November 4, 2010 Leave a comment
Count on an actual Political Scientist, Jonathan Bernstein, to bring the PS in thinking about the 2012 elections in Congress. Bernstein nicely explains the role of quality challengers and how this affects election outcomes. Since you are probably not going to read Gary Jacoboson’s Politics of Congressional Elections, this is a pretty good summary of key points as they relate to 2012. Anyway, shorter Bernstein: Democrats need to work their butts off to make sure they have strong challengers in 2012. When the climate was favorable in 1996, Democrats didn’t have the quality candidates to take advantage. Excerpt from longer Bernstein:
What political scientists have learned is that this is a case in which party prophesies are to a large extent self-fulfilling. Believe that the party is going over a cliff, and you’ll wind up with third-rate candidates, who will then lose — not because of the general environment, but because bad candidates lose Congressional elections. Believe that your party is about to benefit from the wave, and you’ll wind up with excellent candidates who will win regardless of whether such a “wave” actually existed.
It seems to me that the GOP did a great job of selling their own potential candidates that 2010 would be like 1994. That’s behind the data that Brendan Nyhan reported last week about the large spike in quality GOP candidates, especially challengers. I strongly suspect that when all is said and done, that’s going to be the controllable variable that made the most difference, much more than choices about pushing the agenda for the Democrats or opposing it for the Republicans (with the possible exception of economic policy, but it’s always hard to know the effects of any potential changes, there).
Now, it’s the Democrats’ turn to react to adversity with confidence…
So, whatever they actually believe, Democrats should pound the 1996-2012 analogies, remind themselves that reversals are not only possible but happen all the time (I bet there are all sorts of other historical examples easy to dig up: liberal bloggers, consider that a challenge!), and convince themselves and anyone who will listen to them that good times for Dems are, once again, right around the corner.
At least until candidate recruitment season is over.
In Congressional elections, candidate quality is huge. One of the reasons I remain frustrated– and surprised– by Renee Ellmers victory over Etheridge. The quality honestly doesn’t get much lower than Ellmers.