NSI News

Special Report: Elections signal importance of 2010

As the 2009 election season is now behind us and we look to 2010, there are some obvious and not so obvious trends that will serve as indicators for what the following year’s election season may present.

Since the economic downturn over a year ago, government has played an increasingly central role in the economy through the structure of programs, funding, regulation, policy and even the direct involvement in companies and industries. As we watched the recent election results, one of the strongest themes was frustration and fear around the economy. Voters fear our economic future and sent message at the polls.

Tuesday’s election results were not as much about national political parties as they are a clear sign of the voters’ economic fear and dislocation with the recession, concern over government’s role and our place in the world. Exit polls from Tuesday’s elections in both Virginia and New Jersey showed that on average, 87 percent of voters were concerned about the economy and the forecast for the coming year.

Clearly, consumer frustration and lack of trust is growing. This trust between business and citizens has suffered a precipitous drop since the economic crisis in late 2008, causing many citizens to look to government as the safety net. As company executives look to improve their standing with consumers, they also need to consider their role and relationship with government. When it comes to providing services as well as understanding the regulatory and oversight of commerce and industry, executives who run successful companies realize the importance of having a proactive partnership with government.

As we saw from the Tuesday’s Congressional Elections, government leaders have their work cut out for them too. As exit polls captured voter frustration and fear, much like the private sector, government must show action and convince voters they can be trusted to get the job done. Moving beyond the economic crisis, government leaders must address their standing with citizens.

The 2009 elections was mostly profiled as involving two state gubernatorial races and special elections to fill Congressional seats. It has also included key mayoral races around the country.

For certain, the defeat of incumbent, Democratic Governor Jon Corzine, could be seen as a dent to the national Democratic Party as well as the Republican sweep of state offices in Virginia. However they can also be isolated candidate-specific and state specific trends.

On a larger level, there is a more important trend from 2009: voter fear and frustration focused on incumbents. Governing during economic crisis is not popular. As an example, a look at the 2009 mayoral races around the country has shown that several prominent mayors were defeated and many incumbents that won did so at a much tighter margin than prior elections. In New York City, incumbent Republican Mayor Michael Bloomberg spent $90 million; a rate of almost 20 times more than his opponent, to win an election that was much closer because of low turnout and anger toward incumbency.

Next year’s sizeable and significant election will include mid-term races for Congress, Governors, State Legislatures and Attorney Generals. These races will create both an impact on and consideration of the importance of understanding and navigating the intersection of policy, governance and elections.

Next year will continue to be a time of change for government and how leaders do business. We’ll see candidates running on the ability to create opportunities and solve problems. With the initiatives around the stimulus and government’s expanded role, the time for government and business to work together has never been greater. The ability to understand the intersection of policy, governance and electoral issues is even more important.

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For more information, please contact Heather Sabharwal at hsabharwal@kglobal.com or 202-349-7016.