As Republicans in Michigan continue the nationwide right-wing assault on labor unions—the Republican-dominated legislature just passed a falsely descriptive “right to work” law—we, those of us sympathetic to unions and their political friends in the Democratic Party, need to remember how we got to this point.
The 2010 mid-term elections represented a terrible triumph of reactionary forces in America. The Tea Party movement, born partly as a result of white people’s irrational fears over a black Democrat in the White’s House, helped put a lot of extremist conservative Republicans in both national offices and, more important in terms of attacking unions, in state offices.
Michigan, traditionally one of the friendliest states in the union for unions, was lost in 2010 to the anti-union zealots, many of whom have business ties that make them reactive enemies of collective bargaining and union power. One of those with business ties is the governor, Rick Snyder, a former business executive. No surprise, after initially seeming to be uninterested in passing right-to-freeload legislation, he most likely will now sign the bill.
My point here is that the 2010 elections should teach Democrats a lesson. The energy and effort that was put into the election and reelection of President Obama needs to be replicated in the off years, as that is when the party in power is most vulnerable to insurgency.
Here are the turnout rates for the 2008, 2010, and 2012 elections, as provided by the United States Elections Project:
As you can see, general enthusiasm for participating was down in 2010, the year the Tea Party insurgents began their assault on labor, and, according to a report by CBS News, exit polling indicated that lack of enthusiasm hurt Democrats more:
Core Democratic groups stayed away in droves Tuesday, costing Democratic House candidates dearly at the polls.
Hispanics, African Americans, union members and young people were among the many core Democratic groups that turned out in large numbers in the 2008 elections, propelling Mr. Obama and Democratic House candidates to sizable victories. In 2010, turnout among these groups dropped off substantially, even below their previous midterm levels.
Voters under the age of 30 comprised 18 percent of the electorate in 2008 and nearly 13 percent in 2006 but only made up 11 percent of the electorate in 2010. The share of voters from union households dropped from 23 percent in 2006 and 21 percent in 2008 to 17 percent in 2010. African Americans made up 13 percent of the electorate in 2008 but fell to 10 percent in 2010. Such apathy likely cost the Democrats House seats as voters in each of these groups cast ballots for Democratic House candidates by at least 15 point margins.
It will be along road to unseating those right-wingers, in Michigan and elsewhere, who won seats in 2010, but the effort started with this year and it needs to continue in 2014, or else more damage will be done to unions and thus to working people.