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Election Analysis: Conventional Wisdom Is Dead Wrong

by Arthur Goldwag

Nov 6, 2013 | Politics


(Source: via Business Insider)

First, Virginia. Though the pollsters were wrong about the size of Democrat Terry McAuliffe’s margins, the race went the way Virginia’s demographics predicted it would, with Republican Ken Cuccinelli winning all but the densest populated parts of the state. McAuliffe’s ties to the national Democratic Party and his ethical challenges should have made him a weak candidate; Cuccinelli is an anti-government religious extremist. Maybe they cancelled each other out?

When everybody votes for you, it can’t be about ideology, which by definition is divisive—it’s about identity.

Now New Jersey and New York. The conventional wisdom about what happened is dead wrong. Even if he did win an amazing third of New Jersey’s Democratic voters, Chris Christie, who was blessed with a weak rival and co-optable Democratic bosses, and who made sure that no one was turning out to vote for Cory Booker this week, is neither bipartisan nor liberal (though he’s not a Tea Partier either). When an incumbent wins that big, it’s not because of his ideology but his personal branding and celebrity—either people genuinely like the guy or they can’t see any reason to replace him. Christie may well be a game-changer for the Republicans in 2016, but he hasn’t framed anything close to a post-partisan ideology, just a brand that wins elections.

Progressive Democrat Bill de Blasio—again, such a huge margin. Paradoxically, the unanimity of his support speaks to our polarization in other ways. His victory is tectonic, yes, but it does not reflect a new alignment so much as it represents a massive repudiation—specifically of New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, or of his third term.

New York is a liberal, diverse place, but if De Blasio really were a Sandinista, he wouldn’t have won by so much. When everybody votes for you, it can’t be about ideology, which by definition is divisive—it’s about identity. Since neither De Blasio nor rival Joe Lhota had any personal celebrity of their own going into the election, it reflects on the person who did, namely Bloomberg, and how strongly voters identify with or against him.

Not because of his politics, but because of his outsize presence and staying power, Mike Bloomberg is a little like FDR—he’s the only mayor my 16-year-old can remember. He stayed in office for too long and he was rightly identified with the global 1 percent. As Steven Wishnia puts it, his agenda created a city that excluded most of the people who live here.

The multibillionaire mayor is often hailed as a visionary, and he was one. His vision was of New York as a “luxury brand,” a city catering to the global rich, with skyscrapers, high-end housing and upscale entertainment maximizing the value of every inch of real estate–like a Dubai on the Hudson, only more environmentally friendly and pro-Israel. In his ideology, the purpose of government was to facilitate this. The Williamsburg waterfront in Brooklyn was rezoned and packed with luxury high-rises, and the administration is preparing to evict scores of mostly immigrant-owned auto-repair businesses in Queens near the Mets’ new stadium to make room for a massive mall, hotel, and luxury-housing complex.

Any analysis that denies or elides how economically divided we are kind of misses the point, I think. One thing about New York: the 1 percent is so much in everybody’s faces that even the top 32 percent, who are doing pretty well all things considered (the group that DeBlasio belongs to) resents them too. In that one way, New York may well be a bellwether for the nation.


Arthur Goldwag is the author of Isms & Ologies; Cults, Conspiracies, and Secret Societies, and most recently The New Hate: A History of Fear and Loathing on the Populist Right. He lives in Brooklyn with his wife and two children. Follow him at @ArthurGoldwag.


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