As the Democrats take Congress
As the Democrats take Congress
The Democrats made full use of the situation in
Things got serious for Republican party campaigners in the mid-term elections in the
In the second electoral district of Indiana, automated canvassing systems inundated potential voters with phone calls; these were funded by lobbies outside the state, determined to secure the Republican representativeâ€™s re-election.
Some appeals were slightly more personal. In an email message addressed to someone assumed to be a US Republican supporter (but in fact a Parisian with quite different political loyalties), President George Bush wrote to me: â€œDear Serge, in 2004, you were part of a historic nationwide organisation that propelled my campaign to victory. Together we delivered a clear message to the American people about the need to keep our nation safe and secure, the need to keep our taxes low to continue creating jobs. This year I am asking for your help once more . . . Without [a Republican majority in Congress] you can bet that our political opponents will do all they can to roll back important tools like the Patriot Act, to raise your taxes, and stop me from appointing conservative judges to the Federal bench.â€
The militant tone of the email reflected the basic assumption made by Karl Rove, the White House adviser on polls and strategy. Turnout at mid-term elections is always low (last time, in 2002, it was only 39%) so it is more important to mobilise the party faithful than to persuade floating voters.
Patrick Ruffini, the Republican campaign director, said in September: â€œIn 2004, because of your tireless efforts, 62 million Americans voted for President Bush, a record. And in the last midterm elections of 2002, 77 million Americans voted. If we can bring identified Republicans who donâ€™t normally vote in a year like 2006 to the polls, Republicans will defy the media pundits, make history, and keep the House and the Senate.â€ This was a daring wager. Things had been going so badly for the White House that even the journalist Bob Woodward, who lauded Bush in two previous books, had turned against him. With a bloody quagmire in Iraq, an under-age sex scandal centring on a Republican representative, Mark Foley, known for his defence of traditional values, and the growing impression that life has been getting harder, it was an uphill battle to mobilise Bushâ€™s supporters.
There was no shortage of financial and technical resources. Candidates in each district or state where the result seemed uncertain could identify the potential electors they needed to canvas as a priority by comparing data on age, type of housing, faith and consumption patterns. There was nothing new about this approach. In 1995 President Bill Clintonâ€™s poll guru convinced him that he must concentrate on people who were keen on hiking, camping and golf, so he avoided sailing during his summer vacation.
Micro-targeting the voters
The system has been perfected since. Micro-targeting techniques allow parties to profile typical sympathisers. In Michigan the Republicans identified 42 different categories, after collating masses of data on such topics as magazine subscriptions, donations to charity, private school attendance and even snow-scooter ownership (which generally coincides with support for Bush, so the campaign staff were making sure all scooter owners realised that the Democratic partyâ€™s â€œenvironmental extremismâ€ was likely to prevent the construction of their mountain trails).
Campaign staff might write to voters, send emails or go door-to-door to put the message across. This micro-targeting of voters meant that churchgoing white Christian women in rural areas received letters drawing attention to the threat that homosexual marriage would be legalised (1).
By 7 November the main parties had spent $500m on just the congressional elections, not counting funds invested by the candidates themselves. Micro-targeting did not supplant more direct techniques. A Republican advertisement growled about the war on terrorism: â€œVote as if your life depends on it. Because it does.â€ The Democrats fought back on this issue, claiming that al-Qaida â€œis coming back to get us because of the failed policies of George Bushâ€.
The overall malaise probably explained why dozens of Democratic representatives had accepted the repeated civil liberties violations orchestrated by the White House, including the legalisation of torture (2). On 29 September the Senate unanimously approved the Pentagonâ€™s $448bn budget (up 40% on 2001), including $70bn in additional funds for the wars in
Although the war in
In domestic policy too there has been a huge gap between the radical views promoted to the electorate, exaggerated by advertising and the internet, and the likelihood of any real break with the policies decided by the current administration. Apart from an increase in the minimum federal salary ($5.15 an hour), which has not changed since 1997, and a few cosmetic measures to combat social dumping by the giant retailer Wal-Mart, it is difficult to see what economic new deal a Democratic majority in Congress might propose. Anyway, it would still have to overcome the obstacle of a presidential veto. Here again, even a hypothetical change of direction must wait till January 2009.
Of course the
What do these statistics mean in a country where class divisions are hardening? It is an enduring mystery of the
The long-term picture is even less encouraging. Salaries now represent the smallest fraction of GDP since records have been kept. At the same time profits account for the highest share of national income in 50 years, boosting tax revenue (corporation tax alone is up by 27%) and keeping the budget deficit at a reasonable level.
Their hold on the benefits of economic growth, which keeps on increasing, has become a key characteristic of
This was not always the case: â€œHistorically,â€ wrote Clive Crook, â€œrising productivity has been a tide that lifted nearly all boats. For more than 20 years during the long surge of productivity growth that followed the second world war, median incomes in the United States rose as quickly as the highest incomesâ€ (9). Yet according to the
The Bush years have accentuated a trend already apparent under
The measures seem to have had little effect. The average pay of the bosses of leading firms reached $10.5m in 2005, which is 369 times the average pay of their employees (comparable relationship numbers were 131 in 1993 and 36 in 1976). The obligation to publish pay figures prompted the least well paid bosses to demand as much as their more fortunate colleagues, while the $1m threshold became a symbolic lower limit for the salaries of CEOs. However, they sometimes have trouble keeping their side of the bargain. At the end of 2005 the CEO of Pfizer had accumulated $83m in retirement plans â€” yet under his leadership the value of the companyâ€™s shares had dropped by 37% (10).
Half of all Americans share a mere 2.5% of the nationâ€™s wealth; the richest 10% own 70% of it (11). Among the latter are many members of Congress, often chosen to represent their party because of their ability to fund a campaign. So the display of democratic fervour every two years does little, if anything, to correct market forces. The media make little difference and for similar reasons.
Whatever the votersâ€™ decision, the social make-up of the next Congress, like that of the last one, will be remarkably unrepresentative of the
Translated by Harry Forster
(1) See Dan Gilgoff, â€œEveryone is a special interestâ€, US News and World Reports,
(2) Twelve Democratic senators and 39 representatives voted in favour of the law, signed by Bush on 17 October, legalising arbitrary detention and interrogation of terrorism suspects.
(6) Deborah Solomon, â€œBudget deficit shrinks on strong tax receiptsâ€, The Wall Street Journal,
(8) To borrow the title of a prophetic book by Robert Frank and Philip Cook, The Winner Take-All Society, The Free Press,
(9) Clive Crook, op cit.
(10) See Joann S Lublin and Scott Thurm, â€œMoney Rulesâ€, The Wall Street Journal, 12 October 2006.
(11) David Wessel, â€œUS rich are still getting richerâ€, The Wall Street Journal, 2 March 2006.