Allen V. is a political scientist. His academic specialties include international relations, American Politics, and American Political Thought. He is also a veteran of the world of campaign politics. I am happy to share with you some of his musings about this campaign season.
There is a lot of discussion about a fundamental transformation underway in American Politics. Right leaning political pundits celebrate the Tea Party movement as a historic shift from the longstanding political environment. Beck in particular, with his inspired constitutional restoration to save a document “hanging by a thread” stands as the best example of this line of thinking. Many Democrats have bought this rhetoric and are fretting this election as a new “end of times.”
It is certain that Republicans will do very well in the upcoming midterms. What is often forgotten is that the party out of power (the opposite party of the sitting president) often does very well in midterm elections. We seem to have lost a little historical context as we consider the current election.
In the House, for example, there are currently 255 Democrats (178 Republicans). Based on Nate Silvers’ prediction based on 100,000 simulations of current polling data, the new House after the election would likely be 226.5 Republicans (208.5 Democrats). I say we have a lottery to decide which Congressman gets the Solomon treatment.
If these numbers hold true, that would represent a shift of 47 seats (rounding for that .5 seat). This transition would be just the 7th largest shift since 1942. It would fall 7 seats short of the Republican’s 1994 Contract with America which netted 54 additional seats for the GOP. It also falls just short of the largest GOP losses of 48 seats in 1958 and 1974.
The average loss, throwing out the two times that the party in power gained seats, is 29.5 seats. This election will certainly be above average in terms of lost seats, but is unlikely to be historic as has been argued by some.
In many ways, given the deep recession, the GOP performance seems to clearly underwhelm. GOP approval ratings are still lower than approval ratings for President Obama. The selection of tea party candidates in a number of seat have made them competitive elections when in any other year with similar conditions they would be strongly in GOP hands. High unemployment and other ongoing economic concerns should point to a historic transition. Instead, this one is likely to fall only in the top third of midterm elections in terms of number of seats lost.
What does it mean? Electors are certainly upset, and while some are clearly motivated by the more extreme rhetoric of Beck, Limbaugh, etc., most Americans remain fed up with both parties. They are willing to replace a number of members of Congress (particularly Democrats in susceptible seats) , but are also underwhelmed by the choices offered by the GOP. The GOP will perform under its potential in this election cycle given the conditions in which it takes place.
I believe it is the excessively conservative ideas embedded in the GOP’s candidates and messages which challenge what the American people really want – responsible and shared governance by both parties. Americans don’t want truth determined by ideology, they want members of Congress to sit down and to work together regardless of ideology. After all, isn’t that the true lesson of the founding fathers? Those men came together with very different views about the future and direction of our nation. They compromised, worked through differences and created the document that is so frequently discussed this election cycle.