In many ways, we already know the results of the midterm elections: The country continues to tilt toward right of center. This is evident because, even if the Democrats are somehow able to hold on to a thin majority in the Senate, they will do so only because of the election of red-state Democrats who support many of the same policies that Republicans do. Thus Michelle Nunn, a Georgia Democrat running for the Senate, refused to support Obamacare. Sen. Mark Begich (D-AK) opposes the meager gun control measures advocated by President Obama following the 2013 Sandy Hook school shooting. Senator Mary Landrieu (D-LA) favors the Keystone XL pipeline. They all are running away from Obama and most anything he stands for.
My friends on the left keep grabbing at straws in the wind, hoping against hope that the mood of the country is turning their way. First, they were delighted to see that Occupy Wall Street gain a great deal of attention, and assumed that it had put inequality "on the agenda" of the nation. Actually, OWS swayed few American voters, and its half-life was even shorter than that of the Arab Spring, another romance of the street. The left got its second wind when French Economist Thomas Piketty was all the rage. The fact that his heavy book (Capital in the Twenty-First Century) topped the New York Times best-seller list -- and was the talk of the town -- gave the left a new hope that finally the masses are beginning to see what the nation's true problems are and what must be done: tax capital, distribute the wealth. The left paid little mind to the fact that few of the people who purchased the book actually read it, and that even Mr. Piketty himself admitted up front that his agenda has no political leg to stand on. You will not find a Democrat running for election in a red state who refers to inequality as much of an issue. But it is this kind of Democrat that, at best, will have the swing vote in after the midterm election.
I am not arguing it will make no difference whether or not the Democrats hold on to the majority of the Senate. If the Democrats lose the majority, one must expect the Republicans -- led by Senator Ted Cruz and Representative Darrell Issa, will launch one investigation after another into what the President has and has not been doing. And the GOP will block most, if not all, Democratic initiatives; find ways to greatly crimp whatever the president will try to do by the use of executive order; and may be able to further load the Supreme Court with a justice closer to their liking than if the Democrats hold on.
All this is not lost on those who are testing the ground for 2016. The media report that Hillary Clinton is disappointing the left because she is testing themes that are centrist. Note that this testing is taking place before the primaries are out of the way -- the period in which Democratic candidates usually curtsy to the left. The fact is that the country is tilting to the right, not necessarily to the extremes, but somewhere between conservative Republicans and tea partiers.
This will not change until the left stops pushing its favorite agendas -- such as redistribution of wealth, equal pay for women, carbon tax, and universal health care and instead focuses on the number one issue that is on the mind of most Americans: their stagnant incomes, even if they have a job. All these other issues are worthy ones, but they are only high on the list of concerns of one group or another. However, most Americans have seen their real wages remain essentially flat for decades. Moreover, a factor that has gained much less attention, they feel economically ever less secure. Corporations, cities, and states have been canceling or diluting Americans' pensions; no one can plan to retire anymore and assume that whatever they expected to get will be there once they hit Florida. Even those who have a well-paying job are not sure they will still have it next month. And although they can now get health insurance more readily, they realize that there is no cap on how much they may have to pay for it. (Global threats such as ISIS and the Ebola epidemic in West Africa only increase this sense of insecurity.)
Democrats have come up with various specific suggestions that they say is sure to "grow the middle class" -- such as investment in infrastructure and education. However, as long as none of the Democratic candidates for election evokes a vision that is encompassing as the malaise, the election results will be as expected: continuation of the tilt to the right. That is, this election will not provide a mandate for the massive changes in public policy that are needed. Indeed, not one is even asking for such a mandate.
Amitai Etzioni is a University Professor at the George Washington University. His most recent book is The New Normal: Finding a Balance between Individual Rights and the Common Good (Transaction 2014).