Idaho politics: Voters support Dems on issues

Judy Ferro     [Published by the Idaho Press-Tribune June 30, 2014]

Enough.  We’ve heard the message.  Political pundits in four states have echoed it.  “The Idaho Republicans may be at war with one another, but the Democrats can’t win.”   Sometimes they add, “because of Idaho’s demographics.”

Predicting Republican victories at this point tends to suppress voter turnout.  Why bother learning about the candidates if my vote will make no difference?  Three decades of Republican victories probably explains why nearly half the county’s adults are not registered.

And no pundit explains what demographics they mean.  Perhaps all the young people leaving the state?   Or all the people working for minimum wage?   Or maybe just the fact there are more registered Republicans?

Over half the voters in Canyon County have locked themselves out of the Republican primaries by registering as “unaffiliated.”  Now, some of these are Democrats who don’t want to be hasseled over their politics.  Still, independents—those who vote for the man/woman, not the party—are by far the largest voting bloc in the county.

So why have Republicans consistently won?

Thinking it was issues, Idaho Democrats once tried a slate of “Republican-lite” candidates.  Some, like Walt Minnick, were liberal on social issues and conservative on economic ones.  Others were conservative on social issues and middle-of-the-road on economic ones.  Walt did win—once.  Overall, though, the tactic undercut Democratic support without attracting many Independents.

And why should it?  There is every reason to believe that voters, even Idaho voters, agree with the Democrats on their defining issues.

A recent Russell Sage Foundation study of polls found that 90% of Americans do not want to see social security cut.

Over 80% want the government to fund schools well and to protect the jobs of American workers.

Nearly 80% want the minimum wage high enough so that one full-time worker worker can keep a family above the poverty level.  About the same number want college to be affordable for everyone.

Nearly 70% are against cutting domestic programs like Medicare, education and highways in order to lower the Federal deficit.

Even federal health care is supported by 60%.

These are the defining Democratic issues.  If they were what really counted with voters, Democrats would be winning handily.

What about the emotional “wedge issues?”  Nationally, voters are more evenly divided on these issues.  Yet, polls indicate 80% of Americans want background checks on all gun purchases and 55% support limiting gun clips to 10 bullets.    Amazingly, only 20% oppose abortions in all circumstances (even though 50% believe they are morally wrong).   Support for gay marriage runs about 55%.

Idaho Democrats are divided on these issues; Republicans are not.  At a meeting of Canyon County’s Republicans prior to the primaries, each candidate stood and recited a mantra—I am pro-life, pro-second amendment, and pro-traditional marriage—before stating his or her other qualifications.  So it’s no surprise that people who care more about guns than schools vote Republican.  But it’s hard to believe that includes a majority of Canyon County.

There are many other explanations for continued Republican victories.  Loyalty, for one.  Many who recognize that the Republican Party has lost its balance choose to work to moderate the party.  Others simply like to identify with the winning side: a Boise district that was all-Republican for many years is now so Democratic that no Republicans are even running there this year.

Whatever the reason, it is not the quality of Idaho’s Democratic candidates.  Democrats run here because they care about people and want to strengthen jobs, schools, families, and communities.  It’s not an easy road to power; they don’t “inherit” victory from predecessors or fathers.  They are heroes in a battle for balance and democracy in Idaho.

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