November 5, 2010

The Election by the Numbers: The Electorate Moves Right

Many Democrats and liberals will try and console themselves by saying that the election results were not precipitated by a rejection of President Obama's agenda. Others will say that it was all about enthusiasm, and that the Republicans showed up at the polls while the Democrats did not. Some, such as the president himself, say that the problem was with the process they followed in passing their legislation, not the bills themselves. Those with an historical bent will brush it off by saying that this always happens in a president's first mid-term. Finally, there are those who say that it was because significant portions of the electorate were brainwashed by Fox News, or that the voters were just stupid, or some such.

None of these are satisfactory, and all are incorrect. At least the first set of reasons make a pretense at analysis. Blaming a media outlet or saying that voters are stupid is just plain anti-intellectual.

First, let's look at some recent first mid-term elections

Carter 1978
House -15
Senate +3

Reagan 1982
House -27
Senate 0

Bush 1990
House -8
Senate -1

Clinton 1994
House -54
Senate -8

Bush 2002
House +8
Senate +2

Obama 2010
House -61
Senate -6

So while the shellacking the Democrats took this time was not completely unique in that it was by and large matched by 1994, neither was it par for a president's first mid-term election cycle.

Even worse for the Democrats this time, they lose a huge number of state houses and governorships. Although most attention is on the national scene, local races are also a good barometer of what the electorate is thinking. If they split their vote one could say that they were divided in their loyalties, and while that certainly happened in some instances by and large the electorate voted Republican.

Polling Data

The best and most comprehensive article I've seen so far was one by William Galston, which I first saw on Real Clear Politics yesterday:

It's the Ideology, Stupid
The New Republic
William Galston
November 4, 2010

...Let's begin with the basics. In the midterm election of 2006, Democrats received 52.0 percent of the popular vote cast for House candidates, while Republicans received 45.6 percent. This year, projections indicate that the Republicans will end up with 51.8 percent, versus 45.1 percent for the Democrats--in short, a Republican gain of 6.2 percent and a Democratic loss of 6.9 percent since 2006.

One might hypothesize that these results reflect a selective partisan mobilization: Enthusiastic Republicans showed up to vote while depressed Democrats stayed home and pulled the covers over their heads. Not so. According to the 2006 exit poll, those who voted were 38 percent Democratic, 36 percent Republican, and 28 percent Independent. This year the split was very similar--36/36/28--which accounts for only a small portion of the popular vote shift.

Or maybe some Democrats were so disgruntled that they broke ranks and supported Republican candidates. No again: 93 percent voted for Democratic candidates in 2006; 92 percent in 2010. And by the way, 91 percent of Republicans for voted candidates of their own party in 2006, and 95 percent in 2010. Partisan polarization is alive and well.

What about age? The conventional wisdom before November 2 was that seniors enraged or terrified by changes in Medicare would turn out in droves to punish those who voted for health reform while young people disillusioned by Obama's failure to create the New Jerusalem would abstain. That did happen, but only to a modest degree. Voters of ages 18-29 constituted 12 percent of the electorate in 2006; 11 percent in 2010. Voters over 65 were 19 percent of the total in 2006; 23 percent in 2010--noticeable but hardly decisive. If 65 and overs had constituted the same share of the electorate in 2010 as in 2006, the Republicans' share would have declined by only .7 percent--about one-tenth of their actual gains.

We get more significant results when we examine the choices Independents made. Although their share of the electorate was virtually unchanged from 2006, their behavior was very different. In 2006, Democrats received 57 percent of the Independent vote, versus only 39 percent for Republicans. In 2010 this margin was reversed: 55 percent Republican, 39 percent Democratic. If Independents had split their vote between the parties this year the way they did in 2006, the Republicans share would have been 4.7 percent lower--a huge difference.

But why did they change? Here we reach the nub of the matter: The ideological composition of the electorate shifted dramatically. In 2006, those who voted were 32 percent conservative, 47 percent moderate, and 20 percent liberal. In 2010, by contrast, conservatives had risen to 41 percent of the total and moderates declined to 39 percent, while liberals remained constant at 20 percent. And because, in today's polarized politics, liberals vote almost exclusively for Democrats and conservatives for Republicans, the ideological shift matters a lot.

To complete the argument, there's one more step: Did independents shift toward Republicans because they had become significantly more conservative between 2006 and 2010? Fortunately we don't have to speculate about this. According to the Pew Research Center, conservatives as a share of total Independents rose from 29 percent in 2006 to 36 percent in 2010. Gallup finds exactly the same thing: The conservative share rose from 28 percent to 36 percent while moderates declined from 46 percent to 41 percent.

This shift is part of a broader trend: Over the past two decades, moderates have trended down as share of the total electorate while conservatives have gone up. In 1992, moderates were 43 percent of the total; in 2006, 38 percent; today, only 35 percent. For conservatives, the comparable numbers are 36 percent, 37 percent, and 42 percent, respectively. So the 2010 electorate does not represent a disproportional mobilization of conservatives: If the 2010 electorate had perfectly reflected the voting-age population, it would actually have been a bit more conservative and less moderate than was the population that showed up at the polls. Unless the long-term decline of moderates and rise of conservatives is reversed during the next two years, the ideological balance of the electorate in 2012 could look a lot like it did this year.

Granted,this analysis is between 2006 and 2010, not against 2008. One can argue both ways as to which comparison is more indicative of trends. But having worked for campaigns ranging from town to presidential elections, I can tell you from personal experience that comparing one type of election to another is an exercise in apples and oranges.

At any rate, summarizing the comparison, we find that:

  1. Turnout was not the key to Republican success
  2. Those who voted Democrat in the past mostly did so again this time
  3. Seniors did not turn out in greater numbers

  4. Although their share of the electorate was the same as in 2006, independents shifted dramatically from Democrat to Republican in their voting
  5. Independents became more conservative and less liberal
  6. The electorate as a whole has become more conservative and less liberal over the past twenty years

None of this is to suggest that a Republican is a shoo-in for president in 2012. If nothing else, we have seen that the voting public will turn on a dime from one party to another. What it does show is that Democrats and liberals are fooling only themselves if they persist in believing that the reason they lost wasn't because of the extreme liberal policies they pushed on us in the past two years.

Posted by Tom at 9:30 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

November 4, 2010

John Boehner Strikes the Right Tone

Washington DC (Nov 3)

House Republican Leader John Boehner (R-OH) made the following remarks today at a press conference with Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Governor Haley Barbour (R-MS):

Excerpt below the fold.

"As you heard me say last night, we are humbled by the trust that the American people have placed in us and we recognize this is a time for us to roll up our sleeves and go to work on the people's priorities:creating jobs, cutting spending and reforming the way Congress does its business. It's not just what the American people are demanding - it's what they are expecting from us.

"And the real question now is this: are we going to listen to the American people? Republicans have made a pledge to America, and our pledge is to listen to the American people and to focus on their priorities, and that's exactly what we're going to do.

"Last night, the President was kind enough to call me. We discussed working together on the American people's priorities: creating jobs and cutting spending. We hope that he will continue to be willing to work with us on those priorities.

"But as I said last night, the new majority here in Congress will be the voice of the American people, and I think we clearly expressed that last night. We're going to continue to renew our efforts for a smaller, less costly, and more accountable government here in Washington, DC."

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November 3, 2010

An Historic Victory... With Some Humility for All, Please

The Founders would have smiled.

An arrogant president and his partners in Congress were humbled. A true people's movement tossed out their majority in the House of Representatives. At the same time the Senate proved harder to change, with many incumbents maintaining their positions.

One of the reasons we ended up with Congress structured the way it is is that the Founders wanted one house to be more sensitive to the immediate passions of the people, and the other to temper those passions (there were more reasons, of course, one of them being a simple compromise between large and small states). The results of last night fell right in line with what the Founders would have wanted.

Independents had been critical to Obama's victory in 2008, and they shifted en masse to the GOP.

What Happened

The 61 seats the GOP won last night wipe out Democrat gains in 2006 and beat their 1994 pickup of 54 seats. This was, I believe, the biggest GOP gain since 1938.

Election results via Real Clear Politics and the Washington Post

In the House, the pre-election balance was

Republicans 179
Democrats 256

Post election* it is

Republicans 242 +63
Democrats 192 -63

In the Senate, the pre-election balance was

Republicans 41
Democrats 59 (includes 2 independents who caucus with the Democrats)

Post election it is

Republicans 47 +6
Democrats 53 -6 (includes 2 independents who caucus with the Democrats)

For Governorships, the pre-election balance was

Republicans 24
Democrats 26

Post election it is

Republicans 29 +6
Democrats 20 -7
Independent 1

* As of Nov 25 there is one House race still unsettled

The Untold GOP Victory

Understandably, most attention has focused on the House and the high-profile Senate races. Governorships, and especially state houses, seem unexciting by comparison.

But this is a redistricting year, the party that controls the state legislature and governorship controls redistricting. Sean Trende of Real Clear Politics explains:

The National Conference of State Legislatures estimates that Democrats had the worst night in state legislative seats since 1928. With races outstanding in New York, Washington and Oregon, Republicans have flipped at least 14 chambers, and have unified control of 25 state legislatures. They have picked up over five hundred state legislative seats, including over 100 in New Hampshire alone.

This hurts Democrats in two ways. First, it wipes out the prospective farm team for future runs for Congress and statewide office.

But more importantly, it allows a party to control the decennial redistricting....

What Will or Can the New GOP Victors Do?

Democrat sympathizers are complaining that "now nothing will get done," and/or that "the GOP has no ideas or agenda."

But simply stopping more bad Democrat legislation will be an achievement in itself. Having only won the House, the GOP cannot make policy anyway. What they can do is stop more bad legislation. If Obama and Reid now want to work with Speaker-elect Boehner, fine. But the GOP must not agree to pass "Democrat lite" legislation, because no legislation is always better than bad legislation.

The other day on This Week George Will reminded us that gridlock was not a bad thing:

The Republican Party is being told to be the party of no. No more stimulus spending. No cap-and-trade. No card check. None of this other stuff. Gridlock is not an American problem. It's an American achievement. The framers of our Constitution didn't want an efficient government; they wanted a safe government. To which end they filled it with slowing and blocking mechanisms. Three branches of government, two branches of the legislative branch, veto, veto override, supermajority, judicial review.

Although the Democrats still control the Senate, they cannot ram through bad foreign treaties or unacceptable judges. Republicans cannot and must not try to filibuster everything, but can and should use their political capital in this matter wisely. More importantly, moderate Democrats, and especially those up for reelection in 2012, will not want to sign on to any more radical pieces of legislation.

What Did the People Say

The heading of this is of course to some degree mis-titled, in that "the people" do not exist as a single entity but more as disparate groups with differing interests. And even these groups are quite diverse. Many people in America are quite happy with President Obama and his agenda. Nevertheless, it's still valid to speak of "the people" after an election because majorities count, and because it keeps all this a bit more simple, so that's what I'm going to do.

The mantra of not just the Tea Party movement but conservatives in general has been that we need to "take our country back." I've seen Democrats try to mock this, asking "take it back from whom?" The answer, of course, is take it back from the neo-socialist running our country and his allies in Congress.

The people have spoken and they have said that in 2008 they did not sign up for the radical transformation of America that Obama and his allies in Congress had in store for us. This does not mean that they want to go back to George W Bush and his allies in Congress. This has implications for both parties, which leads to my next two sections.

Some Humility for the Democrats

Admit it, although you ended up winning in California and Nevada, you still lost big.

President Obama and Democrat congressional leaders thought they had an absolute mandate to ram through radical legislation on straight party-line votes, and they have been proven wrong. Unlike other major pieces of legislation in our nation's history, the stimulus and health care bills were passed without any bipartisan support. The lesson here is that although the American people wanted a change from George W Bush and congressional Republicans, they did not sign up for a radical transformation of their country.

The question is whether Obama will learn the lesson Bill Clinton did. After the 1994 election Clinton "triangulated," adopting many Republican proposals such as welfare reform and made them his own. He was therefore able to make the best of a bad situation (from his perspective) and The conventional wisdom on the right is that he will not.

Some Humility for the Republicans

Although Republican gains were large by any measure, predictions by some of a 70+ seat gain in the House and a takeover of the Senate didn't pan out. More, some races we expected to win, such as Nevada, were didn't.

More, it's hard to imagine the large gains the GOP did get without the help of the Tea Party. The energy, and money, they brought to the table was impressive. The Republicans didn't do it alone, but had tremendous help from a movement they did not create.

The first lesson is that although the people sent a strong message that they rejected the radical agenda of President Obama and his allies in Congress, they didn't had the country over to the Republicans. This means that we can't behave like Newt Gingrich did after 1994 and precipitate a government shutdown.

Second, they can't go back to business-as-usual. If they do not hold true to their promises the people will toss them in 2012. The biggest difference between now and 1994 is that today there is the Tea Party movement which will hold the Republicans accountable.

What this means is that the Republican attitude should be "thank you for trusting us again, we know we screwed up in the past, and we will hold true to our promises this time."

Some Humility for the Tea Party Movement

The Tea Party did not completely rule, but neither did it completely fail. Rand Paul won in Kentucky, Pat Toomey won in Pennsylvania, and Marco Robio won in Florida, but Christine O'Donnell lost in Delaware, Sharon Angle lost in Nevada, and Joe Miller lost in Alaska.

The lesson is that it is not enough to nominate ideologically pure candidates. Rush Limbaugh is dead wrong when he says that conservatism wins every time if you only explain it properly (or something like that). If you don't have good, solid, candidates, then you're going to lose any but the safest of districts.

Christine O'Donnell was a flawed candidate, which in my humble opinion was obvious from the beginning. There are some candidates that are flat-out unelectable and I'm sorry to say that she was one of them.

The Tea Party movement is new and therefore will make some mistakes in terms of rallying behind flawed candidates. This doesn't worry me. Given time, I believe the movement will mature into an even more formidable force whose influence will mostly be good. Democrats and liberals who satisfy themselves by writing them off as kooks or racists are going to be in for some nasty surprises.

For the time being, at least there will be no formal Tea Party political party. They have shown that they are willing to work within the Republican party, which is a good thing. In Europe third-way movements tend to turn into parties, in America they are absorbed by one or another party. So unless John Boehner and his new Republican majority in the House blow it big time, and I don't think that they will, then there will be no Tea Party Party in 2019.

More Analysis

Off the top of my head, my recollection of history is that in the 19th and most of the 20th century one party dominated for long periods of time. In the past 20 or so years, however, we have seen more dramatic shifts from one to the other. The lessons are that neither party has been able to forge a governing philosophy that a majority coalition accepts. We now have a large group of independents whose loyalties are largely non-existent and will shift from one party to another on a dime.

One of the biggest bits of nonsense I heard during the election was when Democrat challenger Jeffrey Barnett (VA-10) claimed that over the past two years Democrats had reached across the isle again and again and were rebuffed every time. The truth is that Obama, Pelosi, and Reid did nothing of the sort, which was reflected in the fact that every single Republican voted against health care and almost every one against the stimulus. As I showed in a post last March, Obama is the most divisive president in modern American history.

My Local Congressional Races

In local races, the good news is that incumbent Frank Wolf (R-VA-10) smashed his Democrat opponent by an almost 2 to 1 margin:

Frank R. Wolf 136,703 63.95%

Jeffery R. Barnett 72,272 33.81%

I don't talk about local politics on this blog, but suffice it to say that I campaigned hard for Mr. Wolf and so I was especially pleased by the outcome.

The bad news is that it looks like in neighboring 11th district Democrat incumbent Gerry Connolly has barely hung on:

Gerald E. "Gerry" Connolly 110,401 49.11%

Keith S. Fimian 109,914 48.90%

Results do not add up to 100% because of third parties

Final Thoughts

Speaker-to-be John Boehner was quite sober and non-triumphalist today. Senator-elect Marco Rubio said that

"We make a great mistake if we believe that these results tonight are somehow an embrace of the Republican Party," Rubio declared. "What they are is a second chance. A second chance for the Republicans to be what they said they were going to be not so long ago."

Who knows, maybe this will be short lived. But I don't think so.

On the other hand, President Obama seemed to take a different attitude today

"We'd be misreading the election if we thought the American people want to see us, for the next two years, relitigate arguments we had over the last two years," Obama said when asked about Republican promises to dismantle the health-care legislation.

When he was reminded that one in two voters said they opposed the health-care bill, Obama shot back that the statistic "also means one out of two voters thinks it was the right thing to do."

Obama signaled he is unwilling to compromise on his support for allowing tax cuts for those making $250,000 and above to expire on Jan. 1.

When asked whether he "didn't get it," Obama bristled.

"I'm doing a whole lot of reflecting," he said.

It's easy to read too much into a few statements, but can't be encouraging to sober Democrats.

President Clinton "triangulated" and came back to a tremendous victory in 1996. But he was quite the pragmatist, as they didn't call him "slick willie" in Arkansas for nothing. Obama, on the other hand, is quite the ideologue, it's hard to see him adopting Republican issues and making them his own. He also has no Dick Morris around to help him out.

As for the Republicans, I think the current leadership team of Boehner-Cantor is smarter and less arrogant than 1994's Gingrich-Armey. They also have the Tea Party movement to hold them accountable. I am optimistic they - we - will perform well in Congress, and will be in a good position as we head into the all important 2012 elections.

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September 25, 2010

The GOP Pledge to America

Here is the video introducing the Pledge to America unveiled by House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH-8) at Tart Lumber Company in Sterling VA.

You can read the whole thing at the Pledge to America website.

I really do not have time for an exhaustive analysis, so all I'll offer is a few excerpts from the pledge and some comments. Bottom line: I think it's a winning formula and a great plan. It goes much further than Newt Gingrich's 2004 "Contract with America," and if implemented would be very good for the country.

At 48 pages, the Pledge is an impressively detailed document, much more so than Gingrich's relatively short Contract with America. It also promises more. While the Contract simply pledged to bring certain bills to the House floor for a vote, the Pledge commits Republicans to implement a wide variety of popular conservative goals.

We will launch a sustained effort to stem the relentless growth in government that has occurred over the past decade.

In other words, we're not going to tinker around the edges.

The difference, of course, between 2004 and 2010 is that voters are much more cynical now and as a result are much more demanding. Lightweight promises won't cut it anymore. Few if any Tea Party folks will vote Democrat, but you can bet your last dollar that when they say they won't vote for Republicans if they don't hold true to their promises they mean it.

The Pledge outlines specific policy proposals in six key areas; jobs and the economy, reducing federal spending the size of government, repealing and replacing the Democrat's health care legislation, reforming and restoring trust in Congress, keeping our nation secure at home and abroad, and establishing checks and balances in government.

I was going to go through the pledge section by section, but I just don't have time. What I have read in it sounds pretty good, though. Hopefully this week I'll have a chance to post more.

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March 22, 2010

Our New Campaign Slogan: Repeal It!

Prior to the insane health care bill just passed by the Democrats, our campaign platform for the next few years was going to be returning our country to fiscal sanity. With the passage of Obama-Pelosi-Reid-Care, it's now

Repeal It!

Don't get me wrong; it's going to be awfully hard to repeal the entire health care bill passed yesterday, but we're certainly going to try. I'll be happy if we can get rid of it's most onerous sections, but I'm going for the whole enchilada. And yes I know that history is against me, but by the same token this situation is unique. Landmark legislation like the 1935 Social Security Act, the 1965 Civil Rights Act, or the Medicare bill of the same year were passed with overwhelming bipartisan support.

This healthcare bill, however, is unique in that not a single Republican voted for it, and 34 Democrats opposed the measure. As I pointed out the other day, between this and his other major pieces of legislation, all of which almost unanimously opposed by Republicans, makes Obama the most divisive president in modern American history.

First, why should it be repealed?

I'll let the editors of the Wall Street Journal answer that. A few excerpts, but read the whole thing:

We think all of this except the subsidies will turn out to be illusory, as most of the American public seems intuitively to understand. As recently as Friday, Caterpillar Inc. announced that ObamaCare will increase its health-care costs by $100 million in the first year alone, due to a stray provision about the tax treatment of retiree benefits. This will not be the only such unhappy surprise.

While the subsidies don't start until 2014, many of the new taxes and insurance mandates will take effect within six months. The first result will be turmoil in the insurance industry, as small insurers in particular find it impossible to make money under the new rules. A wave of consolidation is likely, and so are higher premiums as insurers absorb the cost of new benefits and the mandate to take all comers.

It gets worse from there, but you get the point

Repeal It!

Rich Lowry over at National Review gives us 5 reasons not to despair and why this thing can be overturned. I'll list them and summarize his points in my own words

Public opinion - on our side. The Democrats barely got this thing through, and had to resort to legislative tricks and bribes to do so, and threatened to do more. This leaves a huge distaste in the mouths of the public, who don't like the substance of the bill in the first place.

Structured so can it be overturned - most benefits programs are set up so that the benefits come first and the taxes later, the better to hook the public. This one is just the opposite; the taxes and chaos (in the insurance industry) come first and the benefits later. If much of the public hate it now, they'll really hate it in a year or two.

A moment of clarity - Democrats usually campaign as moderates and act like they're moderates once in power, but now the mask is off. Obama-Pelosi-Reid and other nuts like Barney Frank are out and out leftists and make no bones about it.

The truth will out - Obama has misrepresented his bill, and this will become clear in the next few years. As such, public opposition will only increase.

The GOP has been better than expected - much to our great surprise the Republicans have stuck together in opposition to Obama-Pelosi-Reid-Care. They were almost unanimous in opposing the stimulus and cap and trade. Their leadership has been much better than was expected. This gives reason for hope.

Repeal It!

The bottom line is that the Democrats have no mandate to do what they did, and public opinion polls as well as the partisan nature of the vote bears this out.

More, the conservative base is already fired up, and passage of this bill will light another fire under it. Whatever you think about the Tea Party activists, they're not equivalents to the leftist anti-war groups of 2003-7. I know, because during that time I looked into and went to many anti-war protests in and around Washington DC (as a counterprotester, I hasten to add)(see here, here, and here for my extensive blogging) and I've been to a Tea Party and know some of the organizers local to my area. Not the same.

Obama has also ruined his approval ratings over this thing. He could have addressed the issue(s) on everyone's mind; jobs and the economy, as did Bob McDonnell in his successful bid for the Virginia governor's mansion. But he went after healthcare, which a January 2010 Pew poll showed was 8th on the list of voter concerns, below even "deficit reduction," an issue that works against the Democrats.

The bill will end up costing far more than anyone thinks it will. The latest CBO projections were a joke and everyone knows it (here and here if you need links). Who are we kidding; all government programs, military or civilian, cost more than first projected.

Repeal It!

Yes yes, we can't just oppose what the Democrats have done. We must offer solutions of our own. But this said, I and I think the majority of Americans will conclude that even the status quo that we're all supposed to think is so terrible is better than Obama-Pelosi-Reid-Care.

Of course, Republicans and conservatives have been offering healthcare solutions, it's just that given the large Democrat majorities few have been listening. Here, though, are a few of them for anyone who cares to follow the links:

Republican House Leader John Boehner's Plan

GOP Solutions for America: Health Care

GOP Health Care Plan

The Small Bill: A One Page Alternative to ObamaCare

Senator Tom Coburn's plan (R- OK)

The Heritage Foundation: Real Bipartisan Reform

Google is your friend, there are a ton more. Agree or disagree with them as you will, but it's intellectually dishonest to say that Republicans and conservatives (not always the same thing) just want to keep the status quo and have no reform plans of our own.

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