Why 2010 Won’t Be a Repeat of 1994

August 13th, 2010 at 5:37 pm | 16 Comments |

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Having written a few days ago of my objections to the media’s obsession with public opinion polls, I probably should have passed on the suggestion from my friends at FrumForum to address the topic de jour—a new CNN poll showing likely major Republican gains in the upcoming midterm elections. But, let’s face it; I have as much vanity as the next guy. And like every other aging political operative, I will offer my opinion on just about anything in the news. A lot of my fellow hacks get paid by CNN, Fox and MSNBC to spout off on such things, while I am left to amuse myself and bore loved ones and friends to utter distraction. So when Frum calls, I dash to the computer (and my wife heaves a sigh of relief)!

CNN is reporting that its latest opinion research “…shows big similarities between 1994, 2010”.  The headline is, indeed, the entire point of the story: polls today are similar (although not identical, it is worth noting), to those taken in the summer of 1994. We are reminded (as if that were necessary), that in November of 1994 the Republicans took control of Congress in what was regarded as an upset victory.  We are urged, therefore, to believe that Republicans are poised to win again this year.

Let me make several points, in no particular order of importance.

  • I don’t need any polls to tell me that Republicans will do well in November. The “out” party almost always shows significant gains in the first midterm election of a new President.
  • Barack Obama’s 2008 winning margin was somewhat out of synch with the political alignment of the country at the time. Obama won big, and brought others in with him, because the GOP ticket of McCain and Palin was awful. Barack Obama was a terrific candidate, to be sure, but his effort was aided immeasurably by monumental incompetence on the other side.
  • The country is horribly split these days, and the divisions are along ideological, racial, ethnic, cultural, economic and, to some extent, geographic lines. There is an “independent” middle, to be sure, but it lacks focus, philosophical anchors, and leadership. It is also fickle as hell. If independents drift right this year, it will be good for the Republicans. If they drift even slightly left, it will help the Democrats.
  • In making the “2010 is like 1994” analogy, the CNN folks cite Obama’s approval numbers in comparison to those of Bill Clinton at this point in his presidency. They also cite Congress’ standing with the public today versus then, and we learn that people don’t like Congress any more in 2010 than they did in 1994. Thanks to CNN, we now know that President Obama is about where Clinton was in the polls 16 years ago, and Congress is in the dumper today just as it was then.  It is here where a dose of skepticism regarding the “2010 = 1994” construct might come in handy. Bill Clinton and his Democratic allies on Capitol Hill went into that midterm election with not a whole lot to brag about. Sure, they had passed a tough budget and NAFTA, but they had failed to deliver on healthcare reform, and the process of failing was butt ugly.  Barack Obama and Congressional Democrats actually have a fair amount to brag about. Republicans don’t like what they’ve done, but Democrats should. And a fair number of those fickle middle ground independents are sure to be turned off by Republicans who appear to be pandering to hard core social conservatives, anti-immigrant nativists, and Tea Party know-nothings.
  • Finally, it is important to remember that Speaker Nancy Pelosi is a very smart, very tough, and very determined political leader. Her skills served her well in the climb up the leadership ladder and one should assume that she has every intention of using those same skills to stay where she is. For the longest time Democrats made underestimating Ronald Reagan their fulltime hobby; I hear Republicans doing the same thing when it comes to Nancy Pelosi. They don’t like her, therefore she’ll fail. Uh, uh….big mistake.

A month ago I was betting that the Republicans would make big gains in both the House and Senate, but would fail to gain a majority in either chamber. Today I think the Republicans might win the House but still come up short in the Senate (primary results in several states have hurt the GOP’s prospects). Next month the picture could be a bit different, and by November it could change even more. Today’s CNN analysis may turn out to be prescient. But it also might turn out to be bogus. I suggest we wait until the morning of November 3 to make that judgment.

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16 Comments so far ↓

  • DonkeyEdge

    Obama/Thad Allen Oil Spill Coverup Conversation caught on video. This is really going to hurt the Democrats in November:

    http://thedonkeyedge.com/2010/08/13/secret-obamathad-allen-oil-spill-coverup-conversation/

  • Oldskool

    The only sure bet is that the pros on tv will spend days, maybe weeks, explaining why that had it right or why they had it wrong.

  • TerryF98

    Donkey Man.

    Please STOP pimping your website here.

  • Rabiner

    lol, now we have trolls with their own website being linked? hilarious

  • armstp

    The Democrats will surprise in November.

    The Republicans have very little to offer this time around. In 1994 they had the contract and reasonable leadership under Gingrich.

    In addition, the Republicans have been shooting themselves in the foot with some of the terrible Tea Party candidates who have won primaries.

    I think it will be next to impossible for the Republicans to win the house. The Republicans will need to win 39 seats to take back the House. The current polls tell us that the Democrats will win at least four Republican seats (the best opportunities include: LA-02, HI-01, IL-10, DE-AL, FL-25). As a result, the real number of seats Republicans will have to pick up to win a majority is at least 43. To win 43 seats, the NRCC would need to put 70 to 80 seats in play. The NRCC have simply not put that many Republicans seats in play and do not have the resources or caliber of candidates to do so.

    Sure in 1994 the Republicans had a net gain of 54 seats, but they had the contract and Gingrich, as I said above. This year they have some weak candidates, no leadership, likely less money and no message.

    And the Senate looks particularly good for the Democrats. Dems are actually playing some serious offense this cycle — Ohio, New Hampshire, Louisiana, North Carolina and Kentucky are all pickup opportunities. Throw in Missouri and Florida (with independent Charlie Crist), and you’ve got seven legitimate pickup opportunities to offset the guaranteed GOP pickups in North Dakota and Arkansas, plus tough contests in Colorado, Delaware, Illinois, Indiana, Nevada, Pennsylvania, as well as potentially tough races in California, Washington and Wisconsin.

    Throw in fading GOP challengers in Nevada and Illinois, and we’ve got something approaching parity heading into November.

    http://publicpolicypolling.blogspot.com/2010/08/democrats-making-progress.html

    I would also add the Obama’s ratings are actually very good, particularly given 9.5% unemployment. He is above Clinton, Carter and even Reagan at this point in his presidency. That will be a benefit for the Democrats in November.

    From Gallup:

    Obama approval 45% (July 26 to Aug. 1 2010)
    Bill Clinton approval 41% August 1994
    Ronald Reagan 41% August 1982
    Jimmy Carter 41% August 1978

    Check it out:

    http://www.gallup.com/poll/116479/barack-obama-presidential-job-approval.aspx

  • ktward

    Actually, CNN’s analysis seems soberly cognizant of 2010 realities as quite distinct from 1994:
    http://politicalticker.blogs.cnn.com/2010/08/12/cnn-poll-shows-big-similarities-between-2010-1994/#more-117586

    But Republicans may not want to pop the champagne just yet. Unlike 1994, the new survey shows the public dislikes GOP members of Congress about as much as they dislike Democrats, and a majority think most Democrats in Congress are ethical, despite the controversies surrounding Democratic Reps. Charles Rangel and Maxine Waters.

    Add to that the fact Democrats insist they won’t get caught flat-footed like they did in 1994 and things perhaps begin to look a little less ominous for the party than it did back then.

    “While it’s clear that the Democrats will lose a lot of seats in Congress this November, it may be too early for the GOP to start measuring for drapes in the Speaker’s office,” CNN Polling Director Keating Holland says.

  • rbottoms

    One more difference. Back in1994 Republicans at pretended not to be racist, mean spirited, paranoid, despicable a-holes.

    A Republican state house candidate from northern Florida is standing by her proposal to build internment camps for undocumented immigrants that would “collect enough illegal aliens until you have enough to ship them back.”

    Marg Baker, who’s one of three GOP candidates running for the nomination for Florida’s 48th district, made the announcement earlier this month at a meeting of the 9-12 Project, Glenn Beck’s political activist group.

    “We can follow what happened back in the ’40s or ’50s [when] I was just a little girl in Miami and they built camps for the people that snuck into the country,” Baker said.

    In an interview with Salon, Baker explained her comments, saying what she was proposing was “something like” the internment camps that housed people of Japanese origin during World War II.

  • Political Consultants vs. Political Scientists @ Fivethirtyeight….??? - Politicaldog101.Com

    [...] “political operative” Les Francis, with real-world experience as former executive director of both the Democratic [...]

  • Carney

    rbottoms, that’s an entirely reasonable proposal. One of the major excuses used to not crack down on illegal immigration, or for the joke of a policy that is “catch and release”, is a lack of beds or prison space to hold those we catch as we process them en route to deportation. A camp of some kind would be quicker and cheaper to build than a full-fledged jail.

    You radically under-estimate the white-hot fury of the ordinary American toward illegal immigration, and the more you call what ordinary people want “racist”, the more you’ll make “racism” acceptable for ordinary people. Fire away!

  • rbottoms

    You radically under-estimate the white-hot fury of the ordinary American toward illegal

    You radically under-estimate American whites fury.

    Fixed.

  • armstp

    “You radically under-estimate the white-hot fury of the ordinary American toward illegal”

    Some American whites…. typically more southern and older.

    The illegal issue is just a wedge issue. Most people truly do not care. Illegals do not really impact regular peoples’ day to day lives, just like gay marriage does not. Just been blowup as an issue by the far right. They made it an issue, when it was not there to start with. Why has it only become an issue in recent years? For political advantage and scapegoating.

  • Shotgun314159

    The GOP will gain 9 seats in Congress and 2 seats in the Senate.
    That was my prediction at the July 4th picnic.
    I’m still sticking by it.

    The pundits and talking heads.
    Will go ape-shiet.

    Political wonks, bloggers/hacks and all of us, will type till our fingers go numb.
    It will be the best of times, it will be the worst of times.
    There will be a “Indian Summer” too.

    Has anyone thought about the “Otts” (2000 to 2010) being over.
    Start your “end of year” blogs now.

  • abj

    armstp -

    The Republicans have very little to offer this time around. In 1994 they had the contract and reasonable leadership under Gingrich.

    In addition, the Republicans have been shooting themselves in the foot with some of the terrible Tea Party candidates who have won primaries.

    “I’m not a part of this Congress 9 in 10 people hate” is probably more than good enough. Moreover, exit polls from 1994 indicated that the contract made very little difference in terms of how people voted. Besides…remember the 2006 election? What brilliant ideas did the Democrats run on? Well…none. And it was more than sufficient.

    Also, there aren’t that many tea party candidates out there…at most they’d probably throw away 2 Senate seats, and I’m not aware of any House seats they’re putting in jeopardy. And even among the Senate contests – Paul will likely win, Angle’s a 50-50 bet, and Buck is something slightly higher than a 50-50 bet. Obviously much can happen between now and November, but realistically, they aren’t all going to lose.

    And, aside from Florida, Dems aren’t likely to retake any of the GOP-held Senate seats, though Ohio is their best bet. Even in Florida, assuming Crist wins, he’ll be a less than loyal ally.

    It’s worth also noting that, even if the GOP falls short of winning an outright majority in the House, and wins somewhere in the neighborhood of 30-35 seats, Dems have effectively lost a functioning majority. Every single controversial vote will leave no room for error, and given how close the healthcare vote was with such a large Democratic majority, it’s unlikely the House could pass any big ticket liberal legislation. Pelosi’s ability to hold her caucus together is impressive, but even she will have almost nothing to work with if all she has is a 7 or so seat majority.

    In the Senate, we’re looking at +5 GOP (or something like that). House, mid to high 30s, I think.

  • armstp

    adj,

    You make some good points.

    I think your prediction of seats gained/lost is very realistic, but maybe +30 seats in the house is a little high.

    I will say that most of the seats the Dems will lose will likely be Bluedogs, so their future votes might actually, at some level, become easier.

    It does feel to me that as every day goes bye I think the Democrats are going to surprise in November. I think the voter anger thing is overplayed. I think it mostly reflects a minority of already true right-wing believers in the more visable Tea Party. I think the right is making a mistake if they think that a tsunami is coming and they do not need a message and do not need to campaign hard.

    By the way people always hate congress and they seem to be hating the Republican side of congress more than the Democratic side. Latest polls says approval rating of Democratic congressmen is 35% and for the Republican congressmen is 33%. Not much of a difference, but the Repubs certainly have no advantage over the Dems in terms of people’s view of congress.

    http://www.pollingreport.com/cong_dem.htm

    http://www.pollingreport.com/cong_rep.htm

    The Dems are a lot more organized in 2010 than they were in 1994. See this very good article in today’s New York Times.

    See:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/15/us/politics/15town.html?hpw

    It will be interesting to see what the right says and the media narrative will be if the Democrats do very well in November.

  • ktward

    abj: Also, there aren’t that many tea party candidates out there …

    I’m not sure what your definition is of a ‘tea party candidate’– understandably difficult to define, since TeaP is such a fractured movement to begin with. For instance, Armey’s Tea Party Patriots endorsed Minnick (D-ID1, who ultimately declined Tea endorsement with some fairly strong language) which seriously irked ID’s own TeaPers.

    Given the current demographic mix of today’s registered GOP, their primaries (where TeaP candidates presumably run) lend us zero insight into the GE. After all primaries are said and done and coalesced camps are firmly formed, there’s worthwhile discussion to be had.

    Until then, sane ‘Pubs simply cringe and mostly everyone else just shrugs.

  • abj

    ktward -

    I’m not sure what your definition is of a ‘tea party candidate’– understandably difficult to define, since TeaP is such a fractured movement to begin with.

    That’s a fair point. I would say a candidate fueled primarily by grassroots support on the right who is largely untested and tends not to have the support of the establishment (at least initially). Often I see the label affixed to candidates that don’t seem very “tea party-esque” to me, such as Pat Toomey (who has been on the rise in PA GOP politics since before 2004), Carly Fiorina (not even sure how that meme got started since she had a tea party challenger), or Marco Rubio (who tapped into the movement’s energy but isn’t really a tea party candidate – as a former speaker of the Florida House and standard-issue conservative, he’s actually a fairly typical candidate). Tea party candidates will be far less relevant in House races, because in the districts where they’ve managed to win (such as Bob Englis’ in SC), they’ll go on to win in November anyway.

    armstp -

    A completely reasonable argument.

    November. I think the voter anger thing is overplayed. I think it mostly reflects a minority of already true right-wing believers in the more visable Tea Party.

    I think it’s more frustration than anger. As of yet, the public at large hasn’t focused its frustration on President Obama, whose approval ratings have remained stable for months (and somewhat better than Reagan’s at this point in his respective midterm cycle, as you and others have pointed out). That should be a warning signal to Republican candidates not to make Obama the focus of their campaigns.

    By the way people always hate congress and they seem to be hating the Republican side of congress more than the Democratic side. Latest polls says approval rating of Democratic congressmen is 35% and for the Republican congressmen is 33%.

    It’s true, Congress never polls well – but its unpopularity now is at an all-time high – the highest in the 30 years of Gallup polling. http://www.gallup.com/poll/141827/Low-Approval-Congress-Not-Budging.aspx

    And yes, GOP incumbents are unpopular, but with the exception of a handful of seats (most of which you’ve mentioned), GOP Reps sit in safe seats. The same is not true of Dem Reps, and while people may not think much of Republicans in Congress, Republican challengers can credibly run outsider campaigns focusing on the incumbent Democrat and his/her party. Expect to hear a lot of “I’m an independent voice” or “I’m going to fix that broken Congress.” They can separate themselves from their party leadership much more easily than a Dem incumbent can.

    The Dems are a lot more organized in 2010 than they were in 1994.

    This is true. And in truly marginal contests, it could make the difference. However, for incumbents like Tom Perriello – all the money in the world won’t save them. The question is, of course, how many Tom Perriellos are out there?

    I will say that most of the seats the Dems will lose will likely be Bluedogs, so their future votes might actually, at some level, become easier.

    If there’s anything I’ve learned over the past year and a half, it’s to never bet against Nancy Pelosi. As you know, not all blue dogs are created equal, and without the support of some, cap and trade and healthcare would never have passed. And, in the next Congress, she’s likely to lose some of her crucial moderate supporters, such as the aforementioned Tom Perriello, Brad Ellsworth, Earl Pomeroy, Susan Kosmas, etc.