NPR logo Voters Tell Ideologues: Stop Drinking Your Own Kool-Aid

Voters Tell Ideologues: Stop Drinking Your Own Kool-Aid

A supporter of the initiative to repeal an anti-union bill holds his sign in Columbus, OH, Nov. 8, 2011, Tony Dejak/AP hide caption

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Tony Dejak/AP

A supporter of the initiative to repeal an anti-union bill holds his sign in Columbus, OH, Nov. 8, 2011,

Tony Dejak/AP

Ideologues beware. Voters may not see the world in the same black and white tones you do.

That seems to be the underlying message voters sent during this off-year election. On Tuesday evening, issues that were spun up by ideologues — the weakening of public-employee labor unions in Ohio; the "personhood" initiative in Mississippi, and the crackdown on illegal immigrants in Arizona — all got the back of the hand from voters.

Ohio voters also resoundingly voted for a ballot measure to opt out of the Affordable Care Act's individual mandate though that vote was largely symbolic since the state has to obey the federal law, regardless, thanks to the Constitution's Supremacy Clause.

That anti-ACA vote could be construed as an anti-ideology vote, too, since many voters believe the Obama administration and congressional Democrats operated from a bias towards big government when they enacted the controversial legislation.

Seemingly after every election in which one party wins decisively (and sometimes when the victory is less than decisive, like the 2004 presidential election) there's a tendency for the winners to claim a mandate for bold action.

That clearly happened after the 2010 wave election which saw Republicans recapture the U.S. House with many seats to spare and increase control of statehouses.

It also occurred after the 2008 election with President Obama's impressive Electoral College win.

The problem is, election results can be a political Rorschach test where voters and politicians wind up seeing different things.

Voters may just be voting for a change, expressing their unhappiness with the status quo. The winning party, however, especially its ideologues, takes the win as voters signing off on the victors' agenda, a variation of "to the winner, goes the spoils." They seem to forget that the U.S. is essentially a center-right nation except for those times when it's essentially center-left.

So you get Ohio Republican Gov. John Kasich after winning election last November enacting Senate Bill 5 in Ohio which stripped public employee unions of collective bargaining rights and more. Then, only a few months later voters collectively say: "That's not what we meant."

Or you get Mississippi which last November flipped from a congressional delegation of three Democrats and one Republican to three Republicans and one Democrat.

The sense of conservative ascent helped create the atmosphere that times were conducive for a constitutional amendment that would define human life as beginning at the instant of fertilization, a law which would have made abortion illegal in the state and even threatened in vitro fertilization and certain forms of birth control.

As in Ohio, however, voters in Mississippi, too, seemed to say Tuesday night: "That's not what we meant."

Tuesday's results were arguably the latest warning for politicians and party activists that mandates aren't all they're cracked up to be.

If there was a message heading into 2012, voters seemed to be telling politicians to stop drinking their own Kool-Aid.

Instead, with every poll indicating that voters want policymakers to focus on repairing the economy and creating the best possible climate for job growth, Tuesday was about sending the message that politicians ignore this priority of the American people at their own risk.