What’s going on?

6 11 2014

Another wailing? Why oh why oh why oh why?!

No, that won’t do.

A stream-of-consciousness blather of all of the possible variables involved in electoral politics? Bad candidates, bad campaigns, tribalism, voter turnout, voter suppression, running from liberal accomplishments, the president’s party tends to lose midterms, . . .

I considered this, but then realized that would be more indulgent than enlightening—and while I’m all about the indulgent and have my own issues with the enlightening, it does seem that some thoughts from the folks who study American politics for a livin’ are in order:

First up, Hans Noel:

Commentators:

Nov. 5, 2014: “Republicans win! Democrats are doomed! Obama failed! It’s Red America!”
Nov. 7, 2012: “Democrats win! Republicans are doomed! Romney’s 47 percent misstep! Latino voters!”
Nov. 3, 2010: “Republicans win! Democrats are doomed! Obama overreached! Tea Party!”
Nov. 5, 2008: “Democrats win! Republicans are doomed! Palin was a joke! Realignment!”
Nov. 8, 2006: “Democrats win! Republicans are doomed! Bush finally pays for failure in Iraq!”
Nov. 3, 2004: “Republicans win! Democrats are doomed! Kerry never should have let himself be videotaped windsurfing! Values voters!”
Nov. 6, 2002: “Republicans win! Democrats are doomed! Voters back Bush’s tough stand on Iraq!”

Political scientists: 

Presidents tend to win re-election (2004, 2012), but they are more likely to lose the longer their party has been in power (1992, 1952, 1948). Presidents’ parties tend to lose seats in midterm elections (2006, 2010, 2014).

Seth Masket:

Here are some very tentative election results compared with their averages in midterm elections between 1950 and 2010:

  • The president’s party lost roughly 12 House seats. The average is 25.
  • The president’s party lost roughly 8 Senate seats. The average is 3.
  • The president’s party lost roughly 8 state legislative chambers. The average is 10.

How do we interpret, say, the Republican gain of a dozen House seats? Obviously, that’s good for Republicans, giving them the largest majority they’ve had in almost a century, but it’s also a pretty paltry gain by midterm election standards. Between 1950 and 2010, the president’s party has lost an average of 25 seats in midterms. Now, given that Republicans already had a healthy majority in the House, it was harder for them to win that many more, so surely this is an impressive gain. But how impressive?

He goes on to offer some very nice charts & diagrams for comparative perspective.

Matthew Dickinson considers the midterms, then makes the turn toward 2016:

So, what are we to make of these results? To begin, it’s important to resist the inevitable tendency for pundits to overreach in their effort to discern “the message” the voters send yesterday. Already I am reading that the results indicate 1) a rejection of Obama,  2) a rejection of Democrats’ “war on women”  3) a rejection of Democratic liberal governance or maybe some combination of all of these. Some Democrats, not surprisingly, are suggesting that Republicans “bought” the elections due to backing from Superpacs.

The reality is that while this was a good night for Republicans, the results were driven by midterm election dynamics that political scientists have long documented. In this respect last night’s results were not unusual – nor were they even unexpected, at least based on fundamentals-driven forecasts. The most important point to remember is that the electorate in a midterm is different than what we see in a presidential election year, a point I made repeatedly last night. I haven’t seen turnout figures, but I’m guessing turnout was about 40%, down about 18% from 2012’s presidential election. More important than the size of the turnout, however, is its composition: yesterday it skewed older, whiter and more affluent than the electorate of 2012, and these are all attributes associated with a greater propensity to vote Republican.

He gives credit to the Republicans for their solid performance, noting they did well in building on an already-large majority in the House, but also that the gains themselves were not outside of historical norms.

And Jonathan Ladd looks ahead to 2016 as well, arguing that:

1) These results tell us essentially nothing about how the 2016 election will turn out. If any analyst tries to explain the significance of this for 2016, you can stop reading/listing right there. The president’s party almost always does poorly in the midterms in the sixth year of a presidency. The 2016 election will be determined by economic performance in 2016, how long the Democrats have held the presidency, and whether Obama gets involved in a costly overseas war. The only possible effect this could have is if newly elected Republicans in some way affect economic performance in 2016.

Ladd, Masket, and Noel all blog at Mischiefs of Faction, while Dickinson has his own thing going on at Presidential Powe.

Anyway, these are among the folks you should be reading if want to get beyond the wailing (or dancing, as is your wont) and actually make sense—or begin to make sense—of what’s goin’ on in these united states.

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7 11 2014
7 11 2014
10 11 2014

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