Good Government

Free Market Friday: Voters are displeased

March 11, 2016

Jonathan Small

The presidential primaries continue and a few things stand out. In Oklahoma, as elsewhere, voters are sending a message of opposition to the status quo. The Obama years have hurt many, particularly from an economic standpoint.

This has led Republicans, Democrats and independents to voice their displeasure by supporting candidates who promise a big change from the status quo.

On the Republican side, the rise of Donald Trump has been the most obvious manifestation of that impulse. Yet the candidacies of U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, who carried Oklahoma, and U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, who came in a strong third, are also built on promises to shake up Washington and set a new course.

On the Democratic side, the campaign message of U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders implicitly echoes the critiques of Republicans regarding the economic failures of President Obama, even if his proposed solutions take an entirely different direction.

The appeal of “hope and change” or “make America great again” cannot be ignored.

In 1988, Republicans ran promising to continue the Reagan prosperity. In 2016, both Republicans and Democrats agree they don’t want a repeat of the last seven-plus years.

So what lessons should Oklahoma state legislators draw from those trends? One is that voters expect politicians to keep their promises.

Failure to fulfill your campaign promises does not make your political opponents weaker; it emboldens them. And it does not inspire your political base to continue supporting you; it instead leads them to look for unexpected alternatives.

Many Republicans are willing to support Trump not because they expect him to be a conservative, but because they expect him to be a strong, decisive leader who will actually stick to a promised course of action.

Voters expect political leaders to take action that demonstrably improves people’s lives. It’s not enough to talk about government efficiency; lawmakers must actually restructure government – think agency consolidation and elimination of boondoggle subsidies like those for wind energy. Policies providing tangible benefits – like school choice – inspire more than vague promises that, if you leave your child in an environment that is failing them for another five years, things might eventually get better. And so on.

For the Republican majority in the Legislature, it’s not enough to campaign as a conservative; you must also govern as a conservative. Failure to do so can have unexpected electoral consequences.