With roughly two weeks now separating us from election night, many Americans are still wondering how some of the results may translate for the country’s future. Some seem to believe that the governing philosophies among the nation’s voters are beginning to make a dramatic shift.
There is no doubt that history was made in several states on election night. Colorado and Washington became the first two states to legalize the recreational use of marijuana. At the same time, states like Maine and Maryland elected to legalize same-sex marriages. And it doesn’t stop there.
Similar ballot measures were found in various other states as well. Same-sex couples in Minnesota were unable to gain the right to marry by a mere 3.5 percent margin, and Arkansas became the first southern state to add a medical marijuana act to their ballot.
Because of this recent wave in ballot initiatives that seemingly attempt to defy federal law, some now believe that voters are trending towards the advocacy of increasing freedoms granted to the states.
Dr. Kathie Hess is an attorney and University of Arkansas alum.
“What is growing,” said Dr. Hess, “is the decision among voters that the federal government has become too excessive and it interferes with options that can be better regulated by the states.”
Many voters like Dr. Hess cast their ballot with the intent of limiting the federal government’s power relative to the states and the residents of each state. And by reviewing the election results of various states, this form of new federalism is gaining in popularity among voters.
“People want more freedom and liberty,” she continued. “But at the same time, there are certain things we want society to look like, and many believe that government is the only way to make society look like that.”
For Dr. Hess, the voters she refers to can be considered moralists. Moralist voters are those who believe it is the federal government’s job to establish a certain social order, and stress the importance of enforcing laws that maintain it.
But do the election results of Colorado, Washington, Maine and Maryland translate to a decline in moralist voters and an increase of new federalists across the country?
Some believe it is neither, but rather a simple case of red-state/blue-state.
“The states that did legalize same-sex marriage,” said St. Francis County Assessor Craig Jones, “were known blue states, almost entirely liberal voters. I don’t necessarily see a trend of declining moralists, nor do I see Arkansas or any other southern state legalizing same-sex marriage anytime soon. The only reason marijuana legalization is much more likely to pass in a conservative state, as well as more liberal states, is because it’s much more of a crossover issue for voters.”
According to Jones, the only reason voters will pursue state legislation that defies federal law is if the current federal government’s policies contradict their own ideas of what is best for the people of that region. If the administration becomes more favorable, these voters will most likely adhere to federal law without complaint and abandon any fight for states’ rights.
However, Dr. Hess believes that this isn’t just a matter of political affiliation, but rather a shift in governing philosophy among voters.
“There is a huge surge in libertarianism,” she said, “and I see this as a result of voters who are seeking more liberties than what they’ve got. And the first step in gaining these freedoms is by granting more powers to each state.”
Because the United States is comprised of units that vary drastically in ideology, according to Dr. Hess, there cannot be a golden rule for the entire country on every issue. Granting states the power to decide what is best for their citizens is the first step in ensuring the needs of each individual are met.
“A person who believes in broad federal government powers,” she continued, “would say that there are some answers that necessarily need to be answered for all 50 states, because they aren’t for individual states to decide. But what we are seeing in states like Colorado and Washington refuse that answer handed to them by the federal government and could easily be a harbinger for the rest of the country.”
Dr. Hess went on to explain that although libertarianism is surging, the majority of voters are not advocating for the eradication of federal government. While some libertarian-extremists would see granting more power to the states as a step in the right direction, others see it as an ends.
“For the most part,” said junior political science major Allison Curry, “voters would rather have people – the governing authority – tell them what to do rather than to make their own decisions. That’s evident by the presidential election results, and I don’t see the number of those voters ever declining.”
According to Curry, there will always be those dependent on a form of government that is capable of providing the way of life that they have grown accustom to.
“But I do see,” Curry added, “where most Arkansas voters would prefer the state to create most of their legislation and not the federal government.”
The question of whether or not the percentage of moralists is declining and new federalists increasing remains unanswered. The answer will hinge on the result of upcoming elections. But as more voters, especially young voters, take notice of what is happening across the country, a shift in governing philosophies may likely become even more apparent.
“Though I do believe that the results of this past election,” said Assessor Jones, “can be attributed to voters voting more along their party lines, I can’t rule out any potential change in the way voters of each state think. I never thought Arkansas would ever put marijuana on the ballot, and it came close to passing.”
“What’s happened in some of these states,” Jones continued, “could result in granting states more freedoms, especially when [a state’s voters] see a law as being counter-productive to the citizens, like Arkansans and the use of medical marijuana. Even though some tend to forget it, we can’t run our country like some European countries do. We are a country that is made up of so many different kinds of people with so many different beliefs. Each state and their citizens are so unique. So, wouldn’t you expect voters in each state to eventually demand legislation that reflects that?”
Only time will tell.