There are two interesting things about the 2010 election. First, change is happening very quickly today – the waves are quickly washing away majorities and creating new ones. Second, misjudging majorities or the divide between two groups is a big mistake.
Wave of change. If you just focus on the U.S. House of Representatives, the change of control, from Democrat to Republican and vice versa, is amazing. Think about this:
- From the 84th Congress through the 103rd Congress, the Democrats maintained control. This is a 40-year span of control (1955-1995)
- From the 104th Congress through the 109th Congress, the Republicans maintained control. This is a 12-year span of control (1995-2007).
- From the 110th Congress through the current 111th, the Democrats maintained control. This is a 4-year span of control (2007-2011).
The waves of changes are happening more quickly, if this trend continues. What is potentially driving the faster pace of change?
The availability of communication channels would seem to have a major influence of this trend. When I was a legislative assistant in Washington, DC, we relied on telephone calls, physical mail, and traditional media (e.g., local newspaper and television) to get our message out to our constituency. Building relationships and communicating our message was more challenging, but the same barrier existed for the other side, too.
Our relationships with the voters may have been more personal as well, since our interactions were based more on one-to-one, face-to-face communication. Consequently, once a constituent relationship was built, it was on a solid footing. There were closer ties to the individual(s), and it was more challenging for competing messages to be received and take hold.
Enter today’s world of social media – blogs, Twitter, Facebook, etc. – relationships are quickly formed in terms of followers and groups while messages are freely flowing to many individuals. The barriers which once could be built by an incumbent are much smaller today.
Social media is having an impact on our political process, facilitating waves which may take hold while another wave may be gathering to wash in another change.
Granted, our economic and international climates contain a great deal of uncertainty today, and this fact creates an environment for change to happen more quickly. We are restless, worn out, and just want things to change for the better. Keeping attuned to our current atmosphere is essential, which leads us to the second point.
Displaced divide (or misplaced majority). After the 2008 election, there were overwhelming majorities in the U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives. The Presidency and Congress were all controlled by Democrats, a clear majority. What the majority owns, the majority can influence.
With this influence and majority, health care reform was driven through and approved. What happened?
The majority of U.S. citizens did not agree with the direction of health care reform. It wasn’t even a 50-50 split of public opinion. If difference in positions was close, then leading this change would have looked like leadership, not just doing it because you could. Instead, the U.S. citizens were more concerned about economic issues – jobs, deficits, housing, etc.
There was a huge divide in priorities along with a misplaced view of the majority. In terms of the misplaced majority, it is one thing to have a majority of representatives and their votes; it is another thing to have a majority of the people, who happen to be the voting public with different priorities.
The comfort – or opportunity – of having a majority in the U.S. Government did not – and does not – translate into a majority of what the people believe you should be doing. In some sense, having the majority in Congress translated into actions which took advantage of that majority to drive a political party agenda rather than the agenda of what people really wanted (i.e., economic change).
Leadership lessons. For all politicians elected and currently serving, the following advice:
- Engage social media to communicate and build relationships. Use it wisely, competently, and transparently.
- Keep attuned to what is happening in your constituencies (or markets) you serve. Although you may have a majority in one area, do not misplace one majority for the real one.
- Leading is not doing something just because you can. Leaders need to engage, sway, educate, foster, facilitate… I think you get the idea.
- Keep pace. Change is happening more quickly today, and you need to be adaptive. It is not a matter of “waffling” on issues to remain current; it is gaining the understanding of the changes occurring, their impacts, and the actions which make need to be taken.
There is no doubt the next two years will be interesting to watch and participate in. From a political standpoint, my hope is that our leaders learn the new lessons and maybe adapt their styles to work together to solve our problems.
Lessons exist in politics of the two parties engaging in worthwhile debates while getting things done… a really important note to remember and use.