Though the elections are now over, we are still at a transition point for politics in the United States. A cultural change in the way candidates run for office has been chipping away at the foundations of our elections process and reshaping how Americans view government. Interestingly enough, this progressive paradigm shift has come from the Tea Party.
The Tea Party is not widely viewed as a ‘progressive’ movement in American politics. Labels, ranging from the descriptive to the pejorative, have tagged Tea Partiers as grassroots conservatives or as backwards and regressive. Yet there is a definite change evident in the model of candidate that this demographic supports, and the ways in which they campaign.
Thomas Friedman, in his book The World Is Flat, wrote that the 19th century was the century of the nation-state and the 20th that of the corporation, but that the 21st is now the century of the individual. With the advent of celebrities born on YouTube and the requirements for starting a business as simple as access to a Web browser, his thesis appears to be accurate. The modern world provides a historically unparalleled opportunity for the individual to be empowered. And Tea Partiers have taken notice.
Take Nevada, for example: a state where the incumbent senator narrowly won re-election after facing off against Sharron Angle, a Tea Party candidate who before primaries was a heavy underdog in her own party. Or look at Rand Paul in Kentucky or Christine O’Donnell in Delaware. Though the Tea Party doesn’t have a perfect success rate, these election results are pointing away from the traditional model of elections. Regardless of the success of their individual campaigns, these candidates have demonstrated that it’s possible to form a populist movement that pulls voters away from established party leaders.
The reason these midterm elections have been so different is because they have shifted the emphasis away from government insiders towards political outsiders and grassroots candidates looking to reshape government. The results show a previously unthinkable level of success for anti-establishment and grassroots-based candidates who can channel popular discontent with government into victories.
What does this mean for the future of elections in the United States? Well, if this is any indication of a trend, it looks like we can expect a greater variety of candidates, many of whom aren’t afraid to stray from the standard party line and adopt more nuanced and individualized positions.
With this shift in elections procedure, Americans are left questioning whether this is a good sign for politics in the US. The answer is that this is a mixed blessing. On the one hand, in the ongoing debate about whether the tail wags the dog or the dog wags the tail, it looks like federal and state establishments are losing the ability to heavily influence elections. Both of the major political parties had to pander to constituents in a different way this year: by taking common peoples’ policy desires and concerns into account, rather than detailing their own proposals and prescribing unwanted solutions.
Because information and advertising are now so readily accessible on the internet, the ability of parties to bias voters and maintain control over political dialogue is rapidly dwindling. On the other hand, if these midterms indicate a trend, it may be the dilution of political discourse in the US. With increased activity and success from grassroots campaigns comes a cacophony of candidates that can present a difficult spectrum of choice. As more outsiders and third-party people run for political office, voters may be faced with a slew of similar candidates who aren’t able to distinguish themselves from each other or outline their stances through their political history as well as more party-oriented candidates. Without more stringent party lines to guide the average voter, the popularity of anti-establishment candidates may lead to waning interest in elections.
Regardless of the implications, these midterms have signaled a significant change in the way Americans go about their politics. This revolution is concurrent with the trend of shifting power to the individual in a global sense, and away from established institutions. Now it remains to be seen where politics go from here: into the hands of the people or reined back in by the parties.