If scores of public opinion polls are correct, the Republican Party will take over the U.S. House, win a significant number of governors’ races, and pick up legislative seats. But the question remains: Will it make any difference?
To be sure, it will make a difference for some people, especially those who work in government. Some people will lose jobs as staffers, others will gain. And certainly some politicians will be out of work while other people will gain employment as legislators or members of Congress.
But as Issac M. Morehouse points out, what legislators and members of Congress can do is constrained by the political climate. He quotes from the Nobel prize-winning economist, Milton Friedman:
I do not believe that the solution to our problem is simply to elect the right people. The important thing is to establish a political climate of opinion which will make it politically profitable for the wrong people to do the right thing. Unless it is politically profitable for the wrong people to do the right thing, the right people will not do the right thing either, or if they try, they will shortly be out of office.
Throwing the bums out can be a first step. But can their replacements do the right thing? Morehouse says, “the nature of politics is such that a politician will only be able to do as much as he or she can get away with.” In brief, “ideas, not people, rule the world.” You can find more on this proposal by reading about the Overton Window.
So are the American people ready for ideas that will represent a substantial break from the past 2 years? Perhaps, but what about from the last 35 years (say, the War On Poverty)? Or ideas that go back to the 1930s (the New Deal)?
If not, then today’s election may not mean much. That’s because changes in public opinion must be significant and lasting for a while to be powerful enough to overcome institutional inertia. ObamaCare, for example, has not yet been implemented in full, but it has been implemented enough to create new constituencies in favor of retaining it.
If today is simply a “turnout election,” little will change. If it marks widespread changing of opinion on what is possible and not in government, watch out!