Gordon L. Weil

Gordon L. Weil

With the elections finally over, the pundits are out in full force to tell us what they really mean.

Punditry is close to pure speculation, but there are some solid facts we can take from this year’s elections.

First, women were the critical factor. They were a majority of the voters, and a majority of women supported President Barack Obama.

In the U.S. Senate, there may end up being more women than ever before, though far from their share of the population.

Their role is attributed to Mitt Romney’s opposition to abortion. The pundits have limited their analysis to that issue, but more attention should be paid to women’s views on issues such as the economy and war.

There were at least some signs that the Tea Party gains among Republicans have hurt the GOP.

In Indiana, a solid, long-serving Republican senator was defeated by a strong conservative in the party primary, only to have the Tea Party-backed candidate lose and turn the seat over to a Democrat.

The elections confirmed that being an incumbent member of the U.S. House of Representatives has great electoral value. No matter what people say about their dislike of Congress, they seem to like their own representative. So there was little change in the House.

Before the election, most pundits incorrectly saw momentum going Mitt Romney’s way, or forecast that the outcome would be close. One said that the election was “on a knife’s edge.” A dull knife, perhaps.

A national news story on election eve said that Maine’s Angus King could hold the balance of power in the U.S. Senate. Yet one statistical analysis found he had almost no chance of doing that and trailed 12 other Senate candidates who might tip the balance.

In the end, he won’t be the swing vote. And if he doesn’t join the Democrats, he will surprise many people who voted for him.

But, just as with King, the pundits and most of the media ignored the statistical analyses, which showed that Obama led even after his disastrous performance in the first debate.

By Election Day, one statistical analysis said that Obama would have 303 electoral votes and the possibility of also picking up Florida’s electoral votes with about a 2.5 percent lead over Romney in the popular vote.

As we now know, the results confirmed that electoral vote forecast and came close on the popular vote margin, which has no effect on the results.

The polls as a whole were reasonably accurate but widely misinterpreted. A margin of 2 percent in the national polls was seen as an indication of a “dead heat,” probably because the results fell within the “margin of error” of each poll.

But when many polls yield the same narrow result, they begin to overcome suspicions about the margin of error. So each new poll confirms that the margin of about 2 percent is likely, not that the election is just about tied.

Since 2000, the voting process has changed.

The Republican Party has embarked on a policy of discouraging voting, and any close outcome was likely to be challenged. Both parties deployed legions of lawyers to get ready for challenges.

Romney is reported to have waited to concede the election until he was sure that, even if he challenged close results in some states, he stood no chance of winning.

To prevent challenges, voting procedures need to be cleaned up. One system that works well in Canada is to have smaller voting precincts, making it easier to spot and limit fraud.

There is little doubt that some people who are eligible to vote are hit by voter suppression tactics. The GOP claims that it merely wants to prevent voter fraud.

While that’s a laudable objective, there is simply no evidence that more than handful of fraudulent votes have been cast in recent decades. In short, the Republicans want to use a cannon to kill a flea.

Voter suppression is unlikely to disappear. Nonpartisan civic organizations should to get to work by reaching out to threatened voters and helping them get sufficient identification.

Perhaps the biggest problem with the election is that voters must recognize that promises by presidential candidates are not within the power of the president to carry out.

If we elect a Congress hostile to the president’s proposals, he will have a difficult time keeping his promises. With a Democratic president who doesn’t play hardball, a conservative Republican House, and a Senate that can be paralyzed by a Republican minority using the filibuster, we could well see little happen.

After a confusing and seemingly endless campaign, the outcome suggests that we run the risk of being disappointed — again.

GORDON L. WEIL, of Harpswell, is an author, publisher, consultant and former public official.


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