As he stumped for reelection in a yellow school bus, Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers reminded voters that four years after he’d pledged to “fix the damn roads,” the state had paved and patched more than 5,000 miles of roads after pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into transportation projects.
At an election night party following his victory in a hard-fought race, Evers highlighted the power of keeping his campaign promises and delivering results. “Some people call it boring, but you know what, Wisconsin? As it turns out, boring wins,” he said.
After a history-defying election, we learned a few things: High voter turnout, especially among young people, tipped the balance in key races. Election deniers who sought to take control of election systems in swing states generally lost. And competence and results mattered to voters.
While pundits will be analyzing these election results for months and years, the meaning we take from these midterms is that voters care deeply about the future of democracy. Voters chose normal over extreme — and facts over conspiracy theories — and sent a clear message that they want a government that listens and responds to their needs.
“Boring wins” may sound anachronistic in an era in which politicians, CEOs and celebrities often compete for who can draw the most viral attention or dominate the news cycle, but it’s a winning electoral and governing strategy in a highly polarized country. In fact, we’re seeing this results-first leadership style play out across the country, in red states and blue states.
In Tennessee, Gov. Bill Lee, who comfortably secured a second term, is using evidence-based budgeting to maximize the impact of state spending, whether it’s to prevent summer learning loss or reduce recidivism among young people involved in the criminal justice system.
In Colorado, Gov. Jared Polis quietly cruised to reelection, running on a record of measurable improvements in transportation, health care and early childhood education. “The fact is we did something simple,” he told supporters on election night. “We focused on issues that really affect people’s lives, and we delivered real results.”
In Washington, Mayor Muriel Bowser, who became only the second mayor in the District of Columbia’s history to win three consecutive terms, has pushed city government to take a data-driven approach, including evaluating whether its investments of American Rescue Plan funds are improving residents’ lives.
Filling potholes, removing trash, broadening access to pre-K and improving other essential services may sound boring, but it’s the glue that binds a government to its residents. When elected leaders make their governments work better, they build the trust to achieve greater progress and implement even bolder solutions.
We saw it this past month when Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin invested $1 million in increasing early childhood literacy by expanding the evidence-based Birmingham Talks program. We’re seeing it in Texas, which is using outcomes-driven contracts to achieve better results for workers. We’re seeing it in Chicago, where city leaders are piloting the nation’s largest cash assistance program and evaluating the results, offering insights to other cities on how to reduce poverty and strengthen the safety net.
It’s a lesson for a closely divided Congress next year, with Democrats narrowly retaining control of the Senate and Republicans gaining a slim majority in the House. Voters aren’t looking for ideological extremes or games of chicken over funding the government and avoiding default on our nation’s debt.
Americans want better results. They want a government that’s efficient and effective and improves their lives. They expect and deserve elected leaders who will fix the damn roads.
Michele Jolin is CEO and co-founder of the nonprofit Results for America, which uses evidence-based practices to achieve results-driven solutions. Jolin was a White House senior adviser for social innovation under President Barack Obama. Lisa Morrison Butler is executive vice president and chief impact officer at Results for America and previously was commissioner of the Chicago Department of Family & Support Services.