Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Midterms again - the wave election

I have to thank Rand Simberg for this fascinating find from Stuart Rothenberg, in April 2009: "April Madness: Can GOP Win Back the House in 2010?" Here's how Rothenberg answers his own question:
Yes, Republicans have plenty of opportunities in good districts following their loss of 53 House seats over the past two cycles. And yes, there are signs that the Republican hemorrhage has stopped and even possibly that the party’s fortunes have begun to reverse course.
But there are no signs of a dramatic rebound for the party, and the chance of Republicans winning control of either chamber in the 2010 midterm elections is zero. Not “close to zero.” Not “slight” or “small.” Zero.
Why? Well, because --
Big changes in the House require a political wave. You can cherry-pick your way to a five- or eight-seat gain, but to win dozens of seats, a party needs a wave. 
Waves are built on dissatisfaction and frustration, and there is little in national survey data that suggest most voters are upset with President Barack Obama’s performance or the performance of his party.
Granted, this was a year and a half out, but over a year later he was still saying, "At this point, Republicans appear poised to gain two or three dozen seats but fall short of the majority." In the end, of course, they gained 64 seats, a bigger swing than anything seen since 1948. It's not just, in other words, that it was a "wave" election, and not just that it was a wave of historic proportions, but that it was a monster wave that developed so fast and so apparently mysteriously.

Not that losing politicians, pundits, and spinners don't have their usual assortment of hind-sight explanations --  bad economy, bad communications, "outside" money, fear and anger, bitter clinging, racism, blah, and more blah. Any of which would be fine for a more normal mid-term "correction", but none of which seem sufficient to account for what actually happened.

Now, I think, on a kind of meta-political level, the only thing that can really account for it is the idea of a longer-term shift in the political fulcrum, as I posted previously. But on the surface, what's the one explanation you don't hear from anyone on the liberal left? The answer: bad policies, or at least a rejection of Democratic policies by the electorate. But, as Mickey Kaus points out with reference to a distinctly odd, and even misleading column by Ryan Lizza in the New Yorker, that's an explanation that actually accounts for some statistical correlations: "the more [the House Democrats] opposed the Obama agenda on health care, the stimulus, and cap and trade, the better they did given the makeup of their district." Well, no doubt the lib-left is a little shell-shocked, and even grief-stricken -- but, if they're going to make opportunistic adjustments in time for the next electoral tide in 2012, they'll need to emerge from the denial stage soon.

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