2010 vs 1994 Revisited

32 Democratic incumbents are running even or behind their Republican challengers in one or more public or private polls. At this point in 2006, when Republicans lost control of Congress, only 11 GOP incumbents were running even or behind.

For months, I’ve been poo-pooing comparisons between this cycle and the so-called Republican Revolution of 1994.   Not only was that year a perfect storm unlikely to be seen again, I argued, but there was the baggage of the Bush years to contend with and a long way to go until Election Day.

Well, we’re now just a bit more than two months away and, as Charlie Cook notes, “Labor Day is almost here and Democrats are still waiting for the cavalry to arrive. An exhaustive scan of the horizon reveals no rescuers and none of the things Democrats badly need to save them from tough midterm election losses on Nov. 2.”

Simply put, Democrats find themselves heading into a midterm election that looks as grisly as any the party has faced in decades. It isn’t hard to find Democratic pollsters who privately concede that the numbers they are looking at now are worse than what they saw in 1994.

The race-by-race outlook confirms the dire forecasts. Cook Political Report House Editor David Wasserman points out that at this point, 32 Democratic incumbents are running even or behind their Republican challengers in one or more public or private polls. At this point in 2006, when Republicans lost control of Congress, only 11 GOP incumbents were running even or behind.

Privately, some Democratic pollsters say that they are routinely seeing districts where Democratic incumbents are running only even with relatively unknown GOP challengers. In other districts where the Republican challengers are reasonably well known, the incumbents are often running 5-10 points behind, a rather extraordinary development at this point.

In the Senate, while the odds still favor Democrats holding on to a narrow majority, it is not only mathematically possible for the GOP to capture a majority this year, but it has become plausible. The odds of Democrats capturing even one currently Republican-held seat appear to be getting longer. Meanwhile, Republicans are running ahead or roughly even in 11 Democratic-held seats, one more than necessary for control of the Senate to flip. It’s still a tall order but not crazy to say that Republicans will win the Senate.

Emphasis above from an email being circulated around the wife’s firm with subject line “This is a helluva stat.”  It is indeed.

My perfect storm argument on 1994 was that, aside from the Contract With America and the other positive messages Republicans have retrospectively assigned credit for the “revolution,” a lot of structural factors were also at work.

It took a series of scandals among key House Democrats, a wildly unpopular Democratic incumbent (who righted the ship in reaction), and radical changes in campaign finance regulations which incentivized a lot of the old geezers to take the money and not run.  We don’t really have any of these things this go-round.

Well . . . not so fast.  We don’t have new campaign finance laws but we do have scandals, retirements, and voter anger.  And, while Obama is more popular than Clinton was at his nadir, his coattails are a distant memory.  And, certainly, the economy is a helluva lot worse than it was in the fall of 1994.

Now, I still agree with most of what I wrote last December:

GOP voters will be energized in 2010 and the majority of voting Independents will likely be in an anti-incumbent mood next November.  The combination of structural pressures — lots of retiring Democrats, lots of unestablished Democrats in Republican districts — and the sorry state of the economy should lead to substantial Republican gains.

But there does not seem to be a Contract for America moment emerging, either.  While Newt Gingrich took too much credit for the 1994 “Republican Revolution,” it’s nonetheless the case that the party advanced a positive agenda that helped nationalize the election and sway some voters.   The Tea Party movement, by contrast, is mostly negative.

But the next sentence, well, not so much:

Simply being angry about the status quo isn’t enough to create a landslide.

It just might turn out to be that.

FILED UNDER: General,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Tano says:

    If his point was to draw a parallel with ’94, then why does he compare the number of incumbents in trouble with the numbers from ’06? How many Dem incumbents were in similar trouble at this point in ’94? That is the obvious comparison, and the fact that he doesnt make it seems to indicate that it would ruin his breathless doom theme.
     
    Cook is totally invested now in a Dem wipeout. He really seems to be moving way beyond being a pollster and becioming a pure prognosticator. I find that odd, since he has plenty of credibility as a pollster, but as a prognosticator, he is down here with the rest of us, and it seems that he realizes that one needs to make bold and remarkable predictions in order to get any attention.
     

  2. James Joyner says:

    If his point was to draw a parallel with ’94, then why does he compare the number of incumbents in trouble with the numbers from ’06?

    When I first saw the stat, I assumed that’s what he’d done.  My guess is less cynical than yours:  There are likely a ton more public polls now than there were 16 years ago, making the comparison unfair.

  3. Zelsdorf Ragshaft III says:

    If you think the Tea Party is just negative, that is a stong indicator you are not listening.  Is there some part of stop spending and reduce the size of government message that evades those on the left?  What happens this November will be a repudiation of all that Obama brought with him.  It will be the American people saying no to Pelosi and Reid.  This is going to be a bloodless revolution.  At least you better hope it is because if not the next step will be a bloody one.  The American people will not have a socialist agenda imposed on them by some ruling elite.

  4. Steve Plunk says:

    Saying the Tea Party is mostly negative is like saying a policeman is mostly negative since he writes tickets and arrests people.  Someone has to act like a grown up and stop the nonsense.
     
    In my opinion voters are experiencing buyers remorse with the Dems in general and Obama specifically.

  5. Wayne says:

    ZR III
    To a liberal any idea that they don’t agree with is negative or simply doesn’t exist .
    How many post have we seen that liberal claim the conservative don’t’ have any ideas and then a conservative run of a long list. Only to have the liberal ignore the list and repeat their claim that conservatives don’t’ have any ideas.

  6. tom p says:

    >>>To a liberal any idea that they don’t agree with is negative or simply doesn’t exist .<<<

    Wayne, not quite true. As a “liberal” I have heard and acknowledged any # of ideas from the right. I even said some of them were good…. But this:

    >>>Is there some part of stop spending and reduce the size of government message that evades those on the left?<<<

    is not an idea. It isn’t even serious. It is delusional. I have been hearing this for 30+ years. Not ONE single president or congress since Coolidge (?) has even come close to doing it. Least of all the Republicans of the last 10 years.

    The best we can hope for is a balanced budget (like Clinton and a GOP congress gave Bush), but of course, for that to happen, taxes have to be raised.

    And until you gaurdians of conservative thought admit that one simple little fact, I will know that you are not serious.

  7. floyd says:

     “”that it would ruin his breathless doom theme””.

    What doom theme?

     Fact is we don’t use the same methods for casting or counting votes that did in1994.
    Nowadays he who counts longest wins,
     My advice  to Republicans is…. stop salivating, grow a backbone and get to work!
    My advice to Democrats is stop drooling and…. oh you can’t can you?

  8. tom p says:

     My advice  to Republicans is…. stop salivating, grow a backbone and get to work!
    My advice to Democrats is stop drooling and…. oh you can’t can you?

    Oh wow, Floyd, you took the words right out of my mouth. Salivating, drooling, same thing aren’t they?????

  9. ponce says:

    Funny, both Rasmussen and Gallup have Obama’s approval rating up 5 points over the past couple weeks.
     
    Have the wingnuts peaked too early…yet again?

  10. Joe says:

    Yeah, I don’t get the choice of all the different years in comparison either.  In any case, does he think we’re doomed or not?

  11. floyd says:

    “”  You took the words right out of my mouth. Salivating, drooling, same thing aren’t they?????””

    “””””””””””””””””””””””””””””
     Not strictly speaking in this context, “salivating” is meant in anticipation of victory. a sort of pavlovian response to the clanging of polls, while “drooling” is meant to illustrate merely the lack of control of a slack jaw and a lack of consciousness.

  12. Tano says:

    In my opinion voters are experiencing buyers remorse with the Dems in general and Obama specifically.
     
    Interesting. The Gallup poll for today finds a net POSITIVE job approval for Obama – +2. And of course, the Gallup poll is taken as the bible truth when it indicates bad things for Dems, so it must be the truth now too. So what does this mean? Obama won election by 6 points. After all this sturm and drang, after 2 years of recession, the health care bill, and nonstop hyperbolic negative campaigning against him by the Republicans, he has gone down to a +2 standing? Thats it? Thats your buyer’s remorse?

  13. Tano says:

    Oooops, that first sentence in the comment above is a quote from Steve Plunk, I forgot to put the blockquote on.

  14. Juneau: says:

    @ tom p
     
    And until you gaurdians of conservative thought admit that one simple little fact, I will know that you are not serious.


    The loss of Republican establishment darlings to conservatives in several primary races is the harbinger you are supposedly looking for.  And these are not just any old primary races either – the Republican House minority leader has had two of “his” inner circle get picked off, Lisa Murkowski, and Bob Bennett.  Think about that for a second.

    One of the primary differences in this election cycle  –  and one that is a leading indicator of the new paradigm from the conservative side – is that the new blood coming in knows that liberal ideas are unsuccessful and ineffective.  They also know that right or wrong, the conservative is going to harassed by the left and the media.

    This is the strong point of the new conservatives because they no longer really care what the media thinks or the liberals say.  A great example of this is Chris Christie in New Jersey.    His attitude to the left and the leftist media appears to be, “You can complain and insult, but I’m not listening.”

    The left has lost its biggest weapon – the power to cower.  Conservatives are fed up with being told by the left they don’t have the right amount of humanity or the right ideas.  They are no longer afraid of what comes out in the editorial pages, because the country has learned that the print media needs to be taken with a grain of salt.

    The biggest thing on the plate right now is the size of government and the unimaginable amount of debt placed upon the economy and our future by the Obama administration.  The new blood conservatives (notice I didn’t say Republicans) are determined to fight that.  They owe no allegiance to the Republican establishment and I, among millions, hope that this means they will change Washington instead of Washington changing them.

  15. Juneau: says:

    @ tano
     
    After all this sturm and drang, after 2 years of recession, the health care bill, and nonstop hyperbolic negative campaigning against him by the Republicans, he has gone down to a +2 standing? Thats it? Thats your buyer’s remorse?


    And now, the part of the Gallup poll that Tano didn’t want to tell you about…
     

    September 1, 2010
    Americans Give GOP Edge on Most Election Issues
    Greatest Republican advantages on terrorism, immigration, federal spending
    by Jeffrey M. Jones

    PRINCETON, NJ — A new USA Today/Gallup poll finds Americans saying the Republicans in Congress would do a better job than the Democrats in Congress of handling seven of nine key election issues. The parties are essentially tied on healthcare, with the environment being the lone Democratic strength.
     
    And Further…
     
    A similar USA Today/Gallup poll conducted in October 2006, just prior to Democrats’ major gains in that fall’s elections, highlights the potential implications of these findings. That poll, which includes several issues measured in the current survey, found the Democrats leading on all eight issues tested at that time, including some usual Republican strengths like terrorism and moral values.
     
    Yeah, I guess that all that “buyers remorse” was just passed along to the congressional Democrats, eh?   Glad you are certain Gallup is a trustworthy indicator of the mood of the people, Tano…

  16. sam says:

    @Juneau

    The biggest thing on the plate right now is the size of government and the unimaginable amount of debt placed upon the economy and our future by the Obama administration. The new blood conservatives (notice I didn’t say Republicans) are determined to fight that. They owe no allegiance to the Republican establishment and I, among millions, hope that this means they will change Washington instead of Washington changing them.
     

    I fear your hopes will be in vain. I think the Repubs might win the House, but the Senate, ehhhh, dunno about that. But what you have to take into account is that these new House members will be the backest of back benchers, having very little real power. So, the folks to look to for the ushering in of the New Jerusalem of Smaller Government, Reduced Deficits, and Lowered Taxes are the committee chair people, especially the chair of Ways and Means. That would be Dave Camp of Michigan if the Repubs take the House. Now if you go to Camp’s website,  http://camp.house.gov/, you will find this article,  ANALYSIS: 1 in 5 Seniors Could be Forced Out of Their Medicare Prescription Drug Plan lamenting cuts in Medicare…, followed by this article, How the Democrats’ Year-end Tax Hike Will Affect Small Businesses: DEMOCRATS’ TICKING TAX BOMB, PART V.  So, taking those two together,  we would seem to have a Ways and Means chairman loathe to cut entitlements and gung ho for fighting tax increases. Do you really think that circle can be squared?
     

  17. […] James Joyner noted Charlie Cook’s recent, and surprising revision to his predictions for the November […]

  18. Wayne says:

    Tom P
    I hope you realize when ZR III says stop spending he meant stop spending worst than drunken sailors and not cease all spending.  
    Getting the Government spending under control and reducing the size of government  and its intrusion into our lives are not ideas? Please.   Yes they are general ideas but ideas none the less but there have been a good deal more specific ones stated as well.
     
    The argument of they haven’t done it yet doesn’t fly either. The New Orleans Saints winning the Super was an idea long before it ever happened.
     
    I will grant you that people with power will almost always try to get more power which the Federal government has done. They also have the attitude that it is their job to pass laws so to do their job they must pass even more laws. That is not their job. Their job is to govern the people and protect the people’s freedom.  The issue then becomes how we change the attitude of Washington to be less power hungry and the like. It won’t be easy but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try.  If we don’t succeed then the outcome will be a revolution some day. I just as well avoid that or at least postpone it as long as possible.

  19. This Guy says:

    “There are likely a ton more public polls now than there were 16 years ago, making the comparison unfair. “

     
    Add to that the fact that the Congressional district lines would have been very different in 1994 compared to today or 2006 and the comparison would be dubious even if there were the wealth of polls out there to look at.

    But, you don’t need a bunch of polls, you need 1 or 2 that are stalwarts in the industry. Look at the results on something like NBC-WSJ and you’ll see that on a national level, which is where this election is being fought, the mood of the electorate is as geared up or MORE geared up now than at the same time 1994, and in some cases its more so now than it was in LATE OCTOBER 1994.