What to Make of the 2014 Wave Election

What happened Tuesday? And what does it tell us about 2016?

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Republicans swept yesterday’s elections in a wave even beyond that forecast by the polls. In Doug Mataconis’ wrapup this morning, he termed it “a sharp and stunning rebuke of President Obama and the Democratic Party akin to the results seen in elections such as those in 1994, 2006, and 2010.” Early commenters pushed back on this notion, blaming the results on some combination of mediocre Democratic candidates and “things breaking slightly in the Republicans’ favor for a bunch of races.” These are not mutually exclusive options. Indeed, it was quite likely all of the above.

First off, as Nate Silver concedes, “the average Senate poll conducted in the final three weeks of this year’s campaign overestimated the Democrat’s performance by 4 percentage points.” That’s not his fault of course—he analyzes poll results; he doesn’t conduct the polls. Regardless, Silver rightly notes that the bias is not systemic: “Beyond the shadow of a doubt, the polling was biased against Democrats in 1998, 2006 and 2012. However, just as certainly, it was biased against Republicans in 1994, 2002 and now 2014.”

My sense is that it’s just the age-old problem in close races, especially in midterm elections: we’re really good at assessing public preference but really lousy at predicting turnout. If the early exit poll results are correct, Democrats—who almost always underperform in midterms, anyway—were hampered this year by poor turnout by young voters and Hispanics, who are historically hard to turn out and who are especially disillusioned with President Obama’s performance in office.

Second, Republican pollster Bill McInturff (a family friend and long-time boss of my late wife) has put together some great charts comparing surveys over the last several midterm elections. The public mood was even more toxic than in previous wave elections. In an email summary (“Why the Elephants are Dancing:  Understanding the November 2014 Election“) he highlights some of the results:

  1. On Election Day, roughly two-thirds (65%) of voters said the country is headed off on the wrong track.
  2. The weekend before the election 64% of voters said they were dissatisfied with the state of the U.S. economy.
  3. In the national exit polls, President Obama’s job approval was 44% on Election Day, exactly matching his job approval on Election Day in 2010.
  4. By a roughly two-to-one margin, people say they voted as a signal to oppose rather than to support President Obama (17% support/32% oppose).
  5. Republicans enjoyed a six point edge on the generic vote for Congress (52% saying they voted for the Republican candidate for Congress compared to 46% saying they voted for the Democratic candidate for Congress).
  6. In the national exit polls, Republicans carried White men by an even wider margin in 2014 than in 2010 (64% saying they voted for the Republican candidate/33% saying they voted for the Democratic candidate this cycle compared to 62%/34% in 2010).
  7. While not quite as high as in 2010, Republicans captured White women by a comfortable double-digit margin this cycle (56% saying they voted for the Republican candidate/43% saying they voted for the Democratic candidate in 2014 compared to 58%/39% in 2010 according to national exit polls).
    • 65% say the country is headed off on the wrong track.
    • A majority disapprove of the president’s job (37% approve/59% disapprove).
    • A double-digit majority voted Republican for Congress (53% Republican candidate/37% Democratic candidate).
    • Republican positive fortunes were spurred as well by high dissatisfaction among Independents and double-digit support on the generic Congressional vote.   Among Independents on our Election Day survey:

     

  8. Confirming recent off-year trends, the majority of voters (60%) say they made up their mind on which Congressional candidate to vote for in September or earlier.  Republicans carried these early deciders by a wide margin (57% Republican candidate/41% Democratic candidate) , while losing the 24% of voters who made up their mind in October (44% Republican candidate/53% Democratic candidate) and the 15% who made up their mind on the few days before the election or Election Day (42% Republican candidate/51% Democratic candidate).
  9. Early voting continues to increase with the highest number of people in a mid-term (34%) saying they voted before the election.  Republicans broke even with early voters (50% Republican candidate/50% Democratic candidate) and carried Election Day voters by eight points (52% Republican candidate/44% Democratic candidate).

It’s hard to read that as a pro-Republican mandate.

The electorate has been stuck for years in a state of exasperation. Whereas the 1994 Republican wave was a rare phenomenon, we’ve now had three “wave” midterms in a row. All of them were rebukes of the party of the sitting president. And, sadly, unlike 1994, that’s all they were. That is, there was no Contract With America or similar Republican counteragenda on the offer. “Bush is horrible” and “Obama is horrible” have been the singular, successful message. That’s especially odd in that both presidents won second terms.

It’s also inevitable that the party on the losing side of a wave election will point to weaknesses in their own candidate pool, often with some justification. Several Republican incumbents who won seemed vulnerable, after all, and it’s easy for Democrats to believe that more appealing candidates would have knocked them off. But, of course, there’s a reason these people were incumbents in the first place—they’re probably both pretty good politicians and live in states inclined to vote for their party. Additionally, it’s really hard to recruit top flight candidates to go against entrenched incumbents, especially when it’s obvious months out that the tide is against your party.

Naturally, Republicans will over-read the results of their overwhelming victory last night, seeing a mandate for their platform. That’s a mistake. Just as the Tea Party wave of 2010 didn’t stop Obama from cruising to easy re-election two years later, there’s no reason to think that the 2014 Republican wave means the GOP will win back the White House in 2016.

Aside from the fact that this was an anti-Obama election rather than a pro-Republican one, the dynamics two years from now will be quite different even irrespective to whatever changes happen between now and then on the economic and foreign policy fronts.

  • First, turnout will be much higher; that’s always the case in presidential year elections and almost always benefits Democrats.
  • Second, there will be less low-hanging fruit in two years. One of the reasons for these back-and-forth wave elections is that waves swing blue states to red and vice versa. Yesterday was something of a return to the natural order, tossing out Red State Democrats who came to power in the Obama landslide of 2008.
  • Third, while Obama will inevitably be a central figure in the 2016 campaign, we’ll have two presidential nominees at the top of the ticket. It’ll ultimately be about them.
  • Fourth, the Senate races will involve Class 3 rather than Class 2; it’s inherently more Democratic (and democratic).

 

Yesterday was a great day for the GOP but party leadership needs to understand that their brand still needs a lot of work. Glen Bolger and Neil Newhouse (again, family friends and partners in the firm that employed my late wife) provided a “GOP reality check” on the eve of the elections:

Republicans can win in red states. Tuesday should bear that out pretty well. But the challenge for the GOP long-term is winning in blue or purple states. Our success in states such as Iowa, Colorado and New Hampshire on Tuesday may indicate that we’re getting back on track. That’s pretty important, because in 2016 we face the “Big Blue Wall” — the 18 states (plus Washington, D.C.) that have gone for the Democratic presidential candidate six elections in a row. They add up to 242 electoral votes, leaving the Democrats needing just 28 of the 183 electoral votes in the 18 toss-up states. Republicans were not able to put any Senate races in those Blue Wall states in play. Thus the GOP “strategy” is essentially to be perfect in purple states — not a game plan with a high probability of success.

[…]

Our focus groups and open-ended questions in polls find that voters unhappy with the GOP think the party is living in the past. The Democrats have also had success in hammering the Republican Party as favoring the wealthy at the expense of the middle class. That is a battle we will have to fight again in 2016.

While the Democrats aren’t in terrific shape on image, either (37 percent positive, 43 percent negative in the NBC poll), the gap between the two parties has widened since 2012. The Republicans are losing ground.

Their prescription for fixing the problem is twofold:

In the next session, new Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker John Boehner should seek to send Obama a blend of bills — some he can sign and others he can veto to keep his coalition happy. For those upset at the prospect of Republicans passing intentional veto bait for political gain, we’re sorry to disillusion you, but it’s happened before. In 2008, for example, the Democratic Congress passed an Intelligence Authorization Act that put tight strictures on the CIA and other intelligence agencies. Bush vetoed it because it took away too many interrogation tactics, a move the Democrats deployed as a campaign issue in 2008.

Being able to campaign in 2016 with a combination of “Here’s how we moved the ball forward” and “Here are the great bills Obama vetoed” will improve Republicans’ standing. That strategy will not necessarily help GOP legislators withstand the more difficult election terrain resulting from a larger, younger and more diverse electorate, but it will help the Republican presidential nominee point to policies that he or she would shepherd into law.

Republican governors have incubated new policy ideas that have transformed their states into business-friendly environments that will create jobs. More broadly, they have cut taxes and debt, improved the quality of education by providing more choices, and streamlined the delivery of state services.

We have got to be able to point to how those policies and ideas help America’s middle class. If we can undercut the Democrats’ message that the GOP is only for the rich, there won’t be much left for them to offer in 2016.

There’s some reason to be hopeful that Republicans understand that they actually have to offer an alternative to win back the White House and compete again as a majority party.

Most of yesterday’s winners were from the more traditional wing of the party rather than the more extreme Tea Party cohort. They’re much more likely to appeal to a mass electorate and to help clean up the tarnished Republican brand.There’s reason to think that’ll continue. Not only did the Tea Party take a pretty substantial hit when several of their candidates lost in 2010, denying the GOP a really good chance to take back the Senate, but they lost most of their attempts to knock off Establishment Republicans in this year’s primaries.

Additionally, presumptive Senate Majority Leader To Be Mitch McConnell is sending every signal that he intends to govern as a mainstream Republican. In an interview with TIME Monday afternoon, he says he plans to actually get some legislation passed rather than spending two years trying to embarrass President Obama.

I think we need to do everything we can to get America back to work. And exactly which bill comes up first will be determined after discussing that with my colleagues and with the Speaker. Some examples of things that we’re very likely to be voting on: approving the Keystone XL pipeline, repealing the medical device tax, trying to restore the 40-hour work week, trying to get rid of the individual mandate. These are the kinds of things that I believe there is a bipartisan majority in the Senate to approve.

Also, we’re going to want to see what kind of things we might be able to agree on with the President. After all, he’s going to be there for two more years. Maybe there are things that we can agree on. I’ll give you a couple of examples where there may be areas of agreement: comprehensive tax reform and trade agreements. Most of my members think that America’s a winner in international trade. The president hasn’t sent us a single trade bill in six years. I hope he’ll do that.

[…]

Biden and I did the December 2010 extension of the Bush tax cuts; the August 2011 budget control act, which actually led to a reduction in government spending for two years in a row for the first time since the Korean War; and the Dec. 31 fiscal cliff deal 2012, which made 99% of the Bush tax cuts permanent and saved virtually every family farm and small business in my state from being sold by altering the Death Tax exemption. So I’m not fundamentally opposed to negotiating with the President and his team and, in fact, I’ve been the one who’s done that in the past. So, sure, he’s going to be there for two more years, so we’re going to sit down and talk to him and see what we might be able to agree on.

[…]

There is no possibility of a government shutdown. Remember me? I’m the guy that gets us out of government shutdowns.

[…]

The Senate needs a lot of institutional repair. We need to get back to normal, and normal means that senators can offer amendments and actually get votes and the committees actually work. And we actually work occasionally or Fridays. There are a number of things that we need to do to become more productive. Some of it has to do with rebuilding relationships across the aisle and some of it has to do with just simply working harder.

To be sure, the Senate is an incredibly unwieldy organization and McConnell will not only have to rein in the more firebrand members of his coalition—some of whom have near-term presidential ambitions—but Harry Reid is no slouch at obstructionism in his own right. But there’s nonetheless a really strong chance that the Republican leadership understands that the public is sick and tired of the status quo in Washington.

FILED UNDER: *FEATURED, Campaign 2014, Public Opinion Polls, US Politics
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. george says:

    “Bush is horrible” and “Obama is horrible” have been the singular, successful message. That’s especially odd in that both presidents won second terms.

    As far as I recall, Reagan and Eisenhower both lost the senate in their 2nd midterm election as well (as did Clinton, tho he’d already lost it in the first anyway), and I think FDR as well.

    So I’m not sure that its especially odd – it seems to the normal outcome for a 2-term president (only Truman seems to have beat it). And it makes sense, if you consider that for most people the President’s party is the one in power, and is going to take the heat unless everything is perfect (ie people get tired of whoever is in power, and vote for a change).

    This is an extremely common occurrence in Parliamentary gov’ts, (twice re-elected and then the opposition gets in), and for the same reason – people want a change, hoping things will improve.

  2. MBunge says:

    One of the things to learn from the election is that a “learned helplessness” permeates our entire political culture.

    The latest example is that Harry Reid is apparently going to be unopposed for Senate Minority Leader. He’s a HORRIFICALLY bad public spokesperson, is frequently compromised politically by hailing from a red state, was one of the leaders during the last two ass-kickings Dems have had in the mid-terms and, unless I missed something, has been fully on board almost all of the bad decisions and mistakes made by the Democrats over the last 6 years. At least Nancy Pelosi has been repeatedly on record as advocating for something different.

    But no one is even going to contest Reid for minority leader because, according to what I read, he’s good at raising money. It’s like campaign cash is a tangible metric these people are clinging to when they have absolutely no idea what they’re doing wrong and how to fix it.

    And speaking of “learned helplessness”, Mitch McConnell was up to his freakin’ neck in every awful thing the GOP did or didn’t do the last 6 years, yet now offers himself up as a symbol of bipartisanship and the Beltway is just lapping it up.

    Mike

  3. C. Clavin says:

    Naturally, Republicans will over-read the results of their overwhelming victory last night, seeing a mandate for their platform.

    Their only platform is to hate Obama…so yes…apparently they have that mandate.
    Things they really are for or against; e.g. for personhood, against pot…went against them.
    We are on a demographic sine wave…last night was the perfect storm for Republicans…it will change next time around.
    http://www.vox.com/2014/11/5/7157187/2016-election
    How do you claim a mandate for something that is cyclical????

  4. cd6 says:

    I’ll tell you what it means. It means Obummer will get exposed as an America hater after he vetoes the “Make Ebola Illegal Act of 2015.” Checkmate Demoncrats! #benghazi

  5. Tillman says:

    Well let’s see how McConnell’s tenure as Majority Leader goes. I’m sure he’d love to pass legislation! I’m sure that’s exactly what Reid thought too!

    Too bad he spent the last four years redefining 60 votes as “the threshold to pass legislation,” but I suppose he could always change the Senate rules.

  6. Scott says:

    Personally, I think the Democrats got shellacked because they campaign from a defensive crouch. I may not vote for Republicans very often anymore but they do stand up and defend their beliefs not matter how unpopular. I can respect that and I think a lot of other people grudgingly do also. Grimes, Pryor, etc pretending not to support the President was, and is, a losing position and they deserved to lose. I also suppresses their own voters.

  7. Pinky says:

    I’m not really blown away by this talk that the 2016 Senate cycle will doom Republicans. Looking at the map neutrally, right now, it looks like a +2 pickup for Democrats. Of course it won’t be what it looks like from two years away; the national level politics, along with the individual candidates, the state of the economy, foreign policy, et cetera, will all play a role. If you’re assuming that Hillary Clinton wins 320 electoral votes, well, that’s an assumption. The point is that there’s no reason to assume we know how 2016 will play out in the Senate. We’re not even completely sure how 2014 played out yet.

  8. reid says:

    @Scott: The Republicans also peddle lies and smears regarding the economy, Obamacare, guns, ISIS, you name it. This “wave” is the result of years of disinformation and hate-mongering. The right gets easily whipped up into a rage and motivated to vote, the middle gets swayed enough, and the left gets disenchanted and stays home. Democrats seem to fight the GOP’s game rather than owning and explaining their successes, which is very frustrating. There is so little honesty and integrity in our system anymore.

  9. John D'Geek says:

    @george: Not so sure about Eisenhower (mostly ‘cuz I’m too lazy to look it up), but Reagan had a Democratic Senate the entire time.

  10. stonetools says:

    Matthew Yglesias nails it, IMO:The election is a result of MConnell’s cynical political genius:

    In the winter of 2008-2009, the leaders of the Obama transition effort had a theory as to how things would go and mainstream Washington agreed with them.

    The theory went like this. With large majorities in the House and Senate, it was obvious that lots of Democratic bills would pass. But the White House would be generous and make concessions to Republicans who were willing to leap on the bandwagon. Consequently, incumbent Republicans from states Obama won (Maine, New Hampshire, Ohio, North Carolina, Indiana, Nevada) would be eager to cut deals in which they backed Obama bills in exchange for key concessions. With that process under way, many Republicans who weren’t even that vulnerable would be eager to cut deals as well, in search of a piece of the action. As a result, bills would pass the Senate with large 70- to 75-vote majorities, and Obama would be seen as the game-changing president who healed American politics and got things done.

    McConnell’s counter plan was to prevent those deals. As McConnell told Josh Green, the key to eroding Obama’s popularity was denying him the sheen of bipartisanship, and that meant keep Republicans united in opposition…

    To prevent Obama from becoming the hero who fixed Washington, McConnell decided to break it. And it worked. Six years into the affair, we now take it for granted that nothing will pass on a bipartisan basis, no appointment will go through smoothly, and everything the administration tries to get done will take the form of a controversial use of executive power.

    It’s been ugly. But in most voters’ mind, the ugliness has attached to Obama and, by extension, Democrats. It was a very counterintuitive strategy, but it was well-grounded in the best political science available. And it worked.

    Yup, yup, and yup. MConnell in particular saw that the key was to prevent Obama from reviving the economy with adequate fiscal stimulus. A bad economy is blamed on the President, not Congress.

    The idealistic young reformer came to Washington, and got bested by the wily political insider. Oldest story in politics.

  11. stonetools says:

    @Tillman:

    I’m betting Harry Reid is planning a terrible vengeance right now..

  12. Scott says:

    Democrats seem to fight the GOP’s game rather than owning and explaining their successes, which is very frustrating.

    Which is kind of my point. Democrats didn’t counter any of the Republican points. They conceded them. And went on an apology tour. Which left them with nothing.

  13. C. Clavin says:

    @stonetools:
    Exactly…he had a plan…he told us what it was…and then he did it.
    It worked.
    In an election already tilted towards Republicans…the dupes delivered.

  14. PD Shaw says:

    @MBunge: I think a chunk of the blame being made directly or indirectly at Obama last night should have been directed to Harry Reid. Perhaps for different reasons than you’ve given. I think this statement from Charlie Cook is particularly damning:

    Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, in shielding these and other senators from having to cast tough votes, also prevented them from having the chance to break with President Obama on high-profile issues. As a result, each racked up what have been perceived as very high Obama support levels that were often used mercilessly in negative ads against them.

    The parties have to operate as national organizations. That means finding a way to create space for your marginal seats.

  15. James Pearce says:

    Additionally, presumptive Senate Majority Leader To Be Mitch McConnell is sending every signal that he intends to govern as a mainstream Republican.

    This is the same approach that put Corey Gardener over the top. I’m not sure I trust either Senator to actually govern as mainstream Republicans, but I’d welcome it if they did.

  16. James Joyner says:

    @John D’Geek:

    but Reagan had a Democratic Senate the entire time.

    No, he had a Republican Senate from 1981 to 1987. He had a Democratic House the whole time; indeed, it had been Democratic for decades until the 1994 elections.

  17. bandit says:

    The Dems and Obama got beat like a redheaded stepchild abd deservedly so.

  18. reid says:

    @Scott: Yes, we’re in agreement; I didn’t mean to pick on you, sorry. Your comment about “Republican beliefs” just got me thinking about how much their victory can be attributed to mud-slinging and dishonesty.

  19. george says:

    @John D’Geek:

    Not so sure about Eisenhower (mostly ‘cuz I’m too lazy to look it up), but Reagan had a Democratic Senate the entire time.

    Not according to Wikipedia – the Republicans had 53-47 majority after 1984, the Democrats, had 55-45 after the 1986 election. Basically the Democrats picked up 8 seats in Reagan’s 2nd term midterm election.

    One interesting side point – I was listening to a CBC interview up in Canada this morning, with one representative of both the Democrats and the Republicans speaking. Both were very reasonable and low key about the election, much more so than the commentary going on in the US itself. When not trying to influence voters, both parties seem to be quite willing to be reasonable; which makes me wonder how much of the hostility/grand claims of mandate (won and lost) is just playing to the base.

  20. PD Shaw says:

    @Pinky: I agree, the 2016 map is relatively better for Democrats, but its not comparable to the 2014 map for Republicans. Here are blue states (voted for Obama) with a Republican Senator, and the state’s Cook Partisan Voting Index:

    Illinois +8D
    Wisconsin +2D
    Iowa +1D
    New Hampshire +1D
    Pennsylvania +1D
    Ohio +1R
    Florida +2R

    That’s one blue state and several purple states. In 2014, there were five red states with double-digit scores on the partisan index:

    Arkansas +14R
    West Virginia +13R
    Alaska +12R
    Louisiana +12R
    South Dakota +10R

    Might also add Montana (+7R) as a red state.

  21. Pinky says:

    @PD Shaw: As I’ve said, I don’t put much stock in redness or blueness, particularly with regard to past presidential results as indicators of current senatorial races. There were a few crazy-bad scenarios for the Democrats this time around. But when they’re losing governors’ races in places like Maryland and Wisconsin, color-predictions just don’t cut it. Worse, they become a Just So story. ‘Colorado is Blue now, because they voted for Obama twice.’ ‘But why did they just vote out Udall and give the governor a run for his money?’ ‘Because they’re purple.’ ‘Why are they purple?’ ‘Because they vote for Republicans and Democrats.’ I mean, look at the states on the index you gave. 4-5 of them are less D today than they were yesterday.

  22. stonetools says:

    @C. Clavin: @C. Clavin:

    Yeah, well, Obama never did figure out how to counter the obstruction. THe idealistic young reformer had a great peace plan.

    1 Get elected.
    2. Lead the parties in reasonable bipartisan compromise.
    3. Success!

    When McConnell didn’t cooperate, he had no counter move except to complain to the media that the Republicans weren’t helping.
    What Obama needed was a war plan, and he and Democrats never figured out how to punish Republican onstructionism.The result? The party thatdrove the economy off a cliff was looked on six years later as the party that was better on the economy. And the President was looked on as somone who didn’t know how to fix thee economy. And what’s the number one concern of voters?

  23. MBunge says:

    @stonetools: The idealistic young reformer came to Washington, and got bested by the wily political insider.

    You know, the first guy to try a disastrous strategy looks like a genius simply because the other side never expects it. McConnell’s plan did serious harm to the country, further radicalized his own party, took 6 frickin’ years to finally work and in doing so merely opened the door for the Democrats to do the exact same thing to him and any future GOP President.

    Poisoning the well to deny your enemy water work great until you need a drink. This wasn’t a case of an old political hand schooling a newcomer. This was a fully-vested member of a political establishment violating one traditional norm after another with no concern for what the ultimate impact would be on him, his party or his country.

    Mike

  24. C. Clavin says:

    @stonetools:
    Agreed…as I wrote this am on another thread:

    Republicans have succeeded in their efforts to both hold-back the economy and make people afraid…and then blame Obama for both.
    Democrats have failed to sell, and defend, their myriad successes.

  25. stonetools says:

    @Pinky:

    As I’ve said, I don’t put much stock in redness or blueness, particularly with regard to past presidential results as indicators of current senatorial races.

    I think you don’t understand that there are mid term and Presidential election year electorates, which are substantially different. The 2012 electorate would have reelected Udall. Also too, the sixth year of the Presidency counts. There are a lot of factors that made this a perfect storm for the Republicans.
    And as I said, the economy has been screwed up for so long that even though it’s now starting to recover, the President’s party paid the price for that.

  26. PD Shaw says:

    @Pinky: The colors don’t show the power of incumbancy, which was the other problem this year. Senators like Landrieu have been successful in Louisiana for a long time, it didn’t suddenly become an alien state for her. The map this year was a lot different because a bunch of the seasoned veterans retired: Max Baucus of Montana, Tom Harkin of Iowa, Tim Johnson of South Dakota, and Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia. Other than Baucus, I think the other three would have made more competitive races.

  27. stonetools says:

    @MBunge:

    Poisoning the well to deny your enemy water work great until you need a drink. This wasn’t a case of an old political hand schooling a newcomer. This was a fully-vested member of a political establishment violating one traditional norm after another with no concern for what the ultimate impact would be on him, his party or his country.

    Indeed. It blighted the economy and ruined the lives of millions. But it worked, and so far McConnell has gotten away with it. It’s up to the Democrats to turn the tables.
    Reid might actually be the guy to do it. Obama is just too idealistic, but Reid strikes me as mean and tough enough to turn the tables and stick the knife in. I hate to say it, but you need that now.

  28. gVOR08 says:

    @John D’Geek: Back before Wikipedia, I dug it out and put it in a spreadsheet. You reminded me to update it.

    Reagan had a Dem House all the way through, but an R Senate until it flipped in his second midterm in ’86.

    Eisenhower had an R House and Senate his first congress, both flipped in his first midterm in ’54 and stayed Dem.

    And FWIW Nixon/Ford didn’t flip, as they had D congresses throughout. Probably why Nixon now looks sort of moderate. Kind of like Romney in Mass.

  29. gVOR08 says:

    @gVOR08: Sorry, got interrupted before I finished that. I see a couple of other people responded in the meantime.

  30. DrDaveT says:

    Doug Mataconis […] termed it “a sharp and stunning rebuke of President Obama and the Democratic Party akin to the results seen in elections such as those in 1994, 2006, and 2010.” Early commenters pushed back on this notion, blaming the results on some combination of mediocre Democratic candidates and “things breaking slightly in the Republicans’ favor for a bunch of races.”

    I think both of those analyses are underestimating the sheer frustration factor. Pre-election polls and exit polls were both relentlessly on-topic: the message was “We’re sick of the status quo.” Democrats were up for re-election, so they got tossed. If I’m right, had Republicans been the majority up for re-election, they would have been (on average) the ones getting tossed.

    Unfortunately, in 2 years we may get a chance to test that hypothesis.

  31. gVOR08 says:

    @stonetools: “And as I said, the economy has been screwed up for so long that even though it’s now starting to recover, the President’s party paid the price for that.”

    Very true. The more sophisticated conventional wisdom says it’s less the state of the economy than the change in the economy. The Democrats, by running away from Obama, have managed to leave people unaware the economy is improving.

    The GOP plan now is no doubt to do nothing about the economy, but take all credit if the recovery continues. If the Europeans drag us back into recession, well then it will be Obama’s fault.

  32. Tyrell says:

    To win in 2016, Hillary is going to have to make a right turn faster than a pizza cook on Monday nights.
    “Obama? Obama who? ” ( Hillary in 2016)

  33. C. Clavin says:

    @Tyrell:
    I’m not sure what that is based on?
    First the Democratic party is pretty moderate. Republicans are out there…the moderate Republicans have largely been ostracized. Democrats don’t want boots on the ground over ISIS, and Americans don’t. It’s Republicans who are yelling about going to war…McCain, Butters, etc.
    Second the 2016 demographics will not favor the Republicans so greatly as they did last night. Again…very low turnout…and old folks at 3 times the number of young people.

  34. michael reynolds says:

    @stonetools:

    Republicans did serious damage to the United States and were rewarded by the American people. Fear trumped hope. Facts were dismissed in favor of fantasy. Not a good omen for the future of the country.

    But I agree as well with @Scott: Democrats are wimps. They don’t counterattack. One of the secrets of success for the Wehrmacht and much earlier for the Romans was that they always counterattacked. Guy hits you, you hit back. Democrats get hit and they sulk in a corner and hope the bully won’t notice them. It’s pathetic.

  35. David M says:

    The GOP exposed the problems with Presidential systems of government, to the great detriment of the entire country. It’s as simple as that.

  36. Gustopher says:

    If this was a wave at all, it was the 2008 wave going back. And with the Republicans winning with such narrow margins in most races, in the best possible climate for them, the next Democratic wave stands a good chance of sticking.

    It would be nice if the Democrats would stand for something, rather than cringing so much, but you can’t have everything. The initiatives (minimum wage increases and gun control were on the ballot in a bunch of spots) seem to have generally gone in the favor of liberals. Maybe the Democrats could try being liberals for a change.

  37. stonetools says:

    @michael reynolds:

    One of the secrets of success for the Wehrmacht and much earlier for the Romans was that they always counterattacked. Guy hits you, you hit back. Democrats get hit and they sulk in a corner and hope the bully won’t notice them. It’s pathetic.

    Yup. Obama’s reaction even today is to (still!) call for unity and compromise! I sure as hell hope he is working on Plan B.

  38. george says:

    @michael reynolds:

    They don’t counterattack. One of the secrets of success for the Wehrmacht and much earlier for the Romans was that they always counterattacked.

    Sometimes that doesn’t matter. The Democrats took the senate from Reagan in his second term, counter attack or not. Often its just that the electorate wants a change after having a party in power for a number of years. I suspect that’s the biggest issue in this one too – people wanted a change, and there’s not much that anyone can do or say when that feeling comes up.

    It often doesn’t even mean anything about the popularity of the president (or prime minister etc), its often just change for change’s sake. Reading a lot into such elections is pointless. Remember how the Republicans were supposedly never going to win another election after the 2006 midterms?

  39. EddieInCA says:

    The GOP experiment was in full effect in 2000-2006 in the USA and for the last two years in Kansas.

    It has failed miserably. Yet the GOP has been rewarded.

    We get what we deserve.

    We’ll get past this, but the damage to the Republic will take a while to sort out.

  40. C. Clavin says:

    I just realized Jim Inhofe is likely to be the Chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.
    The worlds biggest science denier…in charge of science.
    The man who thinks climate change will be good for the planet.
    This should be entertaining.

  41. C. Clavin says:

    @EddieInCA:
    No kidding…I cannot believe Brownback got re-elected.
    What’s the matter with Kansas?

  42. al-Ameda says:

    @michael reynolds:

    Republicans did serious damage to the United States and were rewarded by the American people. Fear trumped hope. Facts were dismissed in favor of fantasy. Not a good omen for the future of the country.

    But I agree as well with @Scott: Democrats are wimps.

    All of the above.
    Republicans always play for keeps, Democrats do not.
    This time around Democrats refused to defend the record of an improved economy (coming out of the worst economic collapse in 80 years), reduced unemployment (down from over 10% to under 6%) and passage of ACA which has resulted in insurance million more people. The president and his own pathetic party member did not answer Republican attacks.

    It’s like Sonny Liston taking a dive back in 1965.

  43. David M says:

    @al-Ameda:

    It’s not quite that easy. Yes, Democrats needs to have a stronger message, but I don’t see a reason to think we haven’t seen a fundamental change in American politics. Our system allows a party to break everything, blame the other party and be rewarded.

    I am not optimistic for how that plays out long term.

  44. Tony W says:

    @Scott:

    I may not vote for Republicans very often anymore but they do stand up and defend their beliefs not matter how unpopular.

    Nor how many times the facts belie those beliefs. I suppose some can find honor in that, but I cannot.

  45. stonetools says:

    Well according to Erik Erikson,
    what happened last night is that
    “Americans just won back control of America”.

    LINK

    So that’s cleared up.

  46. gVOR08 says:

    @C. Clavin: “Entertaining” is seriously not the word I would have chosen.

  47. gVOR08 says:

    @David M:

    Our system allows a party to break everything, blame the other party and be rewarded.

    Yes. The GOP plan amounts to hostage taking, “Put us in charge or nothing gets done.” Well, they won, the electorate gave in to their demands. Now we’ll see if they release the hostage or renege.

  48. David M says:

    @gVOR08:

    I view it differently than that. It’s more like “do what we want, and only what we want, or nothing gets done”. Sure the Democrats can join them, but I’m not sure how that helps…

  49. gVOR08 says:

    @David M: Obama agreed to their health care plan. They still wouldn’t do anything.

  50. Just 'nutha' ig'rant cracker says:

    @cd6: Wow! 9 upvotes??? Enjoy your day in the sun wingnuts.

  51. bill says:

    i caught a little of obama’s “speech” today- what a joke, he’s all about bi-partisanship and getting things done now ?!

  52. Dave Schuler says:

    @PD Shaw:

    You raise an interesting point I haven’t seen mentioned elsewhere. The benefits of senators who serve term after term are obvious. The shortcomings less so but one of them is that their states can change so much during their lengthy tenures, which they hold due to the joint powers of incumbency and name recognition, that they’re unrecognizeable.

  53. Kylopod says:

    @george:

    As far as I recall, Reagan and Eisenhower both lost the senate in their 2nd midterm election as well (as did Clinton, tho he’d already lost it in the first anyway), and I think FDR as well.

    FDR never lost the Senate or the House in his entire presidency; however, in his sixth year his party did suffer significant losses–7 seats in the Senate and 72 in the House. The Dem majorities at the time were massive enough to withstand the wave, but it was still probably the lowest point of his presidency politically, following a year of recession and the court-packing fiasco.

  54. C. Clavin says:

    @bill:
    Your complete denial of the last 6 years of political history is awe inspiring.

  55. Just 'nutha' ig'rant cracker says:

    @DrDaveT: Class 2 will be up again in 2020. That will be the time we may be able to REALLY test the hypothesis. How will things shake out in the big dance?

  56. Just 'nutha' ig'rant cracker says:

    In the next session, new Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker John Boehner should seek to send Obama a blend of bills — some he can sign and others he can veto to keep his coalition happy.

    Sorry, but I just don’t see the “veto bait” in what the GOP wants. What do they have to present to voters that is “a good idea but the President blocked it?” It’s a problem that goes with “Obama is horrible.”

  57. CB says:

    @C. Clavin:

    It’s the denial of the 8 years before the previous 6 that bothers me the most.

  58. Guarneri says:

    “MConnell in particular saw that the key was to prevent Obama from reviving the economy with adequate fiscal stimulus. A bad economy is blamed on the President, not Congress.”

    Mommy, mommy…..make the mean man stop.

    You guys crack me up. When convenient he’s Superman who single handedly pulled back an economy losing a trillion jobs a month……………and then he’s a poor little choir boy thwarted by a meany politician in the minority. At least your delusion is good for a nice laugh.

  59. David M says:

    @Guarneri:

    So you don’t understand how the political system works, and wanted everyone here to know?

  60. Guarneri says:

    @David M:

    Another deluded soul heard from.

  61. EddieInCA says:

    @Guarneri:

    Hey.

    How’s that whole Kansas recovery going?

    Oh, yeah… the state that has put every GOP dream item into action, is drowning.

    Drowning.

    Please tell us how good those policies are doing.

    I’ll wait.

  62. michael reynolds says:

    @David M:

    Guarneri understands nothing. Never has, never will. His mind closed up shop decades ago and nothing’s gotten in since.

  63. Guarneri says:

    Yawn. How does 54 sound, geniuses ?

  64. Todd says:

    @reid:

    Democrats seem to fight the GOP’s game rather than owning and explaining their successes, which is very frustrating.

    I haven’t had a chance to read all the comments yet, but I think this is one of the key problems for Democrats. I saw it here in Arizona. I liked Ron Barber’s ads, but hated the ads run by national Democratic and outside groups. They try to play the negative ad game, and they’re just not as good at it as Republicans. Another reason it doesn’t work as well for Democrats is that Conservative leaning voters won’t believe it anyway, and it turns off more centrist and liberal voters, even if they’re inclined to agree with the message.

  65. george says:

    @Kylopod:

    Thanks, guess I didn’t check my memory far enough back. Having said that, the pattern still continues – the party of modern two term presidents, with the exception of Truman’s, do poorly in 2nd term midterms.

    What just happened to Obama is the same as what happened to Bush, Reagan and Eisenhower, and only didn’t happen to Clinton because he’d already lost congress before the 2nd midterm. This seems to fall naturally into the category of “people get tired of the party in power”, where power means having the presidency.

  66. MBunge says:

    @Todd: it turns off more centrist and liberal voters, even if they’re inclined to agree with the message.

    This, not Dem professional politicians being wimps, is the big disparity between the parties. Dem and liberal voters, particularly the upper middle-class NPR crowd, simply aren’t as radicalized as GOP and conservative voters.

    Mike

  67. stonetools says:

    @Guarneri:

    Two years from now we might be asking you , “How does 60 sound?” :-).

    You might want to start working on an answer for that.

  68. Kylopod says:

    @george:

    What just happened to Obama is the same as what happened to Bush, Reagan and Eisenhower, and only didn’t happen to Clinton because he’d already lost congress before the 2nd midterm.

    Actually, I have to correct you again. 🙂

    Clinton didn’t do poorly at all in the 2nd term. He didn’t see Dems regain control of either house of Congress, but he didn’t lose a single seat in the Senate and he actually gained a few seats in the House, which is extraordinary. (A second-term president seeing his party gain House seats hadn’t happened since 1822–and that was a brief period when the US had actually become a one-party state due to the total collapse of the Federalist Party. In 1820, President Monroe actually ran unopposed.) The common explanation is that it was a public backlash against the impeachment. But the Senate had another factor: unlike most two-term presidents, including Obama, Reagan, Eisenhower, and FDR, Clinton didn’t see any gain in Senate seats for his party the year he entered office. Therefore, there was no “six-year itch” problem for him.

    The only outlier there is Bush, who actually saw a net loss of 4 Senate seats for his party in 2000, yet he still managed to lose 6 seats in his sixth year (handing Dems a narrow majority). But keep in mind that if you go two cycles back you get to 1994 when the GOP gained 8 seats, so by 2006 the party was still overextended in that chamber. Of course, there was also the disasters of the Iraq War and Hurricane Katrina which helped drag Bush’s approval rating to the 30s by the end of 2006, worse than where Obama is now.

  69. Barry says:

    @Tillman: “Too bad he spent the last four years redefining 60 votes as “the threshold to pass legislation,” but I suppose he could always change the Senate rules.”

    One of the big questions is how the Democratic Senators will react. They’ve probably been stewing for several years now; I hope that they’re eager to giver the GOP some payback.

  70. Barry says:

    @John D’Geek: “but Reagan had a Democratic Senate the entire time.”

    Wrong.

  71. Barry says:

    “Additionally, presumptive Senate Majority Leader To Be Mitch McConnell is sending every signal that he intends to govern as a mainstream Republican.”

    WTF should anybody believe that? Especially as their current (and likely optimal) strategy is to continue obstruction, and to blame Obama?

  72. John D'Geek says:

    @James Joyner: Erp, you’re right — I switched the rows.

  73. the Q says:

    Ok, I am a New Deal Democrat who first voted for Adlai Stevenson and has never voted for any GOPer. I hate them with more venom than you can imagine since I was alive during the Depression and the Republican party of today is an exercise in vile racism and class antagonism

    Growing up as a little kid there were 4 certainties in life:

    1. FDR was always the President.
    2. Joe Louis was always the heavyweight champ
    3. The Yankees would always win the pennant.
    4. The Democrats would always get the white male working class vote.

    I notice that this year the Dems got 34%!!!!!!!! of the white male vote. And they lost the white woman vote by 12% – 56-44.

    Stop right there, that says it all.

    If the Dems gave about 1 tenth the shit that they do for the “Dreamers” as they do about the job losses due to all the free trade pacts which they have pushed and which has caused the loss of millions of white good paying middle class jobs, why this would have been a landslide for the Dems.

    Its inconceivable to my generation who saw 60 years of uninterupted prosperity under a Democratic Congress (1934 – 1994) for ANY middle class voter to go wingnut.

    As Mr. Reynolds put it , “Republicans did serious damage to the United States and were rewarded by the American people”

    The Dems are absolutely tone deaf in understanding the true pain the whole middle of the country is in as they are in the “land that the recovery forgot”.

    As we rich coasters have seen our housing values skyrocket and our mutual funds go apeshit, the middle class has near zero wealth, declining wages even though labor productivity is way up.

    But, have no fear, if you are gay and want to kiss in Dodger Stadium or Disneyland or want to suck the head out the womb at 9 months, the good ol’ Democratic Party will move heaven and earth to help you.

    But if you just lost your manufacturing job because our trade deficit went up 50% with south korea after we signed the US Korea free trade agreement (be honest how many of you even knew this existed?) in 2012, well tough shit white boys. But make sure along with your severance pay, you pick up a few birth control pills, since the Dem Congress went to WAR over this ridiculously inane item.

    The Dems are not the Dems that I grew up with. Zero anti trust enforcement, zero Wall Street indictments, coddling Wall Street robber barrons, the total inability to cut even ONE CENT the last 6 years from the Pentagon budget.

    I never blame the American people, I blame the leadership as I saw the same nation under a flatulent President Hoover, completely transform under FDR.

    Quit blaming the moronic wingnuts, blame the out of touch Dem leadership who can only get 1 out of 3 white males to vote for them?

    How is this even possible when the GOP uses these white voters constantly to further goals which are detrimental to their own self interests.

    Its the Dems job to point out this contradiction. FDR was genius at it.

    When was the last time you heard a Dem president say something like this:

    “We had to struggle with the old enemies of peace—business and financial monopoly, speculation, reckless banking, class antagonism, sectionalism, war profiteering.

    They had begun to consider the Government of the United States as a mere appendage to their own affairs. We know now that Government by organized money is just as dangerous as Government by organized mob.

    Never before in all our history have these forces been so united against one candidate as they stand today. They are unanimous in their hate for me—and I welcome their hatred.”

    FDR 1936