The phrase used for the title of this article probably has been used hundreds if not thousands of times. However, it became popularized after it was used by California Senator Barbara Boxer in 2007. After Democrats took back control of the Senate in January of that year, Boxer was chairing a U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee hearing when she got into a heated exchange with the previous chair of the committee, Republican James Inhofe from Oklahoma. At the end of the exchange, Boxer said to Inhofe, “You aren’t making the rules [anymore]. . . Elections have consequences” (U.S. Senate, 2007).
Two months after the 2010 elections, Senator Boxer’s words ring true once again. However, those consequences are not as positive as they were for her party in 2008 (although she did retain her seat, but by a very narrow margin).This time, it is the Republicans who will make this claim because of sweeping midterm election victories.
The political map will certainly look different come January 2011. In the House of Representatives, Republicans picked up 64 seats and will have a 243-192 majority (formerly a 255-180 Democratic majority) (House Map, The New York Times, 2010). In the Senate, Republicans picked up six seats and trimmed the Democratic majority to 53-46-1 (formerly 59-39-1) (Senate Map, The New York Times, 2010).
At the state level, Republicans took over seven governors’ offices and 19 state legislatures—gaining more than 650 seats across the country. Prior to the election, Democrats controlled 60 of the country's state legislative chambers while Republicans controlled 36. The GOP will now control 58 chambers (the most Republican-controlled state legislatures since 1928), and the Democrats 38. In addition, in Minnesota, Republicans won the state Senate for the first time ever, while in Alabama, they took control of the state Legislature for the first time since the 1870s (Khan, 2010).
While the Democrats did not lose both houses of Congress (by far the most devastating midterm result for the majority party), the scope of this loss was still historic. This was not only the case for the number of seats they lost (64 is quite close to the record of 72, set in 1938) but also in how they lost those seats (About.com, n.d.). According to exit polls, they lost among women, men, high-school graduates, college graduates, Catholics and Protestants, as well as many other demographic groups. But, according to James Surowiecki, staff writer for The Financial Page of The New Yorker, the “group whose repudiation was especially influential [was] senior citizens. In the 2006 midterm election, seniors split their vote evenly between House Democrats and Republicans. This time, they went for Republicans by a twenty-one-point margin. The impact of that swing was magnified by the fact that seniors, always pretty reliable midterm voters, were particularly fired up: nearly a quarter of the votes cast were from people over sixty-five [more than twice the number of the under-30s]. The election has been termed the ‘revolt of the middle class.’ But it might more accurately be called the revolt of the retired” (Surowiecki, 2010).
Undeniably, Nov. 2, 2010, was a bad day for the Democratic Party. But, whether it was a good day for the Republican Party is a little less clear. While they were voting the Democrats out of office, Americans appeared somewhat lukewarm about who they were voting into office. According to a Pew Research exit poll, only 48 percent of Americans were "happy" about the Republican victory (very different from 1994, the last time that Republicans took back power in the House from the Democrats, when 60 percent were happy), 41 percent approved of Republican policies and 22 percent though bipartisanship was now more likely (Reeve, 2010). In addition, Americans appeared to be mixed about what they want done next. An ABC News exit poll found that, on government spending, 40 percent favored deficit-reduction, 35 percent "spending to create jobs," and 19 percent cutting taxes (meaning that a majority of Americans support more economic stimulus, via more tax cuts and more government spending). On the health care law, 48 percent said they favor repeal, while 47 percent said the law should remain as is or be expanded (ABC News/Politics, 2010). Chris Cillizza, of The Washington Post, reviewed these findings and wrote, “The Republicans' victory then is best understood as a rejection of Democratic policies by voters rather than a warm embrace of the policies put forward by the GOP. The election changed little in the overall outlook of most Americans who continue to struggle in their relationship with government—what it should do, when and how much” (Cillizza, 2010).
While these results might be somewhat frustrating, they are really in no way surprising. Americans overwhelmingly claim to want to curtail government spending and at the same time pledge strong support for the very programs that require that spending. Similarly, during the previous two elections (2006 and 2008), Americans swept many Democrats into office, despite not being completely happy about the Democratic Party itself or its policies. So, while there will be talk of a fundamental change in American politics as a result of these elections, in general, there is little reason to think that this victory will be any more permanent than those that have come before it.
That being said, however, the Republican victory in 2010 will at least change the look of the political landscape. Case in point: A recent article from The New York Times, “Tax deal suggests new path for Obama,” discussed how Republicans and President Obama agreed to extend the so-called “Bush tax cuts” for all income levels for two years and institute a lower rate estate tax in exchange for maintaining long-term unemployed benefits and cutting payroll taxes for all workers for a year (Herszenhorn and Calmes, 2010). More than likely, this headline and story would not have occurred had the results of the elections been different.
Yes, elections certainly do have consequences.