In US politics, people can’t stop talking about recently re-elected New Jersey Governor, Chris Christie.
The Republican incumbent won re-election last Tuesday despite his party label, not because of it. Indeed, President Obama won the state of New Jersey by 17 points last year.
And yet Christie not only won for the Republicans in a Democrat state, he did so by an impressive margin - taking 60% of the vote.
This extraordinary victory was achieved by Chrstie reaching parts of the electorate that other conservatives just can’t manage to. Christie was up against a female opponent in Democrat Barbara Buono, in a state where Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney lost the female by 24 points last year. And yet Christie won the female vote by 15 points, 57:42.
His wider appeal didn’t end there. Christie won 51% of Latino voters to his opponent’s 45% - even though the Democrats had chosen a Hispanic running mate for Senator Buono. Again, comparisons with Romney’s efforts are not flattering for the failed Presidential candidate, who captured just 27% of Hispanic voters in 2012.
As ABC News reports, “Christie won up and down the state, won or came close to winning among every age group and in all education levels, and he easily carried both men and women”. So the big question everyone is asking is, how did he do it?
There seems to be a number of reasons for the 51-year-old’s popularity. The first is the immediate impression he gives off with his no-nonsense, plain-speaking (and sometimes aggressive) manner. He’s a world away from your usual carefully-spoken, polished performers of the national stage. When a Senator who had accused him of double-standards had been exposed as having double-standards herself, Christie urged reporters to “take the bat out on her”. Directing such robust language towards Senator Loretta Weinberg, a 76-year-old widow, certainly raised eyebrows and yet is part of a manner which wins great support.
First impressions aside, Christie has earned a reputation as an effective political operator who as Governor is prepared to take tough decisions. Both of these important elements are summed up in his decision, soon after becoming Governor, to axe an iconic but expensive project to build a tunnel under the Hudson river. While the ARC tunnel enjoyed heavyweight political backing from long-serving senator Frank Lautenberg, within months of the new Governor throwing a spanner in the works the project was de-railed. New York Magazine explains how his skills of “cultural ventriloquism” set him apart as a politician of outstanding ability.
When Superstorm Sandy hit New Jersey in October 2012, it killed 117 people and forced thousands to evacuate their homes. The damage to neighbourhoods and livelihoods from the one of the strongest hurricanes in a decade was enormous. An iconic image from the aftermath was Governor Christie embracing President Obama and praising him for his response. It was all the more significant because America was eight days from the end of the Presidential election campaign, with many Republicans livid that one of their own would make such a show of bi-partisanship at such a key time. In the Tea Party era of US politics, displays of cross-party co-operation are as rare as violent language towards 76-year-old widows - and seemingly just as popular.
Christie has a unique personal manner that coming from anyone else would be disastrous for their reputation. He has built a reputation as a formidable operator, making key decisions for the good of the people he serves. His outstanding electoral success has come in a battleground that is usually safely occupied by the opposing side - and that success has come despite, not because of, his party label. As Conservative Home's Paul Goodman would say, he's a "Heineken" conservative; able to reach parts of the electorate others simply can’t. Oh and yes, he’s got his sights on the top job despite careful protestations to the contrary. The Boris Johnson of US politics is the front-runner to be the Republican nominee in 2016, but perhaps his greatest obstacle will not be defeating those in the party opposite, but rivals within his own.
A report by the IPPR has argued that the voting age should be lowered to 16, with all first-time voters being compelled to vote or face a fine.
It has to be one of the most laughable suggestions for electoral reform ever heard. Even the case for the Alternative Vote seems sensible when placed next to this idea.
Just to be clear, the IPPR as part of its Unequal Democracy project have recommended giving 16 year olds the vote, but making it mandatory for first-time voters to use it. Just think back to your time at school and having someone explain that only young people *have* to use their vote or get fined. What proportion of your class mates would think it would be big (and clever) to respond along the lines of, “f**k off and fine me”.
The IPPR has been studying how political participation in Britain is increasingly skewed by social class and age. “A central claim of democracy is that every citizen’s preference, no matter what their status, should count equally.” Surely everyone’s vote does count equally? Apparently not, as “unequal turnout matters because it gives older and more affluent voters disproportionate influence at the ballot box”. So, the way to correct this unequal turnout is to make 100% of young people vote? You then, surely, have ensured unequal turnout among other groups which requires yet more tinkering. The logic is flawed.
Just a thought. How about looking into the causes of why young people tend not to vote, and suggest some remedies?
A coherent argument can be made for having all voting compulsory, as it is in Australia. But compulsory voting for specific sections of the electorate doesn’t remove disproportionate turnout, it guarantees it. Better that we stick to the premise that we all get the vote, and we can choose whether or not we use it.
The IPPR’s report, Unequal Democracy: the impact of political inequality, was supposed to have been published in September. You can read the press release though.