What Referendum? How America voted on Constitutional Amendments Nov. 8th 2011

There may be a few political and cultural insights we can take away from odd-yeared elections but in many cases the news media looks for a referendum in each decision made by the public. I would argue that extremely low turnouts and awkwardly-worded Amendments can not be seen as an accurate bellwether for future elections in most cases. The exception are highly publicized or partisan initiatives. Though even in those cases the implications of any referendum can’t mean much past a state’s borders.  In Ohio, Democrats and unions are celebrating victory over Issue 2 and collective bargaining rights as a referendum on Republican Governor Kasich, while the right are claiming Ohioan’s rejection of a healthcare mandate as a referendum on Obama. In conservative Mississippi voters predictably supported “Voter ID” legislation and limits on eminent domain while rejecting an Amendment that would have established that life begins at conception. In Maine, voters opted to allow same day voter registration but also turned down two opportunities to expand gambling to pay for government services.

It seems the commonality that runs through these results (if we must indeed prescribe a referendum) is that while American’s may not have all the answers they are increasing skeptical that government is up to the challenge of fixing out problems.

More commentary on specific ballot initiatives:

In MIssissippi:

1 Definition of Personhood rejected by 57%. Even Republican Governor Hailey Barbour said he had issues with the language. It had no exception for rape or incest and would have effectively reversed Roe V. Wade in the state.  A group from Colorado who failed to get it passed there brought the referendum to Mississippi because it is considered the “most pro-life” state.

2 Voter ID which voters passed favorably with 62%.  Mississippi is now 1 of 8 states including Texas that require Photo ID to vote. This issue has a lot of room to grow as a ballot initiative, especially in battleground states where the legislature may not pass this type of legislation. One neutralizing proposition the left (or Democrats) could propose is one that passed tonight in Maine – same day voter registration. There is no excuse why voters can not walk into any voting booth on election day in their state and cast a ballot.

Texans voted on 10 Constitutional Amendments last night and showed little support for anything that sounded like an expansion of government.

Prop 1: Prop 1 Tax exemption for surviving spouse of veteran passed favorably with 82%. Not surprising Texas has a lot of veterans and a strong history of supporting the military.

Prop 3: Issue bonds to finance education loans to students passed less favorably with 55%. Interesting since student loan debt has become an issue with the Occupy Wall St. movement.

Prop 4: Prop 4 Permit county to issue bonds for development Rejected with 57%. Texans voting to reject government spending, even for development.

Prop 6: Prop 6 Gen Land Office distribute revenue for public education pass favorably with 60%. Texans vote shows they value education but their legislators have not found a way to properly fund it.


Perry v. Romney: The State of Abortion

The Values Voters Summit was held this weekend in the city politicians love to hate, Washington, D.C.. The winner was a famous conservative politician from Texas with the initials RP who also happens to- not be Rick Perry. So the narrative remains, a weak front runner in Mitt Romney vs. the “conservative alternative”.  Rick Perry seemed to be that guy but after a couple of early blunders he failed to solidify the GOP primary as a two-man race. So how do these 2 Governors’ states match up on a crucial “Values Voters” issue of abortion?

One of Governor Perry’s most famous verbal faux pas came in a debate when he tried to label Mitt Romney a flip flopper on abortion.

We know Romney’s position has changed depending on what office he sought. We also know it is unlikely that Romney would have been elected Governor in 2002 at all if he had not pledged to “preserve and protect a woman’s right to choose.” This prompted me to look into abortion and health statistics of both states to catch a glimpse of what “pro-life” means under these governors. The pro-life movement may find clues about electability vs. a pro-choice incumbent. To see Texas‘ and Massachusetts‘ current policies towards abortion follow each link. Here I will just show some basic comparisons of outcomes. All of my data came from the Guttmacher Inistitute.

First the abortion trends in each state compared to the national average:

Abortion rate per 1,000 women

The national average, as well both states, has actually been in decline since the the first few years after Roe V. Wade.  Perry said in his address to the Values Voters Summit that, “There is no voter in America who is not a value voter, its just a question of who’s values they share.” Over the years Rick Perry has been a bellweather of conservative rhetoric and he may have hit on something here at least where Texas is concerned. This next chart could help explain Perry’s past success in Texas or even why Democrats struggle to be relevant in statewide elections. But the question remains how this can help him win the same voters in a national election.

Abortion rate per 1,000 women

Its interesting to note that white women in Texas have abortions at the national rate while minorities in Texas have them at half the national rate. This could suggest at least one of 2 things, that minorities are more conservative in Texas or they lack access to the procedure. A 3rd possibility exists that Texas’ stressing of abstinence education actual led to less abortions. This can be ruled out because Texas has the highest rate of teen pregnancy. In Texas teens may be having less abortions but they are not abstaining.

Teen pregnancy rate per 1,000 women Sources: 1.Guttmacher Institute, U.S. Teenage Pregnancies, Births and Abortions: National and State Trends and Trends by Race and Ethnicity, 2010.

The most damning stat for Governor Romney’s claim to “pro-life” is the sheer amount of state funded abortions. This also presents a possible explanation of why minorities in Texas have abortions at half the rate of the nation.

The lack of public funds for abortion coupled with higher rates of teen pregnancy may also be a contributing factor to Texas having one of highest rates of uninsured children in the nation, while Massachusetts is among the lowest.

% of uninsured low income children by State

Even still Perry released this ad today attacking Mitt Romney over “Romneycare”.

Both will get another chance in front of voters Tuesday when the GOP candidates debate in New Hampshire. As for the Value Voters Summit their ballot has been cast.

Trend from Gallup of American views on abortion:

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