The more I review 2014, the more confused I am about the Idaho voter.

I could never plan a future campaign; I can’t even make sense of past ones.

America’s 50 states have different issues, different economies, different personalities involved, and different election laws. You’d think analysts could study the effects of different variables and come up with workable theories concerning cause and effect.

One established theory is that a bad economy is bad news for the incumbent party. That could, however, be the party controlling the presidency, the Congress, or the statehouse. And economy could mean prices, jobs, wages, the stock market and more. So Idahoans might look at their nearly last place ranking in wages and per capita income and vote for a new team to deal with the state economy. Or they might look at nationwide improvements in employment numbers and consumer confidence and vote with the national administration.

Voters in Idaho did neither. So, rather than dismiss the theory, pundits posit that voters compared family incomes with the higher ones in 2001 and voted against the national administration. But wouldn’t it have made more sense to compare incomes with the lower ones in 2009?

Another theory is that negative campaigning works even though everyone says they dislike it. . If it does nothing else, it keeps some would-be supporters from showing up at the polls. Well, something is discouraging potential voters, but I can’t point to an Idaho election where negative campaigning determined the outcome.

And issues don’t seem to be a deciding factor either. This month’s Hightower Lowdown points out that 2014 voters often supported progressive Democratic issues while voting for Republican candidates.

Four states—Alaska, Arkansas, Nebraska, and South Dakota—voted for a higher minimum wage and elected Republican senators who opposed it. Arkansas passed a proposal for an $8.50 minimum wage by 65% while rejecting a Democratic incumbent senator in favor of a “right-wing, Koch brothers’ Republican.”

Alaskans not only voted for a higher minimum wage, but also to prohibit future mining projects that would endanger wild salmon habitat and for full-legalization of marijuana. Still, they elected Republicans to the U.S. Senate and House.   Their new governor is NA (non-affiliated); no Democrat ran for that position.

Floridians voted overwhelmingly to dedicate about $1 billion a year in real estate taxes to the protection of water in the Everglades and other areas and 58% of them supported medical marijuana. They still re-elected Gov. Rick Scott, who opposed both measures.

In Wisconsin “Koch-financed governor” Scott Walker pulled off a re-election victory even as 12 local elections approved measures stating that corporations did not have constitutional rights and money is not speech.

It’d be easy to conclude that voters are confused, but few things in politics are that simple. People may actually be progressive on environmental issues, libertarian on moral ones, and vote Republican to protect their gun rights.

Idaho Democrats tend to recruit and nominate centrist candidates that represent the broad moderate bases of both parties. We endorse progressive initiatives dealing with education, but avoid more controversial ones. Supporters of a minimum wage increase couldn’t get the needed signatures.  Only Republicans and Libertarians have come out in support of medical marijuana. Initiatives opposing anonymous corporate money in politics or promoting conservation issues are seldom discussed.

Nominating centrists and avoiding divisive issues may be the best route, but it hasn’t brought Idaho Democrats a lot of victories. The Hightower analysis suggests that strong advocacy of progressive issues doesn’t work for candidates either.

Maybe the voters aren’t confused, but I definitely am.

Published by Judy Ferro

Judy Ferro is communication director for the 2C Dems and a columnist for the Idaho Press.

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