Why 2010 will not be 1994

Word on the street is that Democrats should be very worried about the midterm elections in 2010, perhaps fearing even a repeat of losing the House in 1994.  Truth is, 2010 will probably not be a good year for Democrats, but 1994 was in many ways a perfect storm of everything going wrong for the Democrats (massive retirements, the culmination of the Southern realignment, etc.) such that while 2010 may not be pretty, there's no reason to expect anything approaching the disaster of 1994.  Ed Kilgore explains it quite nicely (while relying on a healthy dose of Political Science) in TNR:

In the elections leading up to both 1994 and 2010, Democratic
victories, particularly in the House, left the party somewhat
over-exposed. In 1994, 46 of the 258 House Democrats were in
districts carried by President George H.W. Bush in 1992. The numbers
are comparable today, where 49 of the 257 House Democrats are in
districts carried by John McCain, with only
34 Republicans in districts carried by Barack Obama. Similarly, if you apply the Partisan Voting Index,
(PVI), which compares a district’s prior presidential results to
national averages, you find that there are 66 Democrats in districts
with a Republican PVI and only 15 Republicans in districts with a
Democratic PVI–a similar situation to the 79 Democrats in Republican
districts in 1994. Clearly, two straight "wave" elections have
eliminated most of the low-hanging fruit for Democrats in the House,
and created some ripe targets for the GOP.

But that's where the fear-inducing similarities end. The
Republicans' 1994 victory in the House was also enabled by a large
number of Democratic retirements: Twenty-two of the 54 seats the GOP
picked up that year were open. By comparison, the authoritative (and
subscription-only) Cook Political Report counts only four open,
Democrat-held House seats in territory that is even vaguely
competitive. That low number of open seats is significant because it
limits the number of seats Republicans can win; if there is a similar wave of retirements in the offing for 2010, the signs have yet to materialize.

Another disconnect between 1994 and 2010 involves patterns of
demography and ideology. The 1994 election was the high-water mark of
the great ideological sorting that occurred between the two parties.
That made the environment particularly harsh for southern Democrats, as
well as those in the Midwest and Rocky Mountain West, where many
ancestral attachments to the Donkey Party came unmoored. 

In the South, this sorting-out was reinforced by the decennial
reapportionment and redistricting process, during which both
Republicans and civil rights activists promoted a regime of "packing"
and "bleaching" districts–that is, the electoral consolidation of
African-American voters. While this had a salutary effect on
African-American representation in the House of Representatives, the
overall effect was to weaken Democrats. This dynamic was best
illustrated by my home state of Georgia, whose House delegation changed
from 9-1 Democratic going into the 1992 election to 8-3 Republican
after 1994.

Nothing similar to those handicaps exists today. The ideological
filtering of the parties is long over; any genuine conservative
Democrats or liberal Republicans left in the electorate clearly have
reasons for retaining their loyalties, which will be difficult to
erode. Moreover, whether or not you buy the "realignment" theories
that Democrats were excited about after the 2008 elections, there is
not a single discernible long-term trend that favors the Republican
Party. Bush-era Republican hopes of making permanent inroads among
Hispanics and women were thoroughly dashed in 2006 and 2008. Moreover,
as Alan Abramowitz recently pointed out,
the percentage of the electorate that is nonwhite–which is rejecting
Republicans by overwhelming margins–has roughly doubled since 1994.

In short: take the action from anyone who wants to bet you that Republicans will take over Congress in 1994.

About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State http://faculty.chass.ncsu.edu/shgreene

One Response to Why 2010 will not be 1994

  1. rgbact says:

    Ouch. GOP with most seats in 80+ years and New Republic headed to the dustbin of history. Not sure if Ed Kilgore is still employed. Love going over these old, really wrong predictions.

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