last hurrah?
CHARLES: A great question that will be answered by the passage of a little time and the question of whether the nation can return to its common senses, a good prospect given the election results.
The same awareness should apply here. Trump, it is suggested, has a dedicated base, which will give him lots of noise. But everyone must remember that all “his” candidates fared pretty badly on election day, so this big pumpkin may already be rotting in the field, even though it still looks unusually orange on the outside.
But we must wait a while to see. The prediction business may be rotting out there beside him!
JAMES: You make a great point about turnout among young voters, Charlie. As you probably know, this is the third consecutive election in which young voter participation has increased. That’s incredible! Why? There’s this organization named “Voters for Tomorrow,” a youth advocacy group now organized in all 50 states and DC. Young people are sick of politicians who came more about the Second Amendment than Second graders. They also give that old man, President Biden, credit for actually getting legislation on the economy and the environment passed despite opposition from old fogies like those who plague our generation. I think you are right in emphasizing the significance of the youth vote. Young voters are focused on tomorrow and a future that is far more hopeful than their parents. Good for them. They got out and voted. Keep at in “Voter for Tomorrow.” You are making things better today.
—James O’Shea and Charles M. Madigan
James O’Shea is a longtime Chicago author and journalist who now lives in North Carolina. He is the author of several books and is the former editor of the Los Angeles Times and managing editor of the Chicago Tribune.
Charles M. Madigan, who lives in Evanston, is a writer and veteran foreign and national correspondent for UPI and the Chicago Tribune, where he also served as a senior writer and editor. “Wait a Minute” is their collaboration to examine news reporting, politics and world events.