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Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Republicans Will Sustain Majorities This Fall

In today's Opinion Journal, Jay Cost makes a fascinating and highly persuasive case that the Republicans, despite their perceived political weaknesses, will hold on to their majorities in both the House and Senate this fall.

Cost bases his conclusion not on the policies or politics of the two parties but on history and the current configuration of the two legislative bodies. Cost notes that many pundits are predicting that the Republicans will hold on to the Senate but will lose their majority in the House. Among the important facts they are minimizing, however, are "2004's 98.8% incumbent retention rate or 2006's incredibly low 4.6% incumbent retirement rate" in the House. Even more persuasive, however, is Cost's analysis of trends in House and Senate turnover, and his explanation of why they are so.

I'll leave the full explanation to him, as it is very well don in his article, and will go right to his main point, which is that historically the House flips parties only when the Senate does. This is not a quirk but an ironclad rule of the entire past century (which is the relevant period because it includes the entire period during which Senators have been elected directly by popular vote rather than by the state legislatures).

As to whether this all simply means that the Senate will flip too, Cost points out the unlikelihood of that scenario:

Of course, one might respond, this argument could just as easily predict that both the House and the Senate will flip this year. The error that pundits are making, according to this line, is not with the House but with the Senate. Both are vulnerable. I do not find this compelling. One of the reasons pundits are so prone to write off the Senate is that they know more about the individual elections (this, by the way, is in keeping with senators' reduced incumbency advantage--individual senators are better known). They have a better sense of the electoral landscape, and therefore can appreciate that a net of six is prohibitively difficult. However, pundits know less of the specifics of House contests; thus, the House seems more promising. They cannot name the seats the GOP would have to lose to lose the House. If they could, they would find themselves naming many members most think are secure. A switch of the House still seems plausible, in other words, only because details are lacking.

History indicates that when the House switches, the Senate switches, too. Our knowledge of congressional elections implies that this is not coincidence. Accordingly, we can conclude that the safety of the GOP Senate strongly implies the safety of the GOP House. Further, we can issue a challenge to pundits who think the Democrats will take the House. They have an additional burden of proof: they must either indicate that the Senate will switch or why 2006 will be the first exception to a 92-year rule.

As Cost points out, even those most optimistic about potential Democrat gains in this fall's elections concede that the Senate is probably not going to flip. He notes that the concession that the Republicans will probably retain the Senate is probably correct, given that with less than 40 seats up for grabs and less than half of those being at all competititive this go-round, it's fairly easy to predict which ones will go which way and hence whether the Dems can make up their present deficit. The answer appears to be no, unless things change dramatically in the meantime.


Tlaloc said...

"given that with less than 40 seats up for grabs and less than half of those being at all competititive this go-round,"

The problem is that seats that everybody and their mother swore were safe bets for the Republicans two months ago are now looking much more like even heats. The rout has been inspired.

Look at it this way: Redstate is trying to raise $10,000 for a republican candidate who is running in Tx-17. What is that? That's Bush's home congressional district.


They are having to fight tooth and nail to raise money for what should be the surest best Republican race in the country.

They're terrified.

That having been said however one must never underestimate the colossal ability of democrats to lose despite having every political advantage.

Tlaloc said...

sorry: "surest BET Republican race in the country."

Hunter Baker said...

I don't think Bush's home district went for Bush last time around. There's a "conservative" democrat in that spot and has been for a long time if I recall. He's hanging by his fingernails and the GOP keeps trying to knock him off.

James F. Elliott said...

I'm not entirely sure that self-proclaimed classical liberalists should be all that excited about a retained GOP majority. I'm not saying that the Dems will do any better (not that I think they could do worse, either), but the Republicans may want to stop and take stock. In twelve years they've gone from the party of outsiders to being the blood and guts of the insides of all the dirty politics for which they rightly and pusilanimously lambasted the Democrats in 1994.

The Republicans have become synonymous with big money in politics and big business in governance. Both of these trends are profoundly anti-democratic and anti-free market. They have ceased to be a party of morals and have rather become a party of moralizers.

Perhaps a few years' respite might allow the soul of the party to wipe off some of the tarnish from the muck and mire its leaders have dragged it through. It's something the Democrats have failed to do since '02, as will be to their chagrin if they regain the House and/or the Senate.

Hunter Baker said...

JFE, I will agree completely that the GOP has disappointed terribly. The welfare reform was a magnificent thing and the federalization of speed limits was nice garnish, but beyond that I've been pretty dissatisfied. Throughout the Reagan years we dreamed of what we could achieve in terms of smaller government with Congressional majorities and the presidency. We got it and it DIDN'T EVEN COME CLOSE TO HAPPENING.

James F. Elliott said...

"JFE, I will agree completely that the GOP has disappointed terribly."

In the roughly 11 years that I've been paying rapt attention to public policy and politics (since my high school days, I guess), the Republican Party has gone from a party I could see myself joining (as late as in 2000) to a party utterly corrupted by people whom I would dedicate my life to opposing. The Democrats, hodge-podge and scattered as they are, have not devolved into the institutional failings I have observed among the GOP.

Welfare reform has largely been a wash - it reduced the rolls without actually making much of a difference in people's quality of life. It was less a triumph of revolutionary federal governance than a testament to the wills of individual states not to totally screw up the lives of their poor.

S. T. Karnick said...

I thought initially to conclude the post with a comment about the Republicans' electoral success having the decidedly negative effect of making the party power-greedy and pork-happy, but I rejected the idea because of course anyone visiting this site knows that I have been extremely critical of the Republicans, especially on fiscal policy. Well, there you go: looks as if somebody didn't get the memo. Never assume.

Tlaloc said...

"I don't think Bush's home district went for Bush last time around."

According to redstate it did by a whopping 70%

Hunter Baker said...

Must be the district next door that I lived in. It was reliably blue but with signs of turning.