James Pethokoukis

Politics and policy from inside Washington

Why the Democrats will lose the House in 2010

December 30, 2009

The trend is not the Democrats’ friend. At least not in 2010. The party of the sitting president almost always suffers losses in midterm congressional elections. To that time-tested dynamic now add voter angst about high unemployment, big deficits and controversial legislation. Expect Senate majority leader Harry Reid to lose his effective 60-seat supermajority and Nancy Pelosi to hand the House back to the Republicans. Here’s why 2010 is looking like 1994 all over again:

1. Virginia and New Jersey. Big GOP wins in the gubernatorial races not only highlighted discontent with incumbents by recession-weary voters, they also greatly helped Republicans with candidate recruiting for 2010.

2. History. More big political change isn’t predicated on America rekindling its love for the Grand Old Party. A recent poll had the Republicans finishing a distant third in popularity behind a fictional Tea Party and the actual Democratic Party. Yet American politics has a regular ebb and flow. In 13 of the past 15 midterm elections going back to 1950, the party in control of the White House has lost an average of 22 seats in the House. In 10 of the past 15 midterms the party running the Senate has lost an average of three seats.

3. Mean Reversion. Democrats have a wide field to defend after huge victories in 2006 and 2008. Particularly in the House, there are lots of Democrats in places with a proven willingness to vote Republican. Currently 47 of them are in districts won by both John McCain in 2008 and George W. Bush in 2004. And voters in those districts may be especially unhappy with a Democratic legislative agenda that causes many Americans mixed feelings.

4. Obama-Reid-Pelosi Agenda. A RealClearPolitics aggregation of polling data shows Americans disapprove of healthcare reform by a 51-38 margin. And only a little more than a third think the $787 billion stimulus plan has done much good, according to pollster Rasmussen. There’s also plenty of worry among the electorate that Washington spending is creating a dangerous level of government debt.

5. Rep. Parker Griffith. Griffith, elected in 2008, could be an electoral harbinger. His district, Alabama’s 5th, gave 60 percent of its votes to Bush in 2004, and 61 percent to McCain. He just switched from Democrat to Republican, saying he couldn’t belong to a party that favors healthcare reform that massively expands the role of government. Even though Griffith voted against the stimulus, cap-and-trade and healthcare plans, he clearly felt that guilt-by-party-association threatened his re-election.

6. Unemployment. Underlying voter unease with Capitol Hill is deep concern about unemployment. And that leads to a simple equation: Joblessness drives presidential approval ratings, and it’s those ratings that drive midterm congressional results. Despite a landslide win in 1980, for instance, unemployment approaching 11 percent drove Ronald Reagan’s approval ratings down to the low 40s in November 1982 when Republicans lost 26 House seats. (And only five narrow GOP victories by fewer than 50,000 votes kept the Senate even.)

As unemployment has risen this year, Obama’s approval has steadily eroded to around 50 percent currently. The White House says it doesn’t expect employment growth until the spring. And if even the economy begins to create jobs, the actual unemployment rate could still rise as the long-term unemployed begin to actively seek jobs again and thus start being counted by the Labor Department. It would take a year of 4 percent growth generating 200,000 to 250,000 jobs a month to bring the rate down to 9 percent. And even that would be twice as high as what Americans have been used to during the past two decades.

7. Discontent with Democrats. At the same time, the generic congressional ballot has shifted from a high single-digit Democratic lead to a low single-digit Republican lead as independents veer back to the GOP. What’s more, a recent poll by the liberal Daily Kos blog found just 56 percent of Democrats definitely or probably voting in 2010 vs. 81 percent of Republicans. Note that a new Rasmussen poll has Sen. Ben “60th Vote” Nelson, who won reelection in 2006 with 64 percent of the vote, down 61-30 in a hypothetical 2012 matchup vs. Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman. Dems in both chambers will surely take note of those numbers. Indeed, the prospect of a terrible 2010 environment has already pushed some veteran Democratic legislators in competitive districts into retirement such as John Tanner of Tennessee and Brian Baird of Washington.

8.  Economic Damage. Even if the unemployment rate falls a full percentage point next year,  it may not help Democrats much. Americans only slowly regain their economic confidence after a deep recession. When Democrats lost the House and Senate in 1994, the economy had been growing steadily since the nasty 1990-91 downturn and unemployment had fallen sharply, though not fully to its pre-recession levels. Yet 72 percent of Americans at the time still thought the economy was “fair” or “poor,” according to Gallup.

As political forecaster Charlie Cook has noted, what happens in the House depends a lot on there being more Democrat retirements in competitive seats. The GOP needs a 40-seat pickup. The more Dem members that stick, the less likely a changeover. If the numbers start going north of 12-15, a warning signal should sound for Democrats. (In 1994, Democrat departures created 31 open seats, 22 of which were won by the GOP.)  For now, Cook sees a possible 20-30 seat pickup in the House for the GOP and four to six in the Senate. (Harry Reid, Blanche Lincoln and Chris Dodd look especially vulnerable). But Cook may be underestimating how the dreadful New Normal in the economy will create a New Normal in politics in 2010.

Comments

Dumbama will be the first president to be a lame duck in his second year!!!! Couldn’t happen to a “stupider” idiot.

Piggy Pelosi, Whorehouse Harry Reid, Cheating Chris Dodd, gay Barney Franks, et al, should be voted out and sent back where they came from. Oops, the people back there don’t want them either.

In my 69 years, I have NEVER seen a more corrupt president/congress. They have spent trillions for absolutely nothing worthwhile. They have done everything possible to ruin our country in the eyes of the world.

We can’t be rid of them fast enough.

It is important that independents re-register as republicans ASAP. In most states, independents cannot vote in the primary elections. The republicans MUST put forth a show of force in the primary so the dems know WE MEAN TO BEAT THEM IN THE GENERAL ELECTION. Hopefully, that will slow down the damage they do during 2010.

Posted by Callie | Report as abusive
 

I can’t wait to see Pelosi have to pack up her office and move to the windowless room down the hall. That would be worth the price of admission.

Posted by LadyChurchill | Report as abusive
 

Vote Dem Out!

Posted by Galt | Report as abusive
 

Another good reason Democrats will lose the House and several seats in the Senate including Harry Reid’s is because the Barack Obama Brand does not have near the shelf-life previously presumed. By November 2, 2010 POTUS44 will be labeled a figurative cancer on his party as the voter backlash will be attributed to his failed spending policies and weak national security policy. Mid-term elections will lame-duck this single term president.

Posted by Solly Forell | Report as abusive
 

There is a chill running down the spines of Americans who still cherish Freedom and Liberties. What the Progressives are all about is supreme gov control over a free Republic, “Constitution and founding fathers be damned.” I have never seen it in my lifetime. I know now our freedoms have been slowly being chipped away for years, but Obama and his drones haven driven it home in a serious way and woke up many from apathy. Who knew freedom was so despised? I have never been this scared for the USA. The Lame Street Media spew propaganda. They are traitors to their profession. We the people, must stand up to the corruption that is Washington D.C. or lose and become a victim from the enemy within. What will the future be like for your children?

Posted by teesee | Report as abusive
 

For the first time in my adult life I am disguested with our elected leaders in Washington. Kick the radical,socialist,liberal thugs OUT!!!

 

I hate the Democrats because they hate poor people.

Posted by PTAMom | Report as abusive
 

Obama and the Demoncrats have gone against the will of the people. Voters WILL get revenge at the polls in November.

Thank you to the person who posted about the 125 seats gained by Republicans in 1894. I hope we can duplicate those results and save our country.

Posted by Sheri | Report as abusive
 

Former slaves can’t get enough of free food and lodging. Jews and blacks are the only people who crave slavery.

Posted by Socialist Slavery | Report as abusive
 

“…I still think the Reps must give voters a reasons to vote FOR their candidates…not just rely on current discontent with the incompetent and radical Left House….” ************ Why?? In the 2008 election, voters had no real reason to vote for Obama except for the fact they were discontented with Bush. Apparently, voters are stupid — they vote for things like “making history”, and “hope”, rather than solid reasons like…oh, I don’t know…experience(!).

Posted by KBB | Report as abusive
 

Some of this makes sense and some is the same ignorant, bipartisan ranting we need to get away from. O-BAM-I-GOTCHA and his bunch will lose…but I voted for them because Bush was a radical, war-mongering neo-con – clueless, asleep at the helm…I won’t make the mistake of voting for the dems again, but please, please, please, put someone up there who understands we need to get back to the simplistic beauty of the constitution, abolish the fed and IRS, and stop empire-building.

Posted by jay h. | Report as abusive
 

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