Revolving door continues in Union, as incumbents fall and new voters stay home
Two years ago, Union County saw record crowds cast ballots, with new faces winning local races. Flash forward to 2010 and even though half of those voters decided to stay home this time, the result was the same, with newcomers taking positions on the school board and county commission.
“It’s frustration with the status quo, same as the last two elections,” University of North Carolina at Charlotte political science professor Eric Heberlig said. “By and large, people don’t follow policy. They vote based on outcomes. They say, we give you two years and if you don’t get the job done, we’ll find someone else.”
That’s why this year places like Union County saw more options, with candidates from more political parties coming out of the woodwork. For the first time, Libertarian and Democrat candidates ran for the county commission. Also, virtually every school board race, from District 6 to District 4, had a write-in candidate.
“Historically, we see support for third parties and new candidates increase during poor economic times,” Heberlig said. “That doesn’t mean people turned Libertarian, but rather in most cases, people are casting a protest vote against either the party or people in power.”
While celebrating Tuesday’s victory, local Republican party leaders agreed with Heberlig.
“The voters have shown that they expect their elected officials to rein in the runaway government spending at all levels,” Union County Republican Party Vice Chairman John Steward said. “The voters expect their elected officials to restore honor and integrity to offices they hold, but most importantly, the voters expect their elected officials to listen to them.”
40 percent of the county’s 124,173 registered voters or 50,031 people cast a ballot Tuesday, Nov. 2. That’s a far cry from 2008, when 86,544 people came out to vote, but still higher than expected for most midterm elections, according to Heberlig.
“That’s actually pretty good for a midterm election, as [the vote number] is usually [around] the 30 percent range,” Heberlig said. “This time, you had conservatives with an intense displeasure for Obama, which motivated them to vote.”
Republican candidates, especially newcomers, overwhelmingly won in Union County races. In the races for the school board’s District 6 and at-large seats, Marce Savage and Sherry Hodges each collected over 50 percent of the vote. The three Republican candidates for county commission managed a combined 71 percent of the vote.
“There is only one message to take away from this election; voters believe that government at all levels is spending too much, has grown far too large and is inhibiting individual economic progress,” Union County Young Republicans President Doug Hutton said.
Winners take caution
The problem, Heberlig said, is that in many cases, winners read the results as a mandate, rather than a sign of the electorate’s anger.
“What that means is [the winners] face a risk if they interpret this as approval of their policy ideas,” Heberlig said. “If they come in and recognize the vote was about punishing those in power, they’re more likely to survive for another term.”
If that doesn’t happen, Heberlig said, if winners come in and assume people fully support their agenda, it could be a quick two years before the door revolves again.
Hutton said he and other Union County Republicans understood they can’t take this election victory for granted.
“Winning the election is just step one,” Hutton said. “The more important step is holding our newly elected leaders to account in delivering their promises of smaller government, lower spending and debt reduction.”
As for those record crowds? Heberlig questions if they might be gone for good.
“[Staying at home] is their typical state,” Heberlig said. “The surprise is they turned out in 2008. Will they show up again in 2012? That’s the question. Obama is no longer the new candidate, the cool commodity. Will they come back when he’s on the ballot?”