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December 2012 - Volume 17, Number 4


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The 2012 Elections: A Nation Divided

by John Hendrickson

For supporters of conservatism and limited government the November 2012 elections were discouraging. President Barack Obama defeated his Republican opponent Governor Mitt Romney, while the Democrats also held on to the United States Senate. The Republicans did manage to keep control of the House of Representatives and win some key races. Even though the status quo remains, conservatives are stunned that President Barack Obama was reelected with both a failed economic record and his policies of government expansion through regulation and health care (Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act).


The policy and economic uncertainty remain as policymakers will continue to debate solutions in regard to economic policy and the fiscal crisis. Voters also sent a mixed message at the state level as a number of referendum and initiatives demonstrated the divided nature of the nation. The results of the 2012 election demonstrate that the nation is at a serious political, economic, and cultural crossroads and it is vital that Americans renew themselves with the values of the American founding in order to reverse the current national decline.


The Initiative and Referendum Institute based at the University of Southern California Gould School of Law reported that “voters decided 174 ballot propositions across 38 states” on Election Day.[1] An overview of these measures included “42 initiatives, 12 referendums, 117 legislative measures, and three votes on constitutional conventions.”[2] The more controversial issues included taxes, marriage, health care, and marijuana legalization efforts.[3] Numerous bond issues also appeared on ballots across the nation as well as efforts to protect the right to hunt and fish.


In regard to taxes, the results were mixed for taxpayers. In commenting on the election results National Taxpayers Union (NTU) Executive Vice President Pete Sepp stated:


Politicians are loading up their victory and concession speeches with opinions on what happened with the election, but one thing is clear: big government cannot claim a mandate at the ballot box this year. No matter how else the outcome is spun, when voters weighed in on specific fiscal issues, they were reluctant to give government deeper reach into their pockets and lives.[4]


Some of the victories for taxpayers included:


•Arizona Proposition 117 limits the growth in assessed valuation of property for tax purposes to 5 percent per year.
•New Jersey Question 2 requires state judges to contribute toward their health and pension benefits.
•Oklahoma Question 766 repeals the state’s intangibles tax.
•Oklahoma Question 758 would cap state property tax increases to 3 percent per year.
•Oregon measure 85 repeals the state’s “kicker” corporate income tax refund in times of high revenues.
•Oregon measure 79 bans real estate transfer taxes.
•Washington Initiative 1185 reaffirms, yet again, a two-thirds legislative supermajority requirement for new taxes. Voters have repeatedly approved this supermajority requirement — four times in the past twenty years (1993, 1998, 2007, 2010), but Legislators keep repealing it.[5]


Some of the defeats for taxpayers included:


•Californians did give the nod to Governor [Jerry] Brown’s plan to “temporarily” expand income, sales, and other taxes…Voters also backed a punitive new tax regime for businesses with sales in other states.
•Florida voters rejected the opportunity to augment their already strong constitutional protections against higher taxes through a new revenue limit based on inflation and population growth.
•Michigan decided against supplementing the State Constitution’s existing voter approval requirement against tax hikes with a new legislative supermajority protection.
•New Hampshire citizens voted in favor of a constitutional ban on a statewide income tax by a 57 percent margin, but the amendment required a two-thirds margin to take effect.
•Oregon’s citizens decided against a plan to completely phase out estate and inheritance taxes.[6]


The issue of labor unions also had mixed results, especially in the aftermath of battles over collective bargaining, pensions, and pay that occurred in such states as Wisconsin and Ohio. As Stephen Moore, an editorial writer with The Wall Street


Paycheck protection, which would prohibit unions from using payroll-deducted funds for political purposes and also prohibits corporate and union contributions to politicians, also failed in California. But in Michigan, an initiative funded by unions to cement in the state collective bargaining rights failed. This was an attempt to prohibit [Governor] Scott Walker, Wisconsin-style restraints on public employee union power.[7]


Moore also noted that several states also stood their ground in regard to health care and the Patient Protection and
Affordable Care Act:


Five states had measures on health-care freedom. Alabama, Montana and Wyoming approved initiatives that protect the rights of patients to make their own health decisions and don’t allow the state to compel the purchase of insurance. That measure failed narrowly in Florida. Missouri voters approved a measure prohibiting the creation of a health-care exchange without a vote of the people or a vote of the Legislature. These initiatives could set up a clash with the federal government over the implementation of ObamaCare.[8]


The election also proved that the cultural war continues with the nation divided over important social questions such as marriage and drug legalization. Voters in Colorado and Washington passed measures to legalize marijuana, which has been applauded by some libertarians and progressives, but many conservatives see this as a troublesome trend. This will also bring up some constitutional questions because of federal drug laws. Voters in Maine, Maryland, and Washington also approved same-sex marriage, while voters in Minnesota rejected a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage. The battle to redefine marriage to include same-sex marriage will most likely have to be resolved by the Supreme Court.[9] So far “32 out of 32 states that put the issue to a vote defined marriage as a union of a man and a woman,” which still urgently calls for the need of a federal constitutional amendment to protect marriage.[10]


Other important issues at the ballot box included a constitutional amendment in Minnesota to require voters to present an ID in order to vote that failed. This is an issue that will be debated not only here in Iowa in the upcoming Legislative session, but across the nation. Voters in California “declined to abolish capital punishment.”[11] Several states also passed measures to secure the right to hunt and fish and voters in Louisiana passed Amendment 2, which “requires ‘strict scrutiny’ from courts when evaluating laws that restrict gun possession.”[12]


In describing the results of the election, Sepp stated that “Americans spoke with many voices in the 2012 election, but when it comes to pocketbook issues they vote on directly, their political vocabulary often opposed excessive taxation and spending while calling for moderation.”[13] Moore argues that “the overall voter message of these various initiatives if there is one, is the electorate is moving in a more libertarian direction…”[14] Nevertheless, ideas and votes do have consequences, and the overall message of the election both on the state and national level demonstrate a divided nation. The 2012 election will have a tremendous impact on the future of the nation, and it is quite clear that in order to solve our national and state problems will require a return to traditional conservative principles and a defense of our American heritage.



[1] “Election Results 2012: Breakthrough Wins for Marijuana and Same-Sex Marriage,” Ballotwatch, Initiative and Referendum Institute, University of Southern California Gould School of Law, No. 3, November 2012, <> accessed on November 13, 2012.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Pete Sepp, “Election was no blow-out for big government, taxpayer group’s analysis of state ballot measures show,” National Taxpayers Union, November 7, 2012, <> accessed on November 9, 2012.
[5] Joseph Henchman, “State and Local Ballot Initiative Results,” Tax Foundation, Washington, D.C., November 6, 2012, <> accessed on November 13, 2012.
[6] Sepp.
[7] Stephen Moore, “Let voters decide,” The Wall Street Journal, November 8, 2012, <> accessed on November 9, 2012.
[8] Ibid.
[9] Ryan T. Anderson, “How Marriage fared in the 2012 election,” The Foundry, November 8, 2012, The Heritage Foundation, Washington, D.C., <> accessed on November 13, 2012.
[10] Ibid.
[11] “Ballotwatch: Election Results 2012: Breakthrough Wins for Marijuana and Same-Sex Marriage.”
[12] Ibid.
[13] Sepp.
[14] Moore.


John Hendrickson is a Research Analyst for Public Interest Institute.

LIMITS is one of our quarterly membership newsletters, arriving in March, June, September, and December. It consists of short articles and essays on protection of human rights by limiting the powers of government.


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