Thursday, November 04, 2010

More election thoughts

Tuesday's results have been repeatedly described as a "wave" election, with some even calling it a tsunami. The thing about waves, however, is that they quickly recede, which would imply that Republicans are now positioned to see their majority in the House shrink in another two years.

Looking over the election map, I'm not sure this will occur. In fact, upon closer examination I am inclined to agree with Patrick Ruffini's assessment that Republicans are the "natural majority." This is in large part due to the turnover of seats long-held by Democrats which more ideologically comport with Republicans:
The obstacles Republicans faced in moving the needle in their House numbers -- entrenched Blue Dog incumbents like Ike Skelton, John Spratt, Chet Edwards, and Gene Taylor -- were moved away last night. These are not "surge" seats that will be surrendered at the next election, but now likely Republican for life...
It should also be pointed out that this goes both ways, with the demise of New England Republicans (New Hampshire, which has always been more conservative for some reason, is a notable exception). The seat held by Rep. Chris Shays until 2008, for example, is unlikely to revert to GOP hands unless the Democratic occupant is caught in scandal or there is a wave election of unprecedented magnitude. However, Democrats have already pretty much maxed out the seats they can win in New England, while Republicans are just now finishing the process of picking up those districts, primarily in the South, that have always gone GOP on the statewide and presidential levels, but remained Democratic.

Not only are individual districts reverting to their more natural home in the Republican party, but entire states as well. West Virginia and Arkansas are prime examples of this, adding three new GOP Congressmen and a Senator between the two of them this week.

Indeed, in analyzing the election results Tim Carney notes that much of the Republican gain is simply due to Republicans winning seats that are natural GOP turf:
Snap-backs - 35 Republicans won back 21 seats they had lost in 2008 and 14 they had lost in 2006.

Long-term Realignment – 17. These are districts, mostly Southern or rural, that were won by both Bush in 2004 and McCain in 2008.

Louisiana-3, South Dakota-At Large, Tennessee-4, Georgia-8, North Dakota-At Large, Arkansas-2, Mississippi-4, South Carolina-5, Virginia-9, Tennessee-6, Tennessee-8, Florida-2, Missouri-4, West Virginia-1, Arkansas-1, Texas-17, New York-13.
Carney further points out that only ten seats were won in areas that can be described as either swing seats or traditional Democratic constituencies.

Let's recall that from 1995-2006 Republicans enjoyed House majorities which varied from 232 seats to 221, with an average of 227. They only lost that majority due to the implosion of Iraq in 2006 and the financial meltdown of 2008, along with coattails from a presidential candidate that enjoyed broad appeal while also exciting the party base. But in four years Republicans have won back all the seats lost during those two elections with room to spare.

Unless another cataclysm occurs in the next two years which can be successfully blamed on Republicans, the new majority is unlikely to be dislodged for some time to come. Even if one assumes the re-election of President Obama, it is not at all assured he would bring along sizable coattails. In 1996 Bill Clinton's re-election produced gains of only five Democrats in the House -- this at a time of peace and unemployment at 5.2 percent.

Indeed, it seems about as likely as not that the GOP majority will actually be expanded in 2012, given the reapportionment of seats that will benefit Republican-leaning states such as Texas and Florida. More significant is the redistricting slated to take place next year, which Republicans will be well positioned to exploit in light of their massive wins this week in the state legislatures and governorships.

In the Senate, meanwhile, there is an excellent chance that Democrats will revert to the minority as they face an uphill climb in defending 23 seats, much of it in states that lean Republican.

As strange as it may be to think, particularly after Republicans spent literally decades in the minority during the post-World War II era, a Republican-held Congress appears to be the default position well into the next decade.

Related: More interesting thoughts on the elections here.

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