Despite the fact that it was entirely predictable -- one has had plenty of time to prepare oneself for the sanctimony -- the triumphalism coming from the newly ascendant GOP leadership is still stunningly annoying. You can't swing a dead donkey these days without hitting some Tea Partier newcomer to DC saying that the "American people have spoken," or that "the people sent a clear message that they want to do away with Obama-care."
But here's a memo from the real world: according to my back-of-the-envelope calculations*, 21.6 percent of eligible voters cast ballots for the GOP in 2010. Yes, a bit more than a fifth. Contrast that with 18.6 percent of those eligible to vote who "sent a message to Washington" favoring the Dems.
So, among the 41.6 percent who got off their butts and went to the polls, the GOP's spread was 3 percentage points: 21.6 to 18.6 percent.
For reference, Obama won with the support of 32.6 percent of eligible voters in 2008.
Another 1.5 percent cast votes for various third-party and independent candidates, "sending the message" that they didn't think much of either parties. If you add in the 58 percent who just stayed home, then you have the biggest group of Americans by far -- those who didn't think their vote would make a difference either way (that's the most commonly cited reason for not voting).
That tracks with the latest Gallup party ID numbers. Contrary to those in the GOP who boast of having won some sweeping mandate, fewer Americans identify themselves as Republicans than as Democrats today. But the Dems don't have cause to celebrate -- identification with their party is at its lowest point in 22 years and the greatest number of eligible voters say that they're independents (even though most of them aren't really that independent).
But what about those "divisive" health-care reforms? "Today we are taking the first step in fulfilling a key promise to the American people," said Rep. David Dreier, R-California, as he introduced the bill to repeal. Well, Gallup tells us that 54 percent of the American people aren't down with the GOP's "solution" -- pulling the plug on the new law. 46 percent favor it, 40 percent oppose it and 14 percent are flummoxed by the whole issue and don't know what to say.
But that misses a key part of the story about public opinion and health-care reform. Just a week earlier, a CNN/ Opinion Dynamics poll asked a slightly different question -- whether respondents "favored" or "opposed" the law. They got somewhat similar numbers: 50 percent opposed; 43 percent in favor and 7 percent undecided. But here's the really key point: among those who opposed the reforms, a significant number didn't like them because they weren't liberal enough.
Oppose, too liberal 37%
Oppose, not liberal enough 13%
This is really important to keep in mind when conservatives start blathering on about the "will of the people" -- a majority either favor the Dems' health-care reforms or oppose them because they're too friendly to the insurance companies, leave millions without coverage and don't do enough to get costs under control. That's anything but a mandate for the GOP.
* I used this projected turnout estimate, along with these exit polls to get the 2010 figures. Obviously, not all the votes have been counted yet. Here are the turnout numbers and the exit polls I used for 2008.