Why 2006 Isn’t Like 1994
David Winston, a Republican pollster and Roll Call contributing writer, has an interesting op-ed this morning entitled, “2006 Isn’t Like 1994 Because the Democrats Are Too Far Left.” While he makes several salient points, the argument boils down to this:
In 1994, when the Democrats were in control, the country and its center-right electorate were being governed by a left-center party. Until then, Democrats held the majority through hardball gerrymandering and delivering solutions to voter concerns. Along with scandal, what cost them the majority in 1994 was voters’ lack of confidence in Democratic solutions, exemplified by then-first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton’s health care plan. When Democrats didn’t deliver what voters wanted, it sparked a realignment, with the electorate finally moving to where it should have been for years – to a center-right party.
Then-Rep. Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) won the battle for control not because he offered voters a center-right ideology but because he backed up his party’s conservative philosophy with center-right solutions. These were not overnight ideas crafted as campaign messages but rather long-standing proposals that coalesced into the “Contract with America.” Today, Republicans must solve problems, too, but they are governing in a different environment. Voters may be unhappy at the moment, but they have not left the center-right ideological camp. This gives Republicans good ground from which to battle back.
In a recent New Models survey, we asked voters to place Democrats, Republicans and themselves on a nine-point ideological scale with one being “very liberal” and nine “very conservative.” Of those tested, voters perceived Howard Dean as the most liberal at 3.7. They gave the Democratic Party a 3.9 rating. Both President Bush and the Republican Party got a 6.6 rating. The numbers take on real meaning, however, when put in the context of how voters see themselves ideologically. On average, voters put their own political ideology at 5.7 – clearly center-right, and within less than a point of the GOP. The voters’ perception of Democrats, on the other hand, was significantly to their left.
What this says is that Democrats are not what the electorate is looking for. And clearly, Democrats are not making any serious attempt to be what voters want. Unlike Republicans in ’94, they aren’t offering a center-left “contract” to sway voters because they understand that voters would reject that kind of legislative liberal agenda.
This is at variance with other surveys that show Democrats outpolling Republicans in generic congressional races. Still, that the public thinks the Democratic Party is in almost the same place ideologically as Howard Dean is interesting. It’s not inconceivable to me that a leaders like Dean and Nanci Pelosi, combined with the radicalism of the Democratic ‘Netroots, is driving public perception of the party.
In addition to the ideological issues Winston points to, I continue to believe structural issues will differentiate this election from 1994. Most notably, there simply aren’t nearly as many open Republican seats in 2006 as there were open Democratic seats in 1994.
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