No matter the final outcome of tonight's election results, the 2010 midterm contest is likely to be remembered as another vindication of the "angry" U.S. voter looking to shake up the status quo in Washington. But this tumultuous election cycle suggests that the American electorate is actually acting out of a more complex range of emotions than simple anger. "Anxiety"and "unease" are far less catchy terms for the voting public's mood -- but they seem a better way of evoking the sense of apprehension that is likely to accompany many voters to the polling booth today.
Two years after Barack Obama was boosted into the White House on a message of change and hope, it's not exactly news that the national outlook has soured. Voters are struggling with historic unemployment numbers and a troubled economy that has affected virtually everyone in America.
And over the same period, that anxiety has found increasingly sharp expression on the campaign trail. On the right, of course, economic woes have helped stoke the meteoric rise of the conservative tea party, which looks to gain a significant foothold in Congress tonight after mounting a passionate -- and yes, at times angry -- campaign against Obama's Washington and the status quo.
"You blew it, President Obama," Sarah Palin, a leader of the movement, said on "Fox News Sunday." "We gave you two years to fulfill your promise of making sure our economy starts roaring back to life again -- and instead I believe things are getting worse."
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On the left, meanwhile, many among Obama's 2008 progressive base of supporters also share mounting anger and disappointment. Those voters tend to be disenchanted by the president's failure to deliver fully on the vision of change that propelled him to the presidency. "Democrats are dissatisfied because they expected a miracle," says Democratic consultant Hank Sheinkopf, who predicts low voter turnout. "They have a John Wayne problem. They expected everything to be fixed in an hour and a half. So they're not coming out."
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In both cases, though, it's easy to overstate anger -- and to downplay the deeper frustrations voters on both sides of the partisan divide feel about a change-resistant status quo in our national politics. As much as anything, Republicans are poised to capture significant gains in Congress today because of the pervasive sense that the present alignment of power in Washington may well cause the state of the country -- and especially of the economy -- to get worse before it gets better.
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