Why Do Voters Pass Progressive Laws, But Vote For Conservative Politicians?

It was a great midterm for progressives. No, hear me out, it really was.

Sure, the 2014 elections brought a massive shift to the political landscape. Republicans took over the Senate and the only question now is how big their majority will be. The House has an even wider GOP majority than before, and all those Republican governors we thought were vulnerable, like Scott Walker in Wisconsin and Sam Brownback in Kansas, well, it turns out they all held on to their spots. Even worse, Democratic governors we thought were safe, like Pat Quinn in Illinois, actually were endangered and will be gone after the first of the year.

Those are all just elected officials, though. When it came to a popular vote on policies, those leaned far left, despite the voters apparent support of GOP politicians. Four very red states passed minimum wage amendments that will add a dollar or more to the lowest paying hourly work, which will make it easier for struggling families to afford the items they need. Other states passed measures to legalize marijuana, in some medicinally and in others for recreational purposes. All of the “personhood” amendments that would have had the potential to completely ban abortion (and maybe hormonal birth control) suffered massive loses, and the one more moderate abortion restriction bill put up for a popular vote just barely eked out a win.

As Ms. Magazine reports, Oregon passed an Equal Rights Amendment providing new protections for women in the state. Paid sick leave won in Trenton, N.J., Oakland, Calif., and the entire state of Massachusetts. Also, Seattle passed an initiative to allow more families with lower incomes to be able to access subsidized preschool.

If it weren’t for all the Republican-dominated legislatures these wouldn’t be bad results at all.

In fact, that’s where it gets confusing. Voters in the reddest of red states are passing amendments raising the minimum wage, yet on the same ballot voting in favor of politicians who blatantly campaigned against the measures. While the state of Colorado rejected a “personhood” amendment by a two to one margin, they simultaneously voted for a senator who not only supported the same failed amendment the last time the state voted on it, but added his name as a sponsor to the federal version of a similar bill.

Why is it that voters want positive, progressive policies, but they don’t want the candidates who support them, and, even worse, vote for lawmakers that they know will make undoing those policies a priority for them in office? For one reason, many don’t realize that these issues — once they are removed from a candidate’s platform — are really progressive issues at all. Paid leave, childcare, minimum wage increases and even marijuana laws once taken aside from a party plank, look like what they really are — economic issues. Legalizing pot, in many cases, is even a rallying cry for libertarians, who often say they shun major parties. Take away a candidate’s face and a political party designation and suddenly, progressive policies are popular policies.

The other issue is that while we participate in the political process, we tend to often dislike politicians themselves. Much like 2010, the crop of 2014 candidates running for office didn’t run as politicians themselves, but as alternatives to the current lawmakers. Their agendas were about opposing what already was in place, their platforms were primarily “not Obama.” That even explains the crop of political newcomers once more elected to office, such as new senators in Nebraska and the likely new senator in Georgia once the run off is complete. Even those who had political backgrounds tried to present themselves first and foremost as business people or others, such as “grandmother and veteran” Joni Ernst of Iowa and “businessman” Steve Daines in Montana.

Shaking a person from their belief that they belong to a particular party or identify best with that party’s candidates, even when they no longer agree with the policy issues that party supports, also likely plays a significant effect in the vote. “Really, who you vote for relies heavily on the simple question of identity,” writes Amanda Marcotte. “While, in an ideal world, voting would be a simple act of counting up policies and voting for the ones you like the best, in our world, voting is an expression of identity, much like the clothes you wear or the music you like.”

Until we can break people of that habit? Well, I guess we just need to keep bringing in the ballot initiatives. Maybe someday, eventually, the voters will all finally catch on.

Photo credit: Thinkstock


Margaret Goodman
Margaret Goodman2 years ago

Deborah W. wrote, " ...Relative unknowns might just be the best course of action ... not yet bought and paid for,... " Just because someone is unknown does not mean that they have not already been bought.

Jim Ven
Jim Ven2 years ago

thanks for the article.

Michael T.
Michael T3 years ago

Thank you as well Mary for your contributions to this discussion. ;-)

Mary A Leon
Mary A Leon3 years ago

Thank you, Michael T.

The only thing I can add is that I hope these hypocrites who claim to be Christians get a taste of what it's like to be really POOR, since they've decided by their votes to throw the rest of us under the bus with them so the rich can be even richer; I pray that they will WAKE UP when they have nothing left and realize the SIN they have committed by believing the LIES of the GOTP.
It appears that's going to be the only way this country will change--when everyone is so fed up with being poor while the top 1% are swimming in Olympic size pools filled with OUR money. The rich and filthy rich think their money can buy them everything---but they can't buy us people who want to make sure EVERYONE has a decent wage for the work they do so they can take care of their families and those who are sick or disabled get care.

The top 1% should be ASHAMED of their greed, their unwillingness to give a few dollars from their towers of money to those who have nothing, to see the growth and success of others, to pay so that ALL CHILDREN can have an education, to help those who are sick and old, but I don't believe they give a damn about anyone but themselves anymore. Compassionate Conservative Christian? NOT ANYMORE!

Michael T.
Michael T3 years ago

Another response to OzOb from texas
Consider, right now in America,
corporate profits are at record highs,
the country's adding 200,000 jobs per month,
unemployment is below 6%,
U.S. gross national product growth is the best of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries.
The dollar is at its strongest levels in years,
the stock market is near record highs,
gasoline prices are falling,
there's no inflation,
interest rates are the lowest in 30 years,
U.S. oil imports are declining,
U.S. oil production is rapidly increasing,
the deficit is rapidly declining,
and the wealthy are still making astonishing amounts of money.
America is leading the world once again and respected internationally — in sharp contrast to the Bush years. Obama brought soldiers home from Iraq and killed Osama bin Laden.
So, Americans vote for the party that got them into the mess that Obama just dug you out of?

This defies reason.

It’s a case of punish the black guy no matter what he does.
Beat up on him enough in the media, to voters, defy everything he does, do nothing as a congress, tell everyone he is a failure and start that on day one, and blame him for why things are falling apart, when in many ways they aren’t,

for the very same things,
had he been a white republican,
you would have applauded the man for.

Charlie Rush
Charlene Rush3 years ago

In our current climate the answer is easy.
It's all about RACISM.