2010 Bigger Than 1994?

1994-deep-waterPatrick Ruffini goes all in with this one:

I might be setting myself for a healthy serving of crow on November 3rd, but I get a distinct feeling that the GOP may be headed toward to a seat gain in the House of epic proportions — somewhere over 50 seats and well above the historical high point for recent wave elections (the 50-55 seats we experienced in elections like 1946 and 1994).

All in all, I don’t think a 70 seat gain is out of the question.

Now, I find this extremely unlikely.  The 1994 Republican Revolution — which, in all candor, I did not anticipate — took a perfect storm:  An extremely unpopular and scandal-ridden Democratic president, a bad economy, a series of major scandals rocking the incumbent Congressional party, the charismatic leadership of Newt Gingrich, a change in campaign finance laws that made retiring extremely lucrative for incumbents, and so forth.   Aside from the bad economy, we really don’t have any of this going on right now.

That said, Patrick adduces some compelling arguments:

The-politics-is-just-getting-crazier thesis. Crist-Rubio. Scott Brown. NY-23. How many situations have we been faced in the last 12 months where the side once given less than 10 percent odds has surged to become the favorite, if not the winner? That’s a function of political volatility and voter anger, but it’s also a reflection of the fact that the stakes are higher.

Indeed, there are reports of seemingly safe incumbents, like Utah’s Bob Bennett, being in trouble in the primaries.

A new ABC News-WaPo poll shows anti-incumbent sentiment to be off the charts:  “Nearly six in 10 said they’ll instead look for someone new come the fall elections.”  That’s shocking.  Hating Congress while loving your own Congressman is is a longstanding American tradition.  People are indeed off-the-wall upset with the status quo.

There is a tendency to underestimate waves. This wave has been on the horizon for a while, but those who were around in 1994 will remember how it took everyone by surprise, with even a more mild 40-seat gain needed to take control regarded as a remote possibility in October.

[…]

This was also true to an extent with the Democrats in 2006. The Democrats’ 30-seat gain was the high end of mainstream projections, but things really turned south for Republicans in late September with the Mark Foley scandal. In September, Republicans were seen as an even bet to keep the House on Intrade, and the bar the Democrats needed to clear then was a piddling 15 seats.

There’s no question about this.  Even in 2008, where everyone sane expected Obama to win, people — again, myself included — were surprised by the magnitude of his win.  He took states that he simply shouldn’t have by riding a wave of enthusiasm.

We are coming off two successive, ahistorical Democratic wave elections. Democrats have managed to swing something like 52 House seats in the last two elections. They are at an historic high water mark, as President Obama recently acknowledged.

The fact that Democrats were able to pad their majority in 2008 would not have happened but for the fact that Obama changed the electorate. As I noted right after the election, Republicans in Congress were killed by the fact that young people voted straight ticket — for Obama and then for Democrats in Congress.

I fully agree with this.  Even in a “normal” year, we’d expect a lot of Republican gains.  First, it’s an off-year election and the president’s party almost always loses seats.  Second, there are a bunch of Democrats holding seats that were specifically drawn to elect Republicans.

The main thing holding me back from jumping on Patrick’s bandwagon here is that we don’t have a Newt Gingrich this year.  Further, there’s no pro-Republican wave to ride.  So, essentially, he’s counting on the GOP to pick up 70 seats — a full 16 percent of all the seats and 28 percent of the seats currently held by Democrats — on the virtue of sheer anger at the status quo.

Again, I’ll emphasize that I didn’t predict the magnitude of 1994 or 2006, either.  I tend to be overly conservative in my estimates of outcomes, taking the steady state as the default position absent compelling polling data to the contrary.    And even I think the Republicans have an outside chance — but just an outside chance — of taking back both the House and Senate.   But 70 seats?  With this gang leading the charge?  I’ll believe it when I see it.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2010, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor 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. just me says:

    I am still not convinced the GOP will win enough seats to take over either house of congress, I am just convinced the GOP will take seats.

    Two things that I see happening right now are anger in general over the direction of government, and I see a rising number of people who aren’t committed to either party and won’t just hand them a vote out of loyalty. I think we are moving from the days of yellow dogs and into days when a failure to act means the voter votes elsewhere.

    I think both may bode well for the GOP in October, but I think both parties are going to head into an era where they will have a shrinking base and a large body of swing voters who are going to want the parties to act not just tickle their ears.

  2. TangoMan says:

    So, essentially, he’s counting on the GOP to pick up 70 seats — a full 16 percent of all the seats and 28 percent of the seats currently held by Democrats — on the virtue of sheer anger at the status quo.

    Look north to our milquetoast cousins. If the bland and moderate Canadians can turf out a ruling party and leave them like a dead man walking, then “sheer anger at the status quo” as a motivating factor shouldn’t be a force that is underestimated. Canada’s tale:

    The Canadian federal election of 1993 (officially, the 35th general election) was held on October 25 of that year to elect members to the Canadian House of Commons of the 35th Parliament of Canada. Fourteen parties competed for the 295 seats in the House at that time. It was one of the most eventful elections in Canada’s history, with more than half of the electorate switching parties from the 1988 election.

    . . . and the Progressive Conservatives suffered the most lopsided defeat for a governing party at the federal level, losing more than half their vote from 1988 and all but two of their 151 seats. Though they recovered slightly in the 1997 election, the Progressive Conservatives lost seats in 2000 and would never be a major force in Canadian politics again. In 2003, the Progressive Conservative Party disappeared entirely when it merged with the larger Canadian Alliance party to create the new Conservative Party of Canada.

    What was the lay of the political land at that time? Let’s take a look:

    The nation was mired in the Early 1990s recession, and unemployment was especially high. The federal deficit was also extremely high, and both the Reform and Progressive Conservatives focused on cutting it as the path to economic health. Reform proposed deep cuts to federal programs in order to do this, while the Progressive Conservatives were less specific. The Liberals also promised cuts, focusing on the unpopular and expensive plan to buy new military helicopters to replace the aging Sea Kings. They also promised new programs such as a limited public works programme and a national child care program. The Reform Party called for a “Zero in Three” plan that would reduce the deficit to zero in three years. The Liberals had a far more modest plan to reduce the deficit to 3% of GDP by the end of their first term. All opposition parties pledged to repeal the Goods and Services Tax.

    Of course, any effort to compare events across time and border and culture is wrought with uncertainty, but it would seem to me that while Canada’s Conservatives brought in their GST tax with their majority on a, IIRC, party line vote and this resulted in massive losses of popular support, their restructuring of Canadian society by imposing a VAT tax doesn’t compare in scale nor scope to the the unpopular ObamaCare being rammed down the throats of Americans and the fiscal consequences that result are far more serious than what set off the Canadian voter revolt. Adding more wood to the Obama bonfire is the emerging talk of implementing a VAT tax here in order to pay for ObamaCare.

    They had their own version of a TEA Party revolt, a vote on the GST and they turfed out of office the party that taxed them “unfairly.” I see a lot of similarities in mood, economic indicators, and government policy which leads me to believe that there may actually be some steel in the spine of “sheer anger at the status quo.”

  3. yetanotherjohn says:

    I agree that it is early, that several factors (dynamic leader, oodles of scandal, etc) are missing and that the odds of something less than 70 seat switch are higher than 70+.

    But the one thing that makes me think he may have a point is the polling. Polling numbers can certainly change, but if you believe the polling numbers this is looking like a wave election that would make 1994 a floor, not a ceiling on the gain.

    Of course we have 6+ months to go, so it could get worse for the democrats and it could get better.

    The one thing I am not seeing at this point is the GOP getting the 10 seats to move the senate. Yes there is a path, but talk about threading the needle.

    Honestly, the better position for the GOP is to fall short of winning the house and senate. Let the anger build (assuming the dems don’t change course) and take it all (from not as far behind) in 2012. I think the better position for the country is to win at least the house and stop the government expansion.

  4. David says:

    When I saw the picture I thought there was going to be some reference to Barofsky and criminal charges against the NY Fed.

    That kind of scandal would be the clincher, or say Obama calling some Tea Party supporter a Bigot.

  5. just me says:

    Honestly, the better position for the GOP is to fall short of winning the house and senate. Let the anger build (assuming the dems don’t change course) and take it all (from not as far behind) in 2012. I think the better position for the country is to win at least the house and stop the government expansion.

    I don’t think it is worth it for the GOP to fall just short in both houses. I think democrats in control of the White House and both congressional houses hasn’t been a good thing.

    I do think what is happening is more the loss of party loyalty. I think the future is going to be quicker waves with a lot more people willing to change votes to ditch one party over the other. I don’t think the GOP picks up seats in the fall because there is a sudden love for the GOP, but because there is anger at the democrats. I think the mistake of the democrats over the last election cycle was to assume their win was a new found love of democrats with loyal voters until death.

    And the GOP needs to be wary of the fact that if they do win one or both houses of congress that there is no such thing as a permanent majority, and voters can be very fickle if they fail to act. And along comes another wave to sweep them once again out of the majority.

  6. Drew says:

    You all are missing something. This can’t happen today. Today the magazine cover would say: “Deep Water. How the magnificent President and his magnificent men have beaten back the racist pigs of the Republican Party in their despicable attempts to discredit him. Open the cover to read how the satan-like Republicans are trying to derail our wonderful President from delivering Nirvana to us all.”

  7. An Interested Party says:

    Let the anger build (assuming the dems don’t change course) and take it all (from not as far behind) in 2012.

    And who, pray tell, would be the person who could defeat the president in 2012 to help take it all?

  8. Steve Plunk says:

    Rather than political scandal we have a scandal of overreach by the Democrats. Health care reform is looking more like a bill of goods every day. Cost savings are no longer there and the word out now is rationing.

    Jobs. Unemployment is expected to stay high and the Dems in congress are not addressing it in a meaningful manner. More regulation will not produce jobs and the voters will be reminded of this.

    Foreign policy voters see little difference between Obama and Bush on Guantanamo and the like while seeing our status around the world move downward instead of upward like most predicted.

    Immigration issues will build over the summer and I expect more violence from those protesters. While Tea Party members stay civil and neighborly pro immigration folks will make the Left look bad.

    That brings up the Tea Party. They have brought debt and deficits to the forefront of politics like never before. It will be an issue and the bottom line will always be Dems are for bigger government. That will kill them.

  9. Alex Knapp says:

    Steve,

    Jobs. Unemployment is expected to stay high and the Dems in congress are not addressing it in a meaningful manner. More regulation will not produce jobs and the voters will be reminded of this.

    This is definitely going to hurt the Democrats but not as you might think. Polls consistently show that voters blame the GOP for the bad economy, and the *two* holds that the GOP have put on extending unemployment benefits are going to hurt them.

    Foreign policy voters see little difference between Obama and Bush on Guantanamo and the like while seeing our status around the world move downward instead of upward like most predicted.

    I don’t know anyone who seriously looks at foreign policy who thinks this.

    Immigration issues will build over the summer and I expect more violence from those protesters. While Tea Party members stay civil and neighborly pro immigration folks will make the Left look bad.

    When anti-illegal immigration becomes a national issue, the anti-immigration side almost always loses. Consider that John McCain, the most pro-immigration GOP candidate, won the nomination despite the fact that several candidates tried to make it a major issue. Anti-immigrant sentiment among Republicans tend to make Latinos, even citizens, start leaning Democrat and you can already see this in polls in Arizona.

    That brings up the Tea Party. They have brought debt and deficits to the forefront of politics like never before. It will be an issue and the bottom line will always be Dems are for bigger government. That will kill them.

    Currently 60% of registered voters blame Republicans for the deficit, not Democrats. So I beg to differ here.

  10. TangoMan says:

    I don’t know anyone who seriously looks at foreign policy who thinks this.

    Whatever you say, Ms. Kael.

    When anti-illegal immigration becomes a national issue, the anti-immigration side almost always loses.

    Tell us, Ms. Kael, how’s that Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2006 working out for you guys over there in Bizarro Universe?

  11. Alex Knapp says:

    Whatever you say, Ms. Kael.

    Heh. Allow me to rephrase. I don’t know anyone who would consider voting Democrat and seriously looks at foreign policy who thinks this.

    Tell us, Ms. Kael, how’s that Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2006 working out for you guys over there in Bizarro Universe?

    In the world of polling and real-world results in national level elections, nobody thinks about it as a negative voting issue outside of people who would never vote for Democrats and rarely vote for winning candidates in Republican primaries.

  12. just me says:

    Currently 60% of registered voters blame Republicans for the deficit, not Democrats. So I beg to differ here.

    At some point that magic pony is going to fly away, and the democrats will be left holding the blame and running against Bush in 2010 is going to be a long shot, it will be impossible come 2012.

  13. TangoMan says:

    In the world of polling and real-world results in national level elections, nobody thinks about it as a negative voting issue outside of people who would never vote for Democrats and rarely vote for winning candidates in Republican primaries.

    Let’s put all of this policy inference aside and urge the Democrats to run on the platform of Amnesty for Illegal Aliens. This way we can have an actual test of the hypothesis that “the anti-immigration side almost always loses” rather than making inferences from convoluted data and causal models.

    I’ll urge conservatives to run against Amnesty, you urge liberals to run in favor, and may the better position win the day.

  14. An Interested Party says:

    Immigration issues will build over the summer and I expect more violence from those protesters. While Tea Party members stay civil and neighborly pro immigration folks will make the Left look bad.

    Would you care to offer any evidence to back up this expectation, apart from your own ideological perspective?

    That brings up the Tea Party. They have brought debt and deficits to the forefront of politics like never before. It will be an issue and the bottom line will always be Dems are for bigger government. That will kill them.

    Oh yes, absolutely, because when the Republicans had control of the government, they just did so much to bring down the debt and control deficits as well as mercilessly cutting down bigger government…

  15. Zelsdorf Ragshaft III says:

    Hey interested, what was the national debt when GWB left office and what does it stand at now. What year did Bush run a trillion dollar deficit? You may be stupid enough to believe the leftist bs, the rest of America cannot wait for November. Want to make a slight wager? Like your years earnings?

  16. An Interested Party says:

    Want to make a slight wager? Like your years earnings?

    Against what? Your SSI checks?

  17. Steve Plunk says:

    AIP, There’s seldom evidence for a prediction of things to come but I would offer my observation that violence occurred in the first days after Arizona passed their illegal immigration law. May 1st will tell us plenty about the risk of violence. I’m not hoping for violence as a political tool but just saying what I expect.

    As ZR III points out the deficits have jumped immensely under this congress and president. Sure Bush had deficits but not anywhere near this level. The magnitude is the problem and the direction is a problem. Combine the two and you can see why it will be a big issue this fall. I expect even in the state level races spending and debt will be raised.