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A Workers Revolt in Mass. Election

Jeremy Sprinkle
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Fix the problems of working Americans, or else

Working families, especially voters in union households, turned out big in 2008 to elect the largest Democratic majorities in Congress in decades and bring change to the White House.

In 2009, we mobilized like never before on a legislative agenda for labor law reform so workers can be empowered to form unions and bargain for a better life; for comprehensive health care reform to end insurance company abuses and secure quality, affordable coverage for every American; for investments to build a new, energy efficient, green economy that will create millions of good-paying jobs in this country.

We didn't expect to turn around America in a single year, but we did expect to see some results by now. For the millions of workers who are unemployed a year and a half after greed on Wall St created the financial crisis and wrecked our economy, business and politics as usual is unacceptable.

The result of the Senate election in Massachusetts is evidence of a working class revolt. It revealed the danger to Democrats of not successfully addressing workers’ economic concerns.

Election night polling conducted for the AFL-CIO revealed a shocking 41-point swing among non-college educated voters from supporting Obama and the Democrats in 2008 to voting against the Democratic candidate to replace Ted Kennedy in 2010.

Voters are focused on jobs and getting results

Voters in 2010 have the same goal as voters in 2008 - fix the economy and provide affordable health care. The problem is they don't see the job getting done.  Among the majority of voters who said the Massachusetts economy was not good or poor, 56% voted for the opposition candidate, Scott Brown. Among all voters, 79% said they want their Senator to fix the economy and create jobs. A majority, 54% said they want him to finish the job on health care.

By contrast, only 42% of voters in Massachusetts said they were sending a message to Obama and Democrats about going too far. In fact, 47% of voters said their biggest concern about Democrats is that they're not getting the job done, compared to just 32% who said they're doing too much too fast. Even Brown voters by 50% to 43% said they're more concerned about a lack of change than too much.

Not a rejection of national health care reform

Brown actually lost among the 59% of voters who said health care is why they voted.  Two-thirds (67%) said they approved of Massachusetts universal health insurance law, including most Brown voters (53%).  However, voters did say they're worried the Senate bill would tax their benefits, and 48% said it made them more likely to vote for the Republican - a warning to Democrats in the Senate that the tax on high-cost plans is political poison.

Not a referendum on Obama or endorsement of the GOP

By 61% to 33%, voters said they were choosing the best candidate, not "sending a message to Washington" - including a majority (52%) of Brown supporters.  Voters liked Scott Brown better than Martha Coakley, even as 52% said they approve of the job Obama's doing.

Furthermore, MA voters said they trust Obama (52%) more than the GOP in Congress (33%) to fix the economy.  Three quarters (76%) of all voters said they want Brown to work with Democrats, not work to defeat them (21%), and Massachusetts voters strongly disapprove (58%) of the job being done by Republicans in Congress.

Democrats: Ignore the working class at your peril

The most telling figure from the Massachusetts election may be this: the Republican candidate, Scott Brown, got 50,000 more votes than John McCain, but the Democratic candidate received 850,000 fewer votes than Obama. A huge number of Democrats sat out this election.

This enthusiasm gap is the single biggest threat to Democratic majorities in the Congress. Unless the party in power gets serious about jobs and the economy, "they’re going to join the growing numbers of jobless Americans," says Richard Trumka, President of the AFL-CIO:

Members of Congress from both parties need to heed the wake-up call from Massachusetts and start taxing Wall Street wealth to create millions of good jobs fast. To get elected in 2010, they’re going to have to PROVE they’ll create the jobs we need in an economy we need with the health care we need—and those who made the mess should pay the bill. Voters have heard too much talk already.